Feather picking can occur on the wings, chest, tail, and head. The most common causes of feather picking are as follows:
1. Cigarettes/Cigar/Pipe Smoke: Birds are very sensitive to both the smoke produced by tobacco products as well as the nicotine left on smokers’ hands. Before handling your bird, you must wash your hands to remove all traces of nicotine, tobacco, and smoke residue. It is beneficial to run an air purifier with a hepa filter to cut down the second hand smoke in the environment.
2. Metal Toxicosis (Lead/Zinc): Lead and Zinc are the most commonly encountered. Zinc is used to coat steel to prevent rusting; therefore, most birdcage clamps, toy chains, locks, and pennies contain zinc. If a bird ingests pieces of these, it may develop toxicosis. Cages constructed of galvanized-after-welding wire contain up to 1% of both lead and zinc. The white powder that can appear also contains both lead and zinc. All new cages constructed from roll wire that is galvanized should be scrubbed with a wire brush and vinegar before placing any bird in them. Zinc is a common ingredient in most paints and adhesives, also. Even the adhesive on paper towels and toilet paper rolls may contain zinc. Since birds are given these items to play with and chew up, they may ingest significant amounts of zinc. Do not give your bird newspapers to shred because lead is used in the ink that is printed on the paper.
3. Internal Parasites: Birds can be infected with roundworms and tapeworms. Your avian veterinarian may need to de-worm your bird.
4. Thyroid Problems: Thyroid problems can be diagnosed by blood work done by your veterinarian.
5. Tuberculosis: Birds rarely contract tuberculosis. Special testing may need to be performed to diagnose TB in birds.
6. Skin Infection (Bacterial, Fungal, or Viral): Certain bacterial, fungal, or viral skin infections may also result in feather picking.
7. Food (Vitamin Deficiency and Malnutrition): Malnutrition such as protein, vitamin, essential fatty acid, or mineral deficiencies.
8. Humidity: Low humidity may contribute to feather picking. In this case, misting, bathing your bird, or running a humidifier in your house during the winter may be beneficial.
9. Stress: There are several theories concerning the link between feather picking and stress. While highly stressful environments and events can lead to feather picking, many veterinarians feel that mild to moderate stress plays only a small part in feather picking behavior. If you look into most feather picking cases you will find that one of the causes listed above is the actual culprit. Since all of the above do indeed cause a certain level of stress one can conclude that “YES” stress does cause feather picking, but stress is the RESULT NOT THE EFFECT.
Having a healthy and happy bird requires one to be aware of and pay attention to the described causes of feather picking. For more information, please feel free to call: (703) 327-6666.