Feather Picking

She even had a consultation with Jane Hallender.

Would like to hear about that.

Kathy – as you know, Jane Hallender is an animal communicator, besides being a behavior consultant. After she went through the obvious things, she “got in touch” with the Grey to ask him if anything was bothering him. He told her that he was a very stable and happy bird, and that changes didn’t bother him. She also told my friend that the usual pattern for plucking when it is behavioral or stress is the tail and wings, and that when it starts on the chest, it is usually medical. That is why she ran the tests.

Nancy Newman

The macaw is a new addition that is a feather plucker. I have been using aloe vera gel and valerian root on her to help with this problem. She is doing really well and has now gotten her pins on her chest. Belinda

I have used the listerine mixture on a few of my pluckers here with pretty good results.I mix 1 oz of the listerine to a 16 oz water. in put in spritz bottle .I dont think it will harm the eyes…i put some straight from the bottle in my own eye first to be sure it wouldnt harm theirs.  Patti

Can you give me an example? I may try this.

The one That comes to mind is a little nanday who was a rescue, She had been a serious plucker (no feathers on chest or legs at all when she came)After being here a couple of months and having a spritz bath of the mixture every other day for about a month I saw that she seamed to be doing much less picking.Now she has most all her feathers (a few will never come back I think). Every now and then she starts to pick a little but I go back to the listerine spritz for a few days she stops.I dont recall who gave me the info to begin with but i do recall her saying she thought the antiseptic was soothing to the itchy or irritation ..(and it tastes awful so i think that discourages the picking some)  Patti

I’m using Udo’s oil with the feather chewing Scarlet. She is eating the bread with the oil drops on it very well, and I don’t know that it would work this fast, but she has stopped chewing/biting off the feathers and now appears to be in a normal moult.

We also decided to turn the extra light off for a while to see if it made a difference, so now we aren’t sure if the changes in her may also be from a little less light, maybe less stress.

Linda Smith

My scarlet was picking due to Zinc posioning……we chelated her with CaEDTA. She also had secondary problems due to zinc toxicity, such as huge fungal infection…itraconazole was given for this.

Now I am trying to build up her immune system using some Avian Medicine Chest products. She is doing well on them. She had a breathing problem we couldn’t diagnose. Her asper titers came back OK twice. Vet felt it was maybe from her organs being enlarged due to zinc and they were pressing on airsac. I used Fungistem and Pro-bac as recommeded by Rosemary who is with Avian Medicine Chest. The breathing got markedly better in 10 days with these products I am happy to report. Adriane

Using Tryptophan to tranquilize a plucker is fine ONLY AFTER all possible physical reasons have been eliminated. The problem with having a handy dandy tranquilizer is that some folk will turn to that first, forgetting that there might be a serious underlying reason for plucking.

What are some serious underlying reasons for plucking? Zinc poisoning, parasites, bacterial infections, food allergies. In these cases, covering up the symptoms with a tranquilizer is harming the bird because it allows these health problems to go untreated.

Food allergies are a major issue. People are bound and determined to feed so many unhealthy ‘treats’ to their birds, (crackers, chips, bread, potatoes with gravy, sugared this, sugared that, dyed this, dyed that) That they are filling their birds with all kinds of toxins…as a treat!

The skin is one of the major detoxifying organs of the body. You can expect an effect from thoughtless feeding habits. One of these effects is plucking.

First eliminate medical and physical causes. Then look for psychological reasons for plucking. Even there, if you can find the reason and eliminate it, there won’t be a need for at tranquilizing cover-up. Tranquilizers should be a last resort.


Yesterday, I interviewed Dr. Joel Murphy who was the first vet in the U.S. to use holistic treatments for parrot problems. The information will be used for a future article, but for now, I want to share some good news for those of us who must make decisions about how to deal with “plucky duckies”.

