Thoughts on Stress & Feather Snipping

Posted by Raz on Aug 21st, 2009
2009
Aug 21
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I just got back from a 6 day trip, and when Carly was younger she was so unfazed by me leaving that I seriously wondered if it mattered at all that I was gone.  But since she started seasonal feather snipping at 3 years old she has also been snipping when under stress.   Her seasonal snipping was reduced to almost nothing with the help of lots and lots of foraging (for most all her food) as well as lupron shots every 4-6 weeks during the spring.  Since then her feathers have been growing back in nicely, with just a few exceptions, all of which are stress-related: me leaving town for a week (twice), and the death of another pet in the household.

This is her at her worst, after I was away for a week at the IAATE meeting in February; she stayed at Tex’s house with a pet sitter and did a lot of feather damage, both snipping and plucking.

Carly, 7 March 2009

Carly, 7 March 2009

The next snipping event occurred in mid-April, after she had stopped for about 6 weeks. It lasted 36 hours, starting the evening my vet came to the house to put my cat to sleep (after battle with lymphoma). This was such a short duration and intense bout of snipping it’s hard to see it as coincidental.

When Grace and Roelant visited at the beginning of June, many feathers had molted out and were starting to grow back in. That continued through July and into August.

Carly, 10 June 2009

Carly, 10 June 2009

She was a velcro bird when I was packing for my last trip, and for the first time gave me an enthusiastic greeting when I arrived home (instead of the cold shoulder). The snipping is not as bad as before on the belly, but she did crunch her upper wing feathers quite a lot.

Carly, 21 August 2009

Carly, 21 August 2009

During both trips she was with Piper, with lots and lots of foraging material. The latest trip she stayed at home, with familiar people taking care of her, and her snipping started the third day, immediately upon hearing me talk to her over speaker phone. (Note to self…. ) She had already been behaving oddly, including hanging upside down rubbing her back on the cage, even with the door open; something she’s never done in front of me.

Since I’ve been home she hasn’t touched a single feather except for normal preening, and is carefully de-sheathing some newly grown feathers.

It was nice back when she didn’t notice I was gone! I’m not sure what can be done to make these trips less stressful. Perhaps a few short overnighters to break the routine that every time I leave it’s for a week. But then when it gets to be day 3, day 4 on a longer trip…? I wonder if it’s possible to train an alternate behavior for stress relief.

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Feather Snipping in Free-flighted Parrots

Posted by Raz on Jan 31st, 2009
2009
Jan 31
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This is an excerpt from a post I made to the Good Bird group this week:

Carly started barbering (snipping feather tips) last February when she was 3 years old. It coincided with the first instances of nesting- or mating-type behaviors (shredding paper, cardboard, wood, when she had never chewed at all before, and becoming obsessed with seeking out men at the beach to the point where she was uncontrollable.) She snipped her lower belly and the top of her wings, and it subsided in late spring.

This year her chewing started in December, along with some new behaviors such as incessantly seeking out small dark places (in bookcases, cupboards) and doing the squat-and-grunt routine (this has even occurred during a target training session). I have been doing extensive training with her to remedy her flying to strangers, and so far that has not been a problem; we’re just about back to normal flying routines, though I am very cautious to look for signs of distraction.

This year those behaviors are accompanied by even worse snipping of feather tips, all the way up her chest, further down her wings, and repeated snipping to the point where she now has patches of skin showing along her keel.

I took Carly out flying this afternoon at the beach and she did great. It’s starting to be fun again! Afterwards, in the office, she and Piper were playing with toys and preening. And as she was preening, she snipped, snipped, snipped. This is when she normally does it, during her usual preening. Preens gently down the feather shaft, then at the end, snip!

She’s getting daily baths, lots of foraging toys, twice daily training sessions, socializing, and flying
every few days. Today she had all of that, came home and ate dinner, then started relaxed preening alongside Piper. Within 10 minutes she had snipped off 20 feathers.

Carly is rarely caged, and since learning from Susan F and others a few years ago I make a concerted effort to “empower through choice” as much as possible in all of our daily routines.

I know it is an unpopular diagnosis, but this seems related to the onset of sexual maturity. Whether it is an excess of hormones, sexual frustration, or what, I don’t know. But as this is still early in the season, I am seriously considering something like Lupron injections. Just very frustrating. I am taking her in to my very good avian vet next week for a consult and exam to check other possible causes.

But maybe this puts to rest the idea that birds who are flighted, go outdoors, and have lots of enrichment don’t engage in FDB?

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