A couple of weeks ago, I was cleaning Theo’s cage and noticed one of a parrot owners most dreaded sights: the tattered remnants of feathers – evidence of feather destruction.
Whenever we discover feather destructive behaviors (FDB) in our birds it is heartbreaking, but this was a particularly distressing discovery for me given Theo’s background.
I took Theo in about 6 years ago from a home where she had lived for almost all of her life – she was 23 at the time. It was a good home and she was loved, but she had developed the habit of barbering her feathers down to the nub.
She had serious fear issues when I got her – the most unexpected things would send her into a panic. She was terrified of toys and as a result had none. It is unclear what exactly caused her FDB, but I believe it may have been that her fear of everything left her with nothing to do but chew off her feathers. Her former owner knew that Theo wasn’t thriving and she wound up with me.
I worked with Theo on her fears and slowly coaxed the extrovert that exists in every cockatoo to the surface. After her next molt, her flight feathers began to bloom and she took flight, in every sense of the word, for the first time in years. It was glorious to watch.
After all of the work that went into stopping her FDB, it is especially frustrating that it has returned.
After seeing the feathers on the cage bottom, I took her to the vet for a full work up. More and more we are finding health reasons for FDB. The results came back showing her to be in perfect health – not a big surprise as she is flighted and on an impeccable diet. Of course, while it is very good news, it also means that I have the daunting task of determining what in her environment is causing her to chew on her feathers.
The problem with Theo is that she is a very quiet and mild-mannered bird. You are thinking to yourself: “how can this possibly be a problem??” It is a problem because when something is wrong, she doesn’t protest until it becomes overwhelming. In this case, her protestations are happening by way of feather destruction. This is not the case with any of my other birds. I always know what’s up with them because they always speak their minds, usually loudly – and I welcome that.
Her vet reminded me that she laid her first egg this past spring, the result of a very hormonal season for her. The fall does bring a mild resurgence of similar behaviors. It is possible that this is the cause, many people have birds that pluck seasonally. I have the feeling, however, that there is more to the story. It feels more complicated than that to me and I will continue to search for answers.
While trying to study her environment (without freaking her out because I am staring at her, something that seems to unnerve many cockatoos) I noticed something that I had not previously seen. There is a pair of blue jays that live in the tree that is in Theo’s line of sight every day. I tucked myself out of sight and watched them for a while and felt that they were swooping towards the window aggressively, jays are very territorial. Unless they are aware of the cockatoos inside, there really is no reason for them to fly near the window at all. For the time I have moved Theo away from the window.
Is this related to Theo’s FDB? Only time will tell. I will keep you posted.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.