Plucking vs. Preening vs. Molting

I’ve seen and read people mistaking these three importantly different aspects of parrots and their plumage. Although plucking parrots can tend to look somewhat like those parrots going through a molt and sometimes the act of plucking can look somewhat like a preening parrot – all aspects are entirely different and it’s important to be able to tell the difference as a bird owner. 

A molt can make a bird look pretty scrounge-y. Feathers are usually every where and they aren’t the prettiest sight in the world. Much like parrots who pluck their own feathers out – feathers can tend to be everywhere, they don’t look so great either and their plumage tends to look very damaged and ragged.  

Photo by Dave Location: Moab, Utah Preening Parrot: Congo African Grey "Cressi" 

Preening can also look like plucking if you aren’t paying close attention. I had a scare once at first glance with my toucan, Fiji. After shipping my toucan from Florida to Vancouver, Canada, she showed up and didn’t look so hot. My birds have all always done well with travel so it concerned me immediately. I was finding a few feathers here and there and she was pulling at them trying to fix them when I first saw her. I thought maybe this shipment was more stressful than most and that something along the way had caused her to begin plucking. Well, after getting her onto the cruise ship and giving her a nice shower after a long day of traveling – I realized she was molting, not plucking and when she was pulling at her feathers she was fixing them by preening them and not plucking them out. Let’s start with the “dictionary definitions” of plucking, preening and molting along with supporting pictures and/or video: Plucking: “strip of feathers”, "the removal of external feathers". When a bird plucks his own feathers, endorphins are released. Plucking for birds can be comparable to people who cut themselves; once they start, they are more prone to keep at it than to quit as it begins to feel good. This is why it’s best to take precautions to avoid and prevent plucking as it’s much harder to cure it than to prevent it altogether.  More info on how to stop plucking...

Photo from www.the-oasis.org 

Some parrots pluck so often they have bare spots (image). Others do it so often that they can never re-grow a feather in that follicle again because they have begun tearing into their own skin. While in Saipan they had a Moluccan cockatoo at the Hyatt Resort named Freddy. He had what looked to be a bullet hole in his chest from plucking so much and still he tore at his open wound daily even while people tried to talk to him. Birds who pluck actually pull their feathers out or break their feathers intentionally. Preening: "dress or groom with elaborate care", "clean with one's bill", "personal grooming". (picture, video and def)  

Have you ever heard the saying “like water off a duck’s back”? That saying applies to all birds – and it’s because when they preen they spread oil from their preening gland onto their feathers as a protective coating. The oil protects their plumage from water, blood, etc.   You can tell when a bird is preening by how they rub their head around the preening gland and carry it with their beaks from the follicle to the very end of the feather (as seen in the video if clarification is needed). My galah’s favorite place to preen is in front of a fan or breeze where the wind will carry away the dander – making the preening easier. Molting: "also known as shedding", "the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life-cycle."  Depending on what type of bird you have will depend on how often it goes through a molt. Indications of molting:

Since I'm no pro on molting (and hardly one at explaining it!) I will merely point you all to the website Molt in Birds written by Ron Hines DVM PhD.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

2 comments

Brookelyn Shannon

I think my Quaker may be plucking, but I’m not sure. I’ve been keeping an eye on him, and he has been losing feathers for about three months now. I’m not sure how long molts typically last. He sits on my shoulder and he looks like hes preening, but he drops an excessive amount of feathers. I’m concerned about him, but he does this even while we are playing and hanging out. I’m not sure what I should do if I’m not certain that hes doing this. Any insight or advice would be amazing. I love my baby boy so much and I want him to be healthy and happy.

Brookelyn Shannon
Izzy ferguson

My budgie seems to be plucking but she is not a good preener man’s hasn’t molted in a few months I ma very scared she pulls out her wing and stomach feathers like 5 a day

Izzy ferguson

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