Why do parrots pluck their feathers

Why Do Parrots Pluck Their Feathers? (And How To Stop It)

Parrots can develop feather-plucking behaviors for different reasons but more often, such destructive tendencies are a manifestation of the mental stressors they face in their daily lives.

Sometimes, it can also occur because of certain health conditions, allergies, and dietary imbalances.

Feather plucking can be much easier to fix when the cause is not environmental. If your parrot is plucking due to a physical stressor, such as a disease or infection, treating that condition often leads to the plucking issue resolving itself.

However, when the cause is behavioral, it can only be addressed by removing the root stressor. But trying to find out the reason that is causing stress to your bird can be a long process. 

In the meantime, the best way to deal with feather plucking is to work on minimizing the damage. You can place an Elizabethan collar around their necks to prevent them from plucking any more feathers till the causative agent is found.

What Causes Feather Plucking In Parrots?

Feather-picking in parrots typically occurs because of two main reasons: medical issues and behavioral problems. Medical causes can involve problems with the skin, feathers, and other illnesses. 

An avian vet will often recommend a medical examination before assuming it is a behavioral problem because identifying a physical stressor is easier and can help to treat the condition faster. Once medical causes are ruled out, then behavioral factors can be considered and addressed accordingly.

Parrot picking its feathers

Medical Causes

Seed-Only Diet

Oftentimes, the reason for feather plucking may be dietary. This is mostly seen with parrots who have been on a seed diet from the beginning. 

These parrots may only choose to eat seeds even when they are given other foods, so it can be a challenge to improve their diet in the short term. 

If you have been feeding a seed-only diet to your parrot, you need to wean them off to a healthy pellet diet. 

A seed diet is imbalanced and has been associated with various diseases such as fatty liver in birds. 

In some cases, it can also be a food allergy causing a feather-picking reaction. So you must switch them onto pellets and other healthy foods. 

Skin Irritations

There can be some causes that may seemingly be harmless such as skin irritation, but in reality, it can put your bird on the path to feather plucking. A parrot’s skin can be irritated due to infections or even dryness to low humidity. 

Parrots originate in areas with high humidity where frequent rainfall helps to keep their feathers moist. So when a parrot feels uncomfortable due to dry skin, it will constantly preen itself which often turns into feather plucking. 

Feather plucking in Moluccan Cockatoo
Image by Julie Corsi, Wikimedia Commons

Feather Cyst

Feather cysts are lumps under the parrot’s skin commonly occurring in the primary feathers of the bird.

It occurs when a growing feather is unable to push through the follicle causing the accumulation of keratin under the skin. 

The protrusions appear like swellings and can be itchy. This can make the parrot scratch or sometimes pull out the feathers.


Pet birds such as parrots mostly stay indoors, but that does not put them out of the reach of external parasites. 

Parrots can get infected by feather mites and other types of ectoparasites that can inhabit their feathers and cause itching and discomfort. 

This forces the bird to preen constantly to alleviate the itchy sensation and remove the mites. 

Unfortunately, over-preening is often followed by the parrot plucking its feathers. It happens because the parrot cannot see any other way to get rid of the itching and starts mutilating itself. 

Heavy Metal Poisoning

Zinc and lead toxicity is believed to be one of the causes of feather plucking in parrots. Parrots can ingest these metals by chewing on galvanized cage bars or other items in the household that are coated with lead or zinc. 

Whether feather picking is one of those problems caused by zinc toxicity is still not definitively proven through scientific research. 

But if heavy metal toxicosis is identified, the treatment may also work to stop the feather-plucking behaviors.


There can be many medical conditions that may trigger plucking behaviors. Therefore, medical causes should be the first to consider when trying to address feather plucking, as it makes it easier to recognize the cause. 

Unless your parrot is diagnosed with cancer or PBFD, the identification of an underlying disease can be helpful to know what is causing the problem, as treatments can then be targeted accordingly.

Behavioral Causes

Breeding Season

In the wild, it is common for parrots to pluck their feathers in the breeding seasons. They do it to line their nests with feathers. But in captivity, when their hormones are raging and they aren’t able to let that out, they turn to feather plucking as a means to let out their frustration. 

The feather plucking may go away once the breeding season is over but you do need to be careful as parrots can pick up this habit pretty quickly. During this time, make sure to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and limit their fat intake.  