Dr. Murphy has an Email service for consulting with other vets, and clients as well. Anyone who wants to try his natural remedies for feather plucking, etc., can Email him their phone number and for $25, he will phone you, take the history of your bird and its problem, and recommend non-toxic, holistic treatments for non-critical problems such as feather destruction. If you are able to bring your bird to him on West Coast Florida (Tampa Bay area), he will do the following tests:

Biochemical profile with bile acid test Complete blood chemistry Bacterial and fungal culture Parasite test Phase microscope test done on live blood cells

If all those tests show no medical problems, he will suggest holistic treatments for the bird. He does not like Haldol for birds and stated that the neurochemistry is different for mammals and birds. He said that his holistic treatments are effective for feather plucking in only forty percent of the cases. That might not sound too impressive but considering that his methods are nontoxic and do no harm, positive results for four out of ten birds sounds to me worth trying.

At one time, Dr. Murphy maintained a flock of 200 pairs of Cockatoos, African Greys, and Macaws, as well as eight pairs of Eclectus parrots for the purpose of researching the optimal diet for aviary birds. For the past several years, he has devoted his time to building and fine tuning a 3,000 sq. ft. animal hospital with state of the art equipment.

I need to contact him again to be sure of this, since my notes are a bit hurried and difficult to read, but I believe that he said there is no charge to other vets for a consultation about our birds. For clients, the charge is $25 and it is necessary to Email him for an appointment. The address is:


Yesterday, a friend of mine who has a bird that destroys its feathers emailed Dr. Murphy early in the morning and his office set up a phone consultation for eleven o’clock the same morning. She said that she was impressed with the interview and that he is sending her a homeopathic remedy and a flower essence remedy for her plucking Cockatoo. She said that he warned her that he has only a forty percent success rate but she told him that she would take that chance. He also recommended daily showers for the bird and a test for zinc toxicity–a problem being discovered more and more in feather plucking birds.

I offer this information only as an alternative to anyone who might be considering allowing their bird to be given drugs unproven in birds. I have not availed myself of Dr. Murphy’s services so I can only offer the second hand account above. This is not a recommendation of his service, but if anyone does try it, please share with the list your results–or lack of results as the case may be.

Thanks, Carolyn

Your idea of using adaptogenic herbs to help combat stress is a good one. I never thought of it. I wonder of stress-generated feather plucking might be soothed by Siberian ginseng? Is that on your mind?

You might also think of using the Ayurvedic herb Withania (it is a calming herb whereas Ginseng tends to hype up – which I think is often counterproductive when used for treating stress). Withania also increases resistance to stress (so qualifies as an adaptogen). It is one of my staple herbs, I use it as part of a program for my clients that are suffering from extreme stress/on the verge of a breakdown. My brother uses it to keep him on top of things (he owns his own business is under constant pressure), and he swears by it.

Also have a think about whether your bird may be reacting to your stress – our pets are usually very tuned in to our emotions and often react to our stress by becoming stressed themselves.

As for the dosage of Withania to give, there is a post of mine on the Holisticbird web site which explains how I calculate dosages of herbs, etc. for birds and other animals. Withania has a wide therapeutic range, so should be safe for birds when given at the minimum therapeutic dose rate.

Carole Bryant, Naturopath

It is usually coloured pellets and preservatives that are the source of the problem when pellets are found to be the cause of plucking.

Plucking can also be a symptom of allergies… the bird has an allergic reaction to a food or something airborne… cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, a new perfume, cigarette smoke, it could even be a particular grain in the diet or pellets that the bird has become hyper sensitive to.

The sudden onset of this birds plucking makes me think parasitic which you have tested for; emotional which you have also checked …or allergic.

Beekeepers know that they can work around bees and never have a reaction to a bee sting for years maybe; then just one day it happens with no warning. A friend of ours kept bees for over 20 years when he had a sudden reaction and almost didn’t make it. He said he never had any swelling or warning at all with previous stings… and this is how it happens often with allergies. Sometimes there will be gradual signs of increasing sensitivity and other times no warning at all. The best way is to have your friend keep a log book of changes in the household, diet everything in the birds environment and play with his diet, eliminating ingredients to see if there is a change. They need to be free of an allergen at least 5 to 7 days for it to clear out of the system. Longer (up to a month) is better before re-introduction. Corn and Peanuts are the two I would start with!

