Often, the early stages of feather plucking is mistaken for a molt. Parrots molt twice a year and feathers can look a little funky during this period.
Molting is when birds shed old, worn, plumage with a fresh set. The most common molting periods are spring and autumn. It may up to two months for a full molt.
So how do you tell if your parrot is molting rather than grooming or plucking?
Unless it is your birds first molt, there should be no bare patches where you see skin.
Over-preening is an initial sign. Do the feathers look ragged or broken or unkempt? Does your bird interrupt himself during favorite activities to “groom”?
Downy-type feathers should not stick out from beneath the contour feathers
Should not be losing excessive feathers. They should be shedding no more than one or two feathers from each side at a time. Birds molt symmetrically to keep themselves generally balanced
Are the feathers damaged, nipped, stripped to the shaft but still on the bird (that’s chewing rather than plucking)
Examine the dropped feathers. Are the quills (the base of the feather) intact or is it damaged or split? Damaged or split quills may indicate that the bird pulled them out violently.
Boredom or lack of stimulus
Hormone imbalance during maturation
Dietary deficiency or imbalance
Changes or emotional issues or separation anxiety (common with African greys and cockatoos)
Medical (fungal or mold)
Obviously, the treatment will vary as each bird is an individual and needs to be addressed uniquely.
First, start with a trip to your vet to assess if there is an underlying medical condition. This is needed to eliminate medical issues. Look for frequent molts or bleeding or any of the symptoms listed above.
Home treatments can be as direct as
Paying more attention to your bird
Playing with your bird
Vests or cones: this temporarily may stop the behavior until your parrot relearns how to better care for its feathers
Stimulate its environment. Put in high traffic area. Sometimes just changing the cage location helps.
Reduce stress – is it being harassed by other birds or pets or even children?
Mist or bathe feathers daily. It may induce proper preening.
Provide a wider variety of food. Particularly food that needs a lot of time to eat. This includes pasta, hard beans and unshelled seeds. It is recreational to the parrot with a reward.
Add toys. There is a wide variety to choose from. Natural wood toys give the parrot a chance to destroy it as well. Destruction is fun. Mirrors help as well.
Leave on the radio or television for the bird.
There are remedies available like sprays that make the feathers taste yucky, e.g. bitter apple. These often mask the behavior but at least may give the bird some respite.
Separate from the opposite sex bird to lower frustration
In some cases of severe feather plucking there may ultimately be no solution. The bird may need to be rehomed to somewhere where more attention may be provided. These may be difficult decisions to owners devoted to their bird.
Mist your bird often. Don’t stress the pint feathers when they are first coming in, they are filled with blood and may be sensitive to your bird. Keep your bird away from colder rooms or chilly drafts. Vary the diet, provide protein.
Clip nails and wings as needed. Take care of the beak. Bring it into a professional if the beak needs to be addressed.