Preventing and curing self-plucking

Grey parrots are very prone to self-plucking. There is increasing evidence that self-plucking and other behavioural problems are due to conditions in captivity since wild parrots don't self-pluck. Causes of self-plucking may include the bird's diet or medical problems, so you should have your bird examined by a specialist avian vet if it starts to damage its own feathers. However, there is increasing evidence that it is the frustration of natural daily behaviours that appear to be the main cause of self-plucking.

Greys most vulnerable to self-plucking are those whose living conditions include the following factors:
• They are solitary 'pet' birds who are (or were) wing-clipped.
• They have been hand-reared.
• They spend long periods during the day in their cages rather than being out interacting with their carers or other birds.
• They have little or no opportunities to fly and, most importantly, no opportunities to forage for some of their food.

Wild greys spend many hours every day just finding and eating their food and they are 'programmed' to carry out these foraging behaviours. But captive parrots have food available at all times in a bowl just a few inches away from them and are prone to severe boredom. It is the frustration of being unable to perform their foraging behaviours in captivity which causes so many behavioural problems.

To prevent and help cure self-plucking, you must try to keep the bird busy and occupied during the daytime. The  bird should have a range of toys which it actually plays with and these should include toys in which food can be hidden. These are available as commercial 'puzzle toys' and feeders from good pet stores, but you can also devise your own inexpensive versions. Try hiding some seeds in a cardboard tube filled with newspaper, or a titbit inside a small box. Food hung up in small baskets or in bird-feeders used for wild birds can also be used. Giving your bird opportunities to fly, either indoors or in an aviary used as a day-flight will also help. Parrots need to have plenty of items which they can simply chew up to destruction. Most natural products are fine. Use cotton or hemp ropes,  fresh branches from any fruit or nut trees, strips of rawhide leather or even old phone books. The key thing is to  keep your bird's beak and brain busy with other objects. With plenty of out-of-cage time and lots of things to chew up, your bird is much less likely to chew on its own feathers.

A food dispensing puzzle toy. Larger nuts can only be
extracted from one of four holes: the bird has to learn
how to do this by manipulating the toy
to gain access from the right hole.
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