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Your pet bird may not use his plumage for long-distance flights, but he still needs a healthy, feathery coat for insulation and protection.
So why is he constantly pulling out those precious quills?
According to Dr. Greg Burkett, a board-certified avian veterinarian and adjunct professor of avian medicine and surgery at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, feather-damaging behaviors are quite common in pet birds.
In general, wild birds don't exhibit this tendency, although some species do pluck their feathers to line nests or create a brood patch (a bald spot on the bird’s belly) to allow more heat to transfer to incubating eggs.
“There are no other known benefits for feather plucking," Dr. Burkett says. "And most feather-damaging behaviors are the result of a medical condition.”
If your bird experiences pain, itching, irritation or other similar conditions, he may pick at his feathers. Bacterial, viral or fungal infections, as well as parasites, can also lead to feather-damaging behaviors.
Nutritional deficiencies, caused by a less-than-optimal diet, can often affect skin and feather development, leading to plucking. So check with your veterinarian about how to properly feed your species of bird.
Dr. Burkett adds that environmental problems — cages that aren't large enough, well-located, adequately lit or kept properly clean — can also stress out birds to the point that they will pluck out their feathers.
There are also social triggers for the behavior, such as a sudden change in an owner’s daily schedule, and even sexual frustration in birds who aren't neutered.
Since the causes can range from small environmental changes to reproductive abnormalities, the decision to seek medical care is simple: “Plucking, chewing, barbering or shredding requires veterinary attention — regardless of the other symptoms,” Dr. Burkett says.
If you spot a bare patch of skin or small bits of down protruding through your bird's feathers, it can mean that your pet has been plucking, because even molting birds shouldn't have skin showing.
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