Tag Archives: feather picking

Bird Behavior

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

Avian Behavior

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1) Gaining independence: Many young birds will go through a stage in which they are learning how much force to use with their beaks and also attempting to gain some independence. At this time owners will often get a few bites. I recommend that when the bird bites too hard tell the bird no and place back in the cage. Often this is all you need to do to teach the bird not to bite from the get go. Remember that we are not trying to stop the bird from using its beak – they will often use the beak to grasp your hand while stepping up and to preen us. We are only trying to teach the bird how much force it can use.

2) Hormonal: This is a tuff one and something I commonly see in Amazons, which reach maturity, but it can occur in all types of birds. Often you will see a loving young bird suddenly turn on the individual who has raised it and “pick” another family member as their favorite. This is similar to a wild bird leaving its parents and choosing a mate. The best way of dealing with this is to 1) understand that this is a natural behavior and 2) Have the family member the bird has picked limit their interaction with your bird, spend time with the bird when that family member is absent, and ensure that only you are the one to provide all favorite treats and activities. The environment can also be altered somewhat to attempt to reduce breeding behavior. Limiting the daylight hours to mimic a winter sun will often help.

3) Territorial: This can often be linked to hormonal behavior but typically is the bird that is over protective of its cage and will bite any introduced hand. Firstly, your bird should be taught the “up” command for the start. In this way the bird is trained to always step onto your hand with this command. Often only letting the bird out of the cage by first having it step up and onto your hand will limit the development of aggression. Some people advocate teaching the bird to step up onto a perch. This can be used but only if the bird is unafraid of the offered perch. Once this bird steps up I recommend taking the bird away from the cage for any further interaction – choosing a neutral territory. Another expression of territoriality can occur as a form of jealousy in which the bird is aggressive to others and sometimes to the owner in the other family member’s presence. This behavior can be improved by encouraging the bird to interact with the other family member(s) for treats and special attention out of the owner’s presence (basically the reverse of a hormonal bird).

4. Feather Picking & Skin Mutilation: Feather picking is the most frustrating behavior we have to treat in the veterinary medical field and skin mutilation is the worst manifestation of the behavior. The first and most important thing is to have the bird thoroughly examined by an avian veterinarian. I always recommend to clients to give their bird the benefit of the doubt and first assume it is a medical problem. If medical problems are ruled out then we can safely spend the time needed to work on the behavior. Of course the easiest and best way to treat feather picking is to avoid it in the first place (see the correct beginning below). However, if you already have a feather picker there are some things we can do.