Q: My five-year-old African Grey started plucking his feathers recently. It has resulted to a bald patch on his chest. What should I do?

A: Feather picking/biting/plucking in birds is common and is akin to paw licking or scratching in canines and felines. unfortunately, the reasons for such behaviour can be multifactorial. Likewise, treatment is usually tedious, frustrating and not always successful.

Here are some reasons that may attribute to the behaviour of your African grey.

  • Boredom or lack of social interaction. Birds are social and intelligent creatures and insufficient mental stimulation can lead to an obsessive-compulsive behaviour such as plucking his feathers. Sexual, nesting and bonding frustration are also likely causes.
  • It could be a psychogenic condition brought about by anxiety, fear or nervousness.
  • Ectoparasites such as mites or lice can also contribute to feather picking.
  • Allergies such as irritant to pollens, dust, aerosols and adverse food reactions.
  • An avian that is on an all seed diet, devoid of vitamin, essential oils and mineral, can suffer from malnutrition which will result in feather picking. A diet that lacking of dark green leafy vegetables, fruits and nuts or has excess salt can also contribute to the condition. • The lack of uv (unfiltered natural sunlight) or exposure to toxin can lead to feather biting. Other environmental stressors such as cage mate aggression can also be a factor.
  • Medical conditions that include uropygial gland impaction, intestinal infection (protozoa), other bacterial, viral, yeast, or fungal infections and gastro intestinal inflammation and disorder can lead to the behaviour. Source of chronic pain like organ swelling, arthritis, gout, reproductive organ inflammation and hormonal disorder/imbalance (endocrine) can be responsible too.

You should bring your African grey to a vet for a consultation as soon as possible. Treatment varies and should be based on individual assessment with an attempt to address the underlying factors as well as the psychogenic manifestations. Your vet may prescribe you some medications to help your avian cope.

A good balance wide-variety diet, adequate uv light (sunlight), avoidance of nesting behaviour (over bonding with a particular person), and environmental enrichment (exercise, foraging) is the goal. It is important to note that time and patience is the key to success in eliminating this behaviour.