Feather Plucking in Birds

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 27, 2008
Feather Plucking in Birds

Birds usually pluck their feathers to preen and groom themselves. Feather plucking becomes a serious behavioral disorder when the bird moderately overpreens or even self-mutilates its self.


There many causes for feather plucking disorder; they include:

  • Disease like feather cyst
  • Parasites like ringworm
  • Allergies to environmental factors or food
  • Emotional stress
  • Boredom
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Skin infections or inflammations
  • Poisoning by heavy metals like zinc
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Malnutrition
  • Dryness of the skin due to low humidity
  • Dyes and preservatives in the food
  • Disturbance in the normal light and dark cycles of the bird
  • Lack of natural sunlight and fresh air

Birds that are overactive and overstimulated frequently pluck their feathers, as do birds that are bored. Such birds also show anxiety and aggressive behaviors. Anxiety can be caused by a lack of fresh air, lack of light, and a disturbance in the bird's circadian rhythm (a physiological 24-hour cycle). Another stressful situation occurs when the bird is moved from one place to another, or when there is a change in its habitual environment. Nevertheless, stress in any form can cause the bird to indulge in feather plucking.

Insufficient diet also leads to skin and feather problems, which the bird tries to solve by feather plucking. Similarly, birds affected by internal or external parasites can resort to feather plucking due to discomfort.


Feather plucking can become a habit if it is not treated in time. Usually there is more than one underlying cause for the bird's feather plucking, and you need to explore and treat all of them with your veterinarian's help.

It is also important to keep your bird busy with toys, by using behavioral therapy techniques, or by changing its environment to reduce isolation. Omega fatty acids, when added to the diet, has also proved successful in reducing feather plucking.

One treatment alone cannot fully remedy feather plucking, it has to be a combination of different therapies. Also, medical treatment that is not followed by behavioral therapy will often result in your bird plucking its feathers once again.

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