If you are new to the "parrot world" it's important to know that the feather quality and skin condition of your parrot are nutrition and health related.
Nutrition is imperative in feather health, but it's not the only factor. There are also other deficiencies that can affect the condition of your parrot's skin and feathers.
Here are 5 main ways that parrots physically destroy their feathers:
This is the removal of the feathers. The longer a parrot continues this practice over time, the follicles are eventually damaged so much that new feathers cannot grow back to replace those that were plucked.
When a parrot intentionally pulls out feathers, endorphins are released into the blood stream giving the parrot a sense of calm and satisfaction in a weird way.
Endorphins are very much similar to drugs which are addictive, causing an ongoing cycle.
This is probably the saddest behaviour of them all. Although it's not very popular, plucking sometimes escalates into self-mutilation and a parrot will attack the skin once the feathers are removed.
Of course, this is a major problem and it should be treated immediately by a veterinarian.
Not to get confused with plucking, preening is very normal and natural for parrots.
The problem comes in where an area of the body/feathers are preened too much which will cause feather damage or thinning in that area.
This is when a parrot scrapes the feathers from its head and neck using the bars of the cage, perches or toys.
If your parrot is caged alone and has feather loss in areas that can't be reached with his own beak (or feet) – rubbing against objects are probably the cause.
This is when your parrot chews at the feathers which destroys them and prevents it from growing further.
Here are a few things that will help reduce the chances of your parrot having skin/feather problems:
Humans Need Sleep and So Do Parrots
Most parrots need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep or darkness every night.
Although some species do better with a little more than 12 hours of sleep, and others may prefer around 8 hours, but you will find that most parrots need around 10-12 hours every night with a quiet, darkened atmosphere.
The reason why this is important is because it helps prevent agitation and boredom in your parrot which can lead to feather plucking.
The Right Humidity
All parrots and birds come from specific countries. We all know that temperatures differ from one country to the other and the latitude/longitude is also a big factor.
African Grey Parrots for example, are generally found in the northern parts of Africa. When they come to South Africa, they need to adapt to the climate/humidity. Not only that, but it's also important to note that climate and humidity can vary significantly depending on your city.
Cape Town would have very different weather conditions to Johannesburg or Nelspruit and this needs to be taken into consideration as well.
It's generally accepted that parrots' feathers do better in slightly humid conditions. They may require frequent access to bathing water or the shower, and you may find it necessary to mist your parrot or have a humidifier.
Lower humidity levels in the average home could become a problem for skin and respiratory systems.
Exposure to Sunlight
Sometimes it's not always practical to move your parrot cage around, but you should at least expose your parrot to 10-30min of sunlight 3-6 times every week.
Exposure to natural sunlight helps produce the vitamins necessary to keep the skin and feathers healthy. This is especially important for parrots kept indoors (which most are).
Check the Feathers and Skin Regularly
Parrots are emotional animals affected psychologically by physical and mental stress. Feather picking/plucking can be identified by the presence of healthy head feathers with feather loss and/or mutilated feathers in body areas accessible to the bird's beak.
If your parrot has been picking/plucking for an extended period of time, it may be very difficult to repair the damage.
Feed Your Parrot a Vitamin Rich Diet
Feeding your parrot high-seed diets (only) can contribute to signs of feather and skin damage.
Seeds do have nutritional benefits of course, but are not a nutritionally complete diet. The home-made and processed treats rarely contain any substantial amount of nutrition.
Overfed, but undernourished is true in this case J
These fruits and vegetables are a great supplementary addition to a healthy parrot diet:
- Dried Red Peppers
- Sweet Potatoes
To prevent Vitamin A deficiencies, I recommend a quality pelleted diet along with fruits, vegetables and nuts to aid in your parrot's health.
This vitamin is responsible for maintaining eye, mouth, skin, feather, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and respiratory health.
Vegetables and fruit should make up around 20-50% of your parrot's diet. Some species such as Hyacinth Macaws have very special dietary needs and should be consulted with your veterinarian to know what diet is best.
Don't Let Your Parrot Get Bored
Believe it or not, but this is an important factor to prevent your parrot from plucking its feathers.
Why? When they are bored, they are more prone to 'entertaining themselves' with their beaks and this leads to the feather plucking.
Parrot owners should take the responsibility of being a 'parent' seriously as it can have negative consequences in the long run if you don't give the right attention to your parrot.
Here are 3 practical things you could do to prevent boredom:
- Handle your parrot often
- Teach it new tricks
- Give it new toys
If you see signs of excessive preening, the feather quality being almost "flaky" along with a loss of feathers and the pigment of your parrot's skin changing or becoming scaly, you should definitely consider consulting a vet to do some check-ups.
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