Ask Lafeber

Question:

October 26, 2021

Severe Self-mutilation (Macaw)


Hello,

I rescued (2) macaws my friend and her husband can no longer take care of due to their work schedule. They mentioned the female was missing some feathers, so I thought, she must be going through a molting period. When
I picked them up, I notice she was missing ALL of her feathers except for the ones on her wings. I have made an appointment with my Avin Veterinarian for her to be checked out, but, since is not an emergency, that appointment is a few weeks away… Is there anything I could do to help her keep her mind away from wanting to pluck her new and other feathers? In the meantime, I’m planning on giving her healthy fresh fruits and veggies along with lots of foraging toys to keep her entertained while having some fun. I have cockatiels, cockatoos, and parakeets and thankfully they don’t feel the need to pluck their feathers. I’ve also seen birds pluck their feather but I had never seen something so severe. I hope my vet can help guide me through this long and stressful process. If anyone has any other ideas on how to help me with my new girl, I’d appreciate it. Thanks in advance for your help and have a wonderful day!


Answer:

Hi Luz,

Feather Destructive Behavior is very complicated, and often is both a medical and behavioral issue. If this bird is missing her head feathers, then the mate is responsible for this, and possibly a lot more of the missing feathers. A bird can’t pluck his own head. It’s possible these birds aren’t as compatible as the previous owners thought. You are off to a good start, with the improved diet and foraging exercise. This type disease/disorder can take years to resolve, and in many cases it remains a chronic condition. New studies are showing many possible causes, including some viruses, so you can understand why finding an exact cause may not happen. The vet should do blood work, test for certain viruses and possibly take skin samples. I’m not sure if you have tried to separate the macaws, but this might have to be done. It depends on how bonded they really are. In some bonded pairs, one mate will pluck the other, or sometimes they both pluck each other. But hopefully the vet can find a direction to take and this bird can get some help.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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