Chronic Stress

Stress and anxiety are among the most common trigger for parrots plucking their feathers. It occurs when the stressor in the bird’s environment has been unaddressed for a long time causing chronic stress. 

Parrots are sensitive to change, so much so that even a small inconsistency in their surroundings can put them off. This is why it is extremely difficult to help a parrot with stress. You cannot exactly know for sure what your bird may feel stressed or fearful about.


Boredom and neglect from owners affect the parrot’s mental health, often in the long term. Being social creatures, parrots can quickly get bored when their environment is not stimulating enough. 

They will try to find activities they can do to keep themselves engaged, but they can only bear so much. When they have nothing else to do, they can start to pluck their feathers out of frustration. 

If you routinely leave your parrot alone, it can be overwhelming for them mentally. And if this is not corrected soon enough, it can become a big problem where plucking feathers becomes a habit for the parrot. 

To help your parrot not get bored, you should try to spend more time with them and also teach them how to keep themselves happy even when they’re alone. The best way to do this is by creating an environment that simulates their natural habitat. 

For example, you can keep foraging toys in their cage for them to be able to search for their food and not just have it right in front of them every time. Other things include wooden perches, blocks, and newspapers for them to shred.  

Parrots with plucked feathers
Image by Mark Fosh, Wikimedia Commons

Hygiene Issues

As I mentioned earlier, over-preening usually precedes feather plucking. If the parrot’s living environment is not clean or kept well, it may feel the need to preen more often to maintain hygiene. 

This increased preening can eventually escalate into feather plucking. Strong smells like cigarette smoke or scented candles may also bother their nostrils and cause them to over-preen.

Sleep Deprivation 

Parrots need a good 12 hours of undisturbed sleep. During this time they need a dark and quiet environment otherwise you will have a bird that is sleep deprived. 

Most parrots originate from regions close to the equator where they experience 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness which dictates their sleep patterns.

When a parrot is unable to get adequate sleep, it can become aggressive and frustrated. It may take a few more naps during the day but that does not help to correct its circadian rhythm.

How To Stop Feather Plucking In Parrots?

If you have consulted a vet and the reason for feather plucking does not seem to be associated with a medical condition, you need to observe your parrot’s surrounding for potential stressors, but first, it is important to control the plucking.

Elizabethan Collar Or Vests

A collar can prevent the parrot from plucking more feathers by placing a physical barrier. It does work to stop this behavior but it is not a permanent solution. 

Apple Cider Vinegar 

Another way you can discourage your parrot from chewing on its feathers is by applying diluted apple cider vinegar on its skin. 

Parrots do not like the taste of apple cider vinegar, and would not want to put their beaks in their feathers. But again, it is only a temporary solution that addresses the symptom and not the underlying causes.

Environmental Changes

Since you cannot definitively know what stressors in its environment may be causing your parrot to pluck feathers, it can be useful or at least worth a try to make some changes in their living arrangement.

You can move their cage to a different spot, preferably to a corner of the room as it feels more secure to them.

Check for any kind of disturbing sound in the room. Parrots can get anxious over sounds that they cannot locate. Also, observe, if your parrot is playing with its toys or if there is any one toy that it does not seem to like.

Out Of Cage Time

Not getting enough cage time can make a bird stressed. Parrots do not like to stay cooped up in their cages all the time.

You should let your parrot out for at least 2-3 hours a day. It will ensure your bird gets adequate time to fly freely and also an opportunity to bond with you. 

Also, keeping their cage near a source of sunlight can also be beneficial. It helps them get their daily intake of Vitamin D and also makes them feel more comfortable and warm.

Room Humidifier

Parrots can become irritable in low humidity. It can make their feathers and skin can become dry and itchy which is not a good thing if you’re trying to keep them from touching their feathers 

So it would be ideal to have a humidifier in your house if you live in a dry region. Regular baths and misting them with water can also be beneficial in keeping the feathers moist. 

Dorson Joseph
Dorson Joseph

I'm Dorson, a bird enthusiast who's had a lifelong fascination for the avian world. I am a parent to my beloved Senegal parrot and budgie, which has deepened my love for avian creatures and taught me a lot over the years. I co-run a bird store and care center with my friends, where we work with experienced professionals to care for our flock. Now, I find great joy in sharing my knowledge with others, hoping to assist fellow bird keepers and enthusiasts in understanding birds and helping them live happy lives.

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