Another thought… has the furnace been turned on recently? Could be dry air, oil fumes or dust from the ducts causing the problem there. Change the filters on the furnace, clean the chimney or start up a humidifier…

And… what about moulds or mildew? Is the house overly damp? A Dehumidifier is in order then. I am in misery right now because of the moulds in the leaves that have fallen combined with recent rains.

If the bird’s diet is low in Vit A and E his skin could be dry and itchy… Red African Palm oil would benefit him as it is very high in beta carotenes or some Safflower or Udo’s Oil if you can’t find the Palm Oil


Feather Plucking / MSM

dear list, thought you might be interested in my experience with MSM on one of my birds. this is a bit wordy though. sorry.

about 3 years ago, i bought a young pair of eclectus. the male was purchased as ‘rough’ feathered. he was thoroughly tested and nothing was found to be medically wrong. a few months after i purchased them, she started to lay, but no breeding was taking place. the hen did everything she could to tempt him. he simply wasn’t interested.

his plucking continued and got worse. his back was just ugly grey down. he virtually had no flight feathers left. his tale was just about nonexistent. (i have about 20 birds, none of which exibited his problems. my theory for the non breeding in hindsight is that the bird had virtually no balance and could not mount.

for about 2 years, i tried just about everything. diet changes, environment changes, any product that suggested it would help, i tried. as a matter of fact, i have a cupboard full of stuff that just didn’t work. I decided that he just wasn’t up to the demands of breeding so i separated the pair, hoping that once removed from the ‘stress’ of the marriage, he would stop his mutilation. it didn’t. i continued to treat, he continued to pluck.

about 4 months ago i read an article on MSM and decided to give it a go. my store didn’t have the powdered form, only pill form (i bought Nature’s Plus Brand – MSM, RX Wellness with vit c). i decided to give him 1/4th pill in his drinking water every other day – far less than the recommended dosage, but i certainly didn’t want to take a chance on overdosing. Ekkies are notorious soup makers and the msm in his water didn’t stop him a bit, so i do not think it had any bad taste to it. i did this relentless for just about 3 months.

the results were astounding. And i mean absolutely amazing. he is just about in perfect feather. He absolutely glows, even more so than my other ekkies who have not received the MSM. he has a few tail feathers left that didn’t moult out, but other than that, you would not believe that he is the same bird. even my non-bird-loving teenage son complimented him on how beautiful he looked.

about a month ago, i started getting lax in his dosing. i skipped more than a few times. and lo and behold, i noticed about two weeks ago, he had pluck marks on his back again!! i started his dosing again, every other day, and again, no more plucking. that to me is the best testimony of a product’s effectiveness, when you can see the negative effects of NOT using the product.

i am so convinced of the benefits of MSM, i am going to incorporate it into my health regime for all my birds.

mary dockman.

Update: It’s about 6 months since I first tried MSM with my Eclectus male. I  have learned a lot by watching, reading more and trying some new  things. He is, as of this date, still in full feather. Last weekend,  while I was giving him his bath, in full spread eagle, there wasn’t a  even a break in that magnificent wing span of his. As a matter of  fact, about a month ago, I have recently repaired him with  his `love’, very watchful that the stress of this trial cohabitation  would not kick in his old habits. So far, so good. No plucking, no  chewing. He preens but doesn’t pull out. But I still watch. I  don’t think MSM is the answer to whether or not he will be a good  breeder. I truly feel that his being an incubator baby has more to  do with that shortcoming in that regard than anything, but the  addition of MSM to his diet has certainly stopped HIS plucking.

