The Plucking Series — Part 3

What’s Inside Winston

Winston climbs
Winston climbs downward. There are treats in the foraging cups behind him and in the coconut hut he’s headed toward. Food is a motivator for movement.

For the third week of Winston’s case study, we’ll begin with the startling results of his blood work. His veterinarian had difficulty getting a good amount of blood for all of his well-bird workups when he had his checkup April 5. His skin was a bit yellow and the veins somewhat hidden. This was alarming in itself. Winston typically has pink skin on his adorable belly, which is the only “skin” I regularly move fluffy feathers to look at. Even his belly skin had a bit of a yellow “tint” to it that morning, which took me completely by surprise. The vet calmed me down…

His blood work came back with no elevated markers for liver problems, thank goodness! But Mr. Winston is chubby. I am embarrassed by the fatness that has crept into his body while under my watch. He had dropped 56 grams in the 15 months since his last well-bird checkup, but he still weighs 518 grams. His blood sugar level is too high—349 when a normal range for the eclectus is between 150 and 250. His protein level is a bit low—total protein is 4.1 g/dL and albumin level is 1.9 g/dL.

Needless to say, Winston is on a new exercise regimen where I encourage him to walk around the house, climb over little obstacles I pile on the floor for him, and climb along the jungle gym that hangs from the dining room ceiling. He has no qualms about digging through foraging systems for treats, so the foraging systems are part of the jungle gym he must traverse.

I’m also increasing his bath times. He loves to bathe, and makes quite a production out of dipping, splashing, flapping, and then climbing to a perch to rest before returning to the bath bowl to dip, splash, and flap some more. A good bath for Winston can last half an hour. That’s good exercise for a perch potato.

So far, Winston has gained 2 grams.

This means we have more work to do to get the fat deposits away.

We will be going back to the vet for another blood panel in a few months.

For now, the increased interactions during exercise time and extra bath times are offering a different/new pattern of enrichment. We’ll see if this increase in activity helps distract him from feather-plucking.

Eclectus feather plucking fruit with breakfast
Winston’s breakfast during week three included a wee bit of fruit one morning. Notice the world’s smallest bite of banana amid about half a tablespoon of pomegranate arils, a yellow sweet pepper, some yellow summer squash, a bite of turnip, and some dehydrated peas. In the dry-food dish, Winston’s preferred ZuPreem natural pellets, Pretty Bird natural gold pellets, dehydrated peas, about a quarter of an avicake and one nutriberry round out the morning’s offerings.

For his dietary needs, I’ve lessened the amount of pellets (not by much) offered each day. I’ve also added some beans and soaked foods into the rotation to help increase his healthy protein intake. For example, one morning I offered a heaping tablespoon of Volkman’s Featherglow Soak & Simmer mix with beans and lentils. One morning I offered a tablespoon of Worldly Cuisines African Sunset with quinoa. This was in addition to his tablespoon of chopped veggie mix or cut up peppers, etc. I keep a nice variety in the dishes for him so there’s plenty of interest, plenty of choice. My next step, courtesy of my friend CB Buckley, is to place portions of Winston’s breakfast in different areas of his cage so he must move around and stretch to get his food. I’ll report back on his opinion of that next week when I share the anti-anxiety remedy I’ve instituted as well.

Full Disclosure: I haven’t gotten the permission of Winston’s vet to share names/info yet, so I don’t want to blast the clinic’s information all over the Internet until I have clearance to do so.

The Plucking Series—Part 2

What Winston and I Have Tried So Far

parrot pet bird magazine jungle gym
During the second week of our case study, Winston climbed around on the rope perches and parrot jungle gym at In Your Flock pet bird magazine headquarters.

Since Winston came to live with me February/March 2013, I’ve had four veterinarians attempt to get to the root of his feather-plucking habit. Next week, we’ll examine his current blood work from this year’s annual well-bird check-up, but let’s start with history before we move to the future.

Winston has a single owner now. Me. This has been his stability since 2013. Full Disclosure: I had a partner who offered a dangerous situation for a short while, but I resolved that.

Winston has a large cage (24 inches deep by 31 inches wide by 48 inches tall at its highest/curved point) where he can stretch his wings without touching the sides of the cage. He climbs around in it on a variety of perches and branches to shred a variety of toys. He has access to play stands (table-top and stand-alone) when he’s out of the cage, and he uses me as a tree. He is not shy about walking across the center of the living room floor and then climbing up the side of the couch and up the side of me to sit on me while I type. Recently, I have installed rope perches and several swings from the dining room ceiling, and he enjoys climbing around on those. This bird gets some exercise, but I’ll be increasing that. As I increase his activity level, I’ll document what “we” are doing for your edification.

bird breakfast Eclectus pepper zupreem peas
Here’s an example of Winston’s typical breakfast. On the left, we have ZuPreem natural pellets and Pretty Bird natural gold pellets with some dehydrated peas and three nutriberries (one was broken/partial). On the right, we have a tablespoon of beta-carotene-rich chopped veggies and one orange sweet pepper with its seeds. The chopped veggies are wet (of course) so they are easy to mix-and-hide Winston’s calming medicine in.

