Bird Feather Plucking

Published Sep. 5, 2023
Lorakeet biting at feathers

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What Is Feather Plucking in Birds?

Feather plucking is when a bird damages or plucks their feathers. Feather plucking is relatively common in pet birds. Bird will pluck or chew their feathers for medical or behavioral reasons. If you notice your bird plucking or intentionally damaging their feathers, make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. In most cases feather plucking can gradually progress, identification and early care by your veterinarian are recommended.

Symptoms of Feather Plucking in Birds

  • Feather damage or feather shortening

  • Thinning or bald areas of the plumage

  • Locations: over the breast, under the wings and around the legs

  • Skin lesions from self-trauma or infection

  • Lethargy

Causes of Feather Plucking in Birds

There are several potential causes of bird feather picking, which may include:

  • Nutritional: improper diet for species or life stage of the bird.

  • Medical: liver damage, tumors, respiratory infections, kidney failure and other diseases causing discomfort or disease.

  • Behavioral: caused by boredom, compulsive behaviors, improper habitat/enclosure, predator stress (other pets or humans), sexual frustration, and lack of training from parents.

  • Inflammatory skin conditions­: bacterial, fungal or yeast infections.

  • Infectious diseases: Psittacine beak and feather disease (circovirus) can be seen in birds under three years of age.

  • Barbering: due to other birds in the cage or aviary picking feathers.

  • External parasites: lice, feather mites, and red mites (uncommon).

  • Other: insect bites, contact with moisturizers or oils from human handling, improper feather trimming.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Feather Plucking in Birds

A veterinarian will work with the pet parent to determine if there are factors that may be leading to feather plucking. An extensive history and questions regarding the bird’s environment will be an important part of diagnosing the possible cause of this behavior. Questions your vet may ask could include:

  • How long has this behavior been going on?

  • Any recent changes in the home or environment?

  • What is the bird’s enclosure size?

  • What does a typical day for this bird look like? Activities, schedule, feedings, etc.

  • What diet is the bird fed?

Once the history and physical examination has been completed, the veterinarian will proceed with diagnostics, which may include:

  • Blood tests: hematology and biochemistry blood panels to determine health of the liver and kidneys, nutrient deficiencies, signs of infection (bacterial or viral), and specific viral diseases if the plucking is due to an underlying condition.

  • Skin scraping (superficial) or skin biopsy (tissue): using a scalpel blade to remove the top layers of the skin in the affected area or taking a full thickness (biopsy) to evaluation under a microscope. Commonly performed under anesthesia to limit bird stress.

  • X-rays: internal organ evaluation to help identify any foreign material (metals), arthritis that can cause pain, evaluation of stomach, and other internal tumors.

  • Endoscopy: a small camera on a scope that can help further evaluate internal organs, respiratory diseases (air sacs), and also take a biopsy for further evaluation if needed.

Treatment of Feather Plucking in Birds

Treatments will be dependent upon the underlying cause identified by your veterinarian. Review of physical examination, in-depth history, and diagnostics will guide medical treatments.

Dietary changes will focus on providing a balanced, pelleted diet and supplementing with fresh fruits and vegetables. Any nutritional deficiency will be supplement with a diet or vitamins.

Feather plucking due to behavioral reasons can be supported with environmental changes and enrichments. Focusing on providing the bird the opportunity to express natural behaviors using:

  • Foraging and other toys.

  • Physical space to fly.

  • Enhanced sensory stimuli (window view, music, videos, close to family members).

  • Social time with other birds and people.

  • Puzzles for a challenge.

Infections (bacterial, fungal, or yeast) can be treated topically and/or orally by prescription.

Your veterinarian may prescribe the following treatments:

  • Behavioral modified medications such as (clomipramine, haloperidol, and other tricyclic depressants) to help decrease the compulsive nature of the feather plucking.

  • Antibiotics for skin infections.

  • Antifungals with any confirmation of a fungi or yeast involvement of the skin.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids help treat and prevent the development of chronic diseases as well as promotes healthy skin.

  • Multivitamins for correction of any major nutrient deficiencies along with dietary changes.

  • Elizabethan collar (short term prevention of the behavior). Your vet may have your bird wear a recovery cone so their feathers can heal.

Recovery and Management of Bird Feather Plucking

After a diagnosis has been confirmed and medical reasons have been treated or ruled out, focusing on your bird’s enrichment and environment can help to reduce further progression of the plucking behavior. Closely observe your bird and watch for any possible triggers or stressors leading to the plucking behavior. Work on following a daily routine for your bird and limit deviation until less feather plucking is noticed.

Having defined day and night periods for your bird, where light is provided no more than 12 hours a day and a bird’s cage is covered for at least 12 hours with a dark blanket, is particularly helpful.

Spend more time with your bird by setting a schedule for your interactions a few times throughout the day. This will aid in reducing anxiety and the feather plucking response.

Do not limit normal grooming. A mist or bathing routine a few times a week enhances normal preening behavior and has been shown to decrease plucking. Distract the bird with a shirt or sweater over the areas being affected, but only when supervised.

Additionally, during your daily interactions with your bird try introducing them to new toys or foods that will keep them interested when your bonding time is over. Rotating toys daily and adding interesting new food will also keep your bird occupied, lessening the time they can spend feather plucking.

Continue to communicate with your vet at follow up visits any changes you are noticing at home once treatments are underway.

Bacterial or fungal skin infections, lethargy, decreased appetite, pain, and depression can result from untreated feather plucking.

Prevention of feather plucking includes a diet that promotes health for your bird. A high-quality commercial diet formulated specially for the type of bird you have.

Additionally, provide a well maintained and safe enclosure that has clear separations of living areas and waste areas (grate lined with paper). An appropriately sized cage or aviary is a must for any bird.

Feather Plucking in Birds FAQs

Why are my birds plucking their feathers?

Normal grooming can include occasional feather plucking, but when feather loss, damage or balding occurs, this is not normal. The main factors that contribute to feather plucking are nutritional, medical, and behavioral issues.

Can birds recover from feather plucking?

The likelihood a bird will recover from feather plucking depends on how long the bird has been showing the behavior, how well everyday stressors can be managed (more enrichment, predictable routine, balanced diet), and the severity of plucking. Some feather damage can be permanent even if the behavior stops.

How do I know if my bird is feather plucking?

Normal grooming can include some feather plucking, but any areas of missing feathers are indicators of feather plucking. Any areas of balding, severe thinning of the feathers, or plucking leading to skin lesions should be examined by your veterinarian once recognized.

Featured Image:


Gaskins LA, Hungerford L. Nonmedical Factors Associated With Feather Picking in Pet Psittacine Birds. Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. 2014;28(2):109-117.

Skin and Feather Disorders of Pet Birds - Bird Owners. Merck Veterinary Manual.

Feather-Picking in Parrots. UC Davis.

BASIC CARE for COMPANION BIRDS. Association of Avian Veterinarians. 2019.

FEATHER PLUCKING. Royal Veterinary College, University of London.


Jessica Hockaday, DVM


Jessica Hockaday, DVM


Dr. Jessica Hockaday completed her undergraduate degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, earning a Bachelor...

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