I was up at the rescue yesterday (Long story, but the power went out so we were preparing to send the parrots into volunteers' homes until the power was restored. I was going to get about 6 greys, a severe macaw, and a bearded dragon. Can you imagine all of the beeping and phone ringing that would have been going on at my place? Power was restored just as I was about to put the parrots in their carriers, so they didn't have their routine disturbed.) where I heard the story of one of the latest birds to be surrendered.
A lady was surrendering her grey because he had become very mean and bitey several months ago and she didn't want to deal with him anymore. Of course she hadn't ever taken him to a vet, but said he appeared to be in general good health.
When he got back to the rescue, volunteers were performing his intake and were shocked to see that under his wings, it looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to him. Obviously this isn't what happened -- he'd mutilated himself -- and his owner never noticed!
Had she taken him to the vet when his behavior changed (from a handleable bird to one who refused to come out of her cage) the mutilation could have been caught early, and he could have been spared months of pain.
Two of my parrots are former mutilators; Calypso:
Because the mutilation was caught early (they each mutilated for less than 3 days), we haven't had a recurrence. It's been 4 1/2 years for Calypso and 1 1/2 years for Stella.
Based on my experiences at the rescue, the longer a parrot has been mutilating, the harder it is to stop.
I know that the people who read me regularly know this, but hopefully this information could be helpful to someone stumbling upon this. Know your parrot. Know what's normal for him or her. If their behavior suddenly changes, it's probably time for a vet appointment to rule out anything physical.
Look at them physically to see any changes -- tumors, plucking, mutilation, etc. Rocky has a tumor, and Thomas examines this on at least a weekly basis -- any changes would send us to the vet. It's easier to examine some birds than others, but work with them to make this a fun experience. With the greys, we've taught them to lift their wings so we can look under, as they do not appreciate us touching their wings. Rocky, Daphne, and the caiques, on the other hand, love being handled, so we are able to do this physically.
If you work with your bird to allow handling, this also makes vet visits much more pleasant, and less stressful for the parrot.
Since parrots are prey animals, they are very adept at hiding any illnesses. It's our job, as their caretakers, to observe them carefully, notice any changes, and get them the treatment they need.