When I first started this experiment, I really thought that I had  nothing to lose, save a few bucks. My research indicated that I  wouldn’t have a toxicity problem so I gave it a go, but cautiously.  I had tried a sundry of products, management and nutrition changes,  everything that I could think of. He was the only one to exhibit  this condition in my flock. (I have approx 20 birds, 7 of his  species, but 5 different species from different continental  origins). My conclusion based on this fact was that it was an  individual need, as opposed to a species requirement, that I was  missing in his care. Just as in humans and all other of God’s  creations, there are individual requirements that the textbooks,  experts and indices don’t address.

But so impressed was I with the results and the other literature I  had read, I thought it would be a valuable addition to my health  regime for my entire flock. His feathers absolutely glowed and were  in better condition than the other 6 of his species that were not on  the MSM. From my readings, sulfur is an element that is quickly lost  to heat processes. And that even though it may appear on a label,  it may be in a form void of its ability to do any good. And another  very important clue, was that Vit C is necessary also.

I am going to use the liquid form of MSM which includes  vit c and to soak sunflower hearts. What bird can resist sunflower?  And hearts of sunflower: no mess, no waste, and no hulls to vacuum  up. I can get it at my health food store for about $1.50 per  pound. My intention is to place a dollop of these on the top of  their a.m. rations and see what happens. I truly feel that by using  this medium and their absolute favorite `junk’ food, that I can  distribute a very important element to their regime. Even to my  skeptical, one- eyed lookers = CAGs.

mary dockman

I have a Scarlet male macaw that was a chronic plucker of his chest and legs when I bought him. According to his band, he ws 17 yrs. old. Thunder was a “store” bird who was constantly teased and harassed with kids tapping on the glass, and was abused (in my opinion) by store employees that were intiminated by him. Thunder was well known in this area for being “mean” and a biter.

Some people think I’m crazy, but I do believe my soul and my macaws’ are inter-connected. I seem to be able to “read” their needs and wants. I knew he felt bad about himself and had no self-esteem. He was also very neurotic. When our eyes met, I knew I had to buy him and bring him home.

I started by using Kava-Kava- 3 to 4 drops in his drinking water everyday. It is a calming herb. I have also used Passion Flower tea sprinkled on his food; and a calming essence preparation (this has also been great to use when shipping birds to relieve stress). All of these products have been purchased at a local health store.

He also has a tendency to have dry skin, which seemed to escalate the problem. In winter, he is misted with a 1 part aloe gel to 3 part water solution. I have also used humidifiers in his area when housed indoors for the winter.

He gets much postive re-inforcement for not plucking and chewing. I’ve had him for 2 yrs. now, and he is a different bird. He is now with a mate, and even when breeding (and we all know how aggressive Scarlets are when breeding), he readily crawls up into my arms and lays his head on my chest, and laughs and laughs! I tell him how silly he is and he always mutters “Thunder,Class-Clown”

FWIW, I don’t always agree with vets (or MD’s for that matter)! However, a friend on the pi list took her bird in to Dr. Brian Speer for excessive itching. She asked about adding aloe to the misting water. He was very adamant saying “NO!” According to him, feathers harbor bacteria. Aloe (or any organic compound) just gives them more food to thrive on, so to speak, and can lead to more resistant bacteria. This made sense (they don’t always.) So, it’s back to just plain water in this household. Pat

My Avian Vet said the same thing:  to be VERY VERY careful about applying aloe vera onto a bird, as it is gummy and the birds can develop lots of problems with ANYTHING on their feathers other than plain water.

I told him that I only wanted to apply it to the scabby parts of my one mutilated Grey Cheek. He again cautioned me to be very careful.

He said if I wanted to use it, to use a cotton swab dipped into the aloe vera and gently swipe the scabs, and then to spray her with warm water within one hour to remove the residue, before she swiped it all over her feathers. He told me NOT to spray it onto the bird EVER.

So, that is what I have been doing, but it makes me nervous. I think the water misting would do just as much good.

Sincerely, Mary Sara Fields

see: feather picking issue of HolisticBird Newsletter