Ask Lafeber

Question:

March 30, 2021

Severe macaw


I have a severe macaw named Luna who has the worst Separation Anxiety she is only 9 and has been in 5 homes she plucks and wasn’t sure if there is a medication we can prescribe her for her anxiety issues


Answer:

Hi Kelly,

Severe Macaws are wonderful birds. I’ve had two for over 30 years. It’s sad that Luna has gone through so many homes in her short life. I think many people get the smaller macaws because they think they will be easier to handle and not as loud. This is not the case, and Severe’s in particular are one of the loudest parrots there is – often louder than the larger macaws. They can also have a very powerful bite. And sometimes they can be cage aggressive – which is just territorial behavior. Because they are often misunderstood, they get shuffled around and often left in the cage, ignored or covered because of their loud calls.

Feather plucking – now known as feather destructive behavior – is a complex issue. The medications to treat any anxiety are hit or miss, but generally ineffective. If Luna was already doing this when you got her, you may not know how long this has been going on, and why she may have started. I would recommend that you take her to a board certified avian Vet first, for a full exam, possible skin biopsy and tests for certain viruses that are suspected to be a factor with feather issues, specifically the Avian Bornavirus. Even if the feather plucking began as a behavioral issue, it turns into a medical issue after a while because it can cause infections. If a medical cause is found and treated, it is usually necessary to put a collar on the bird until the feathers grow back, because plucking has become a habit.

As to how to deal with her behavior, there are several things to consider. If she is a tame bird that you handle, limit any petting to her head and neck. Petting her on the body is a hormone trigger and can contribute to her issues. She needs to be on a nutritionally balanced diet, and not just a seed mix. Pellets are a good choice, but since Severe macaws are very smart and like to stay busy, you might consider our foraging diets, which are nutritionally balanced the same as a pellet, but not ground up. In particular I would recommend our Senior Bird Nutri-Berries. These are beneficial for birds at any life stage, but particularly for a bird with physical issues. They can be fed along with or instead of pellets. She can also be offered fresh greens, veggies, fruits, nuts and healthy table foods as 20% of her daily diet.

So with handling and diet covered, it’s time to look at environment. Her cage should be in a family room or wherever you spend your time. But it should not be near a door or entry. Birds are prey animals and she needs to be able to see people approach the cage. It can be very stressful if a person suddenly appears next to the cage. And if she can see out of a window, birds or other pets outdoors can be alarming to her. Severe’s love to chew and as I mentioned, they have a powerful bite. One of mine regularly chews completely through a thick manzanita perch, which I have to replace about twice a year. Some good wood toys will help keep her busy. You can also try some colorful acrylic toys, but she may be strong enough to break them. She also might like some natural, bird safe leather, but nothing long enough to entangle her. Mine enjoys untying knots, and can stay busy for hours working on them. Another great activity to keep her busy is foraging exercise. Parrots spend most of their day foraging for food in the wild, so today’s common diet of a dish of pellets falls short when it comes to enrichment. We have a playlist of foraging videos, including a webinar showing how to get them started, which I will provide the link for. I would also recommend our pet bird behavior webinars. We have several past episodes and the next live one will be April 16.

If you can get her more interested in toys and foraging, she will be less anxious when left alone. A TV set on a children’s channel can also provide some company for her. It can take a long time to get through to a bird and to stop or minimize the feather destruction. Be patient with her, and consistent, and give her time to feel safe and secure with you, and not be afraid she will be shuffled off to yet another home.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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