The Plucking Series—Part 2

Eclectus feather plucking exercise treats parrot

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.

2 thoughts on “The Plucking Series—Part 2”

  1. This is fascinating. We also have a plucking male Ekkie. His diet is similar to Winston’s, but I always feel perhaps I could do better (self guilt, I guess). Huey does allow his feathers to come in sometimes, up to 65 or 70% of his body, but then starts plucking them again. So far, we just can’t figure out why that happens since nothing changes. Hopefully something your vet finds will be a key for us. We have a great Avian certified vet, but he is also stymied.

    1. I had a conversation with Winston’s vet yesterday that has brought another factor into the whole case study, so I’m re-working next week’s post to include the new/extra info. But you can bet exercise is about to take center stage!

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