Feather Snipping in Free-flighted Parrots

Posted by Raz on Jan 31st, 2009
Jan 31

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?