His current diet is this:

Each morning, he gets one dish of ZuPreem natural pellets with several Lafeber’s Nutri-berries and either a shelled almond or a pistachio (in shell), and one dish with a heaping tablespoon of chopped veggies, which may include a slice of banana, a sweet pepper (yellow or orange—he doesn’t care for the red ones), or some other fresh item that’s in season. The dish of veggies/fresh food is removed after one or two hours, depending on my schedule.

Each afternoon/evening, he gets some fruit and/or a few Nutri-berries and/or a Caitec baked birdie munchie, etc. Basically, the offering late in the day is more “treat time,” but I try to stay aware of his fiber needs.

First Thing: reduce the colorful stuff

When Winston came to me, his diet consisted of Pretty Bird Eclectus blend and some other refined pellets that had artificial colors. While the Pretty Bird food made his breath smell lovely and wonderful, I was advised by his vet to remove artificial colors from the eclectus diet. (His breath is still wonderful, musky, and hyperventilation-worthy.)

Second Thing: don’t experiment with pollen

At one point, I purchased a tea blend from a company with a name that sounds like a retirement community. Winston’s reaction to the blend was a slow increase in scratching and plucking. I went through a number of steps to isolate what he was reacting to: chamomile. Apparently, Winston is allergic to chamomile, which some birds find calming.

Eclectus feather plucking exercise treats parrot
Winston spent some time working for his treats during the second week of our case study.

Third Thing: keep the scary collar away

In the five+ years that Winston has lived with me, he has bitten me once. The bite was entirely my fault; I was assisting a friend in putting a leathery collar around his neck (we were actually in the process of removing it because he had stumbled and fallen trying to walk with the thing on) and he clamped down on the only solid thing in front of his face. My thumb. When he realized he had my thumb, he let go. I’ve never tried to put a collar on him since, and I truly hope I never have to again. He seemed so distressed that I feared his frightened heart rate was going to hurt him.

Fourth Thing: quit the ekkie seeds

During Winston’s well-bird check-up Dec. 15, 2016, the veterinarian shared concern about the Eclectus-blend of seeds that I included in his breakfast dish each day. She stated, outright, that seeds are fattening and won’t give him the nutrients he needs. On that day, Winston weighed 574 grams. (He now weighs 518 grams.)

Fifth Thing: calm the waters

Also during Winston’s well-bird check-up at the end of 2016, the veterinarian decided I should put him on an anti-anxiety medication via his water to see if this helped deter his plucking. She prescribed red raspberry extract, at 2 to 4 drops per 8 ounces of drinking water to be used in conjunction with HomeoPet Anxiety Drops, also at 2 to 4 drops per 8 ounces of drinking water. I’ve been putting that mix together in his water bottle for 15 months, but seeing no change in his plucking habit.

Sixth Thing: embark on 2018

Now it’s time to try something entirely new. Next week, we’ll look at Winston’s current blood work and discuss what his current vet thinks of my new idea.

The Plucking Series—Part 1

Winston’s Story

In Your Flock feather plucking Eclectus progress
Winston has no fear of new toys or new perches. He’s always up for new fun.

By Editor Sandy Lender

In late 2012, I lived in Southwest Florida and visited a pet store just a bit north of my home. That store had an adorable, partially plucked, male eclectus in the front area who would happily say “hello” when I walked in. He was not available for adoption because the store owner [we’ll call her Jane] had adopted him from a local veterinarian and wished to keep and love him. He’d been at the store for about a year as her friend.

When a life change took Jane to a new occupation in another part of the country, the eclectus stayed behind and needed a new “forever friend.” I’m a sucker; that friend was me.

Before Winston came home with me, we spent time together at the store to make sure it was a good match. The store’s new proprietor put me in touch with Winston’s former owner [a veterinarian we’ll call VT], who told me his tale.

As best we know, when Winston was probably two years old, he went on an adventure outside of his original owner’s home. The original owner put flyers up around her neighborhood with Winston’s description and her phone number. When VT found Winston on his adventure-in-the-hood, VT took him to work for a quick check-up and called his first mom.

His first mom refused him. She refused him saying her eclectus would react to her differently than Winston did.

In Your Flock feathers pluck Eclectus series
Winston takes time out of playing to preen. This is Day 1 of the new regimen we’ll be talking about in this series.

This horrifies me to this day.

So Winston lived with VT’s family for about 13 or so years. He enjoyed an outdoor aviary for part of that time. He had an African grey for a cage mate at one time and a female eclectus as a cage mate at another time. I don’t remember the sequence in which the following events happened, but Winston witnessed one of his cage mates being killed by a hawk and one of them being killed by a raccoon. It breaks my heart to know he had to live through such frightening things.

By 2012, circumstances in VT’s life made it necessary for Winston to find a new home. That’s when he went to Jane’s store where he could be seen as an adoptable bird. About a year later, he chose me to be his human servant.

Now it’s 2018. As best I know, I believe Winston is 19 years old. He has plucked his feathers since before he lived at the store in Southwest Florida, which means he has plucked for at least six years. It’s a fully formed habit. In this series, we’ll look at the efforts I’ve made to help him break the habit, we’ll look at his health records/blood work, and we’ll look at a new concept to try to help these chronic feather-pluckers.

 

Full disclosure: I was never told the name of Winston’s first/original owner who refused him that fateful day at the vet’s office. All names have been obscured in Winston’s story so no one will feel vilified. No one is “to blame” for pieces of Winston’s past. Each person has contributed to bringing him good things and to bringing him to a wonderfully spoiled life with me.