Feather Plucking Triggers:
Feather destruction usually begins years after the root cause. There may be some confusion as to why / how birds get re-triggered into plucking, even after they have been on our Dirty Birdie Brittle and/or Better Feathers for a period of time. I am hoping to clear some amount of confusion surrounding this issue.
Avian Nutrition Specialist
First and foremost we must understand why birds begin to engage in feather destruction.
Secondly, we must understand that behavior and environment are NOT the root cause of feather destruction. Instead, for the most part in almost every case, the ROOT CAUSE is diet. A long term diet of inappropriate foods and malnourishment is the largest cause of feather destruction.
Many companion birds are raised on and continue to be fed highly processed kibble, dry seed, and bird snacks that are also highly processed. Also, the newest craze that has lasted over 2 decades is voluminous feeding of botanically classified vegetables. All of these foods are incorrect for a parrot’s digestive tract.
- Processed kibble is mainly low-quality grains. Grains contain hard, waxy starch molecules. Also, these grains are literally cooked at high temperatures removing almost all original nutrition. The only “nutrition” left is the hard, waxy starch molecules which scrape the digestive tract as they pass through. Also, grain is high in “lectins” which damage the digestive tract. Both the hard, waxy molecules of starch and the lectins grain contain literally scrape the digestive tract causing wounds that never heal. If the wounds do heal they turn into scars that prevent nutrients from absorption into the metabolic system. This literally causes “avian leaky gut syndrome” allowing bacteria to enter the blood stream. Unfortunately, this is also the root cause of malnutrition.
- Dry seed and commercial bird snacks really cause the very same problem within the digestive tract. The dry seed contains hard, waxy starch molecules and so does highly process bird snacks.
These foods cause unhealthy gut flora to produce. Healthy gut flora is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters (little nerve signals that tell a living creature what to do, where to go, how to act and behave).
After years and years of consuming these types of foods, the digestive tract becomes so damaged nutrients cannot be absorbed properly. Furthermore, the brain’s neurotransmitters begin their initial production in the digestive tract! If the digestive tract is producing unhealthy gut flora, due to an inappropriate diet, then almost all neurotransmitters will be malformed and unhealthy as well. Unhealthy neurotransmitters cause a living creature to think improperly which may display as “behavioral plucking.” In fact, feather destruction is not “behavioral,” it is usually diet affecting the production of neurotransmitters. Diet is at the root of many “mental disorders.”
However, we can begin to heal the digestive tract to some degree, not completely. Scars will remain if the diet is not changed to a healthy diet immediately after hatch. As mentioned, the more scars, the less absorption of healthy nutrients, the more damaged the neurotransmitters.
While we can heal the digestive tract to some extent, the production of some unhealthy neurotransmitters will continue simply due to the sections of the digestive tract that cannot be healed and therefore continue to produce unhealthy neurotransmitters. This is why we usually see some improvement in the engagement in feather destruction, even total improvement for a period of time. But suddenly we see feather destruction begin all over again, or some birds may pluck less but still engage in a bit of feather destruction.
Also, and very important is the fact that it probably took your bird years and years before engaging in feather destruction. It will take almost as long to detox the digestive tract to the point where more and more healthy neurotransmitters are produced. The reversal of feather destruction doesn’t happen overnight, nor in weeks or even months, but instead YEARS! It will seem as if your bird is getting better, then all of a sudden you will see improvement regress into more plucking. More than likely this is yet another level of detox taking place in your bird. Be patient, your bird will rise to another level of health and engage in even less plucking after more detox takes place!
Living bodies are made up of systems, organs, and cells. Detoxing foods out of your bird’s bodily system that your bird has become allergic to must take place in all areas. Cells turn over fairly quickly, but it can take months or years for organs and bodily systems to thoroughly detox. During the entire period of detox (weeks, months and years) your bird’s neurotransmitters will begin to develop more healthily. Don’t expect neurotransmitters to develop in a 100% healthy fashion in a few weeks; this is not possible after years of an unhealthy digestive tract producing unhealthy gut flora and thus producing unhealthy neurotransmitters. Be ready for a few steps forward, then a few steps back and so on and so forth for several months into years. The key is staying the course and never deviating from the long, long process of healing your bird’s digestive tract, gut flora and overall systems and organs.
Have patience. Your bird deserves that you have patience and that you are consistent with detox and feeding the correct foods that Nature has created for parrots. Some of the correct foods are tropical fruit, green bananas and/or plantains, raw foods (not botanically classified veggies – instead feed veggie-like fruit – plant foods that contain the seed inside), tender leafy greens like cilantro, parsley, sprouted seed, limited amounts of sprouted legumes and grains, meal worms, and never, never cooked foods unless your bird is very ill and on its death bed. Then cooked food may actually help the digestive tract begin to heal.
Remember the kind of environment you provide for your bird, the amount of steady security, safety and consistency in your bird’s life is paramount and that you, alone care for your bird without interruption, chaos (nervous tension, arguments, yelling, screaming, loud music) or inserting strangers and/or unsettling environments (trauma, relocation, an environment filled with scents and volatile organic compounds or known as VOCs) into your bird’s daily life. Birds whose digestive tracts are healing, whose emotions are not smooth, whose mental clarity is fragile, due to unhealthy gut flora which produces unhealthy neurotransmitters will have much difficulty keeping their emotions calm and mental abilities stable. Therefore, understand it is not emotions, thinking or behavior that causes feather destruction. These are merely symptoms of the root cause of a long term unhealthy diet, unhealthy gut flora and unhealthy neurotransmitters requiring further and ongoing healing before your bird’s feather destruction reduces to a less frequent event or is eliminated completely. Again, events in your bird’s life and environment are NOT the causes of feather destruction; they are the SYMPTOMS. The cause is almost always diet-related, gut flora and neurotransmitters – in that order. Expecting fast results usually end in only temporary results. We want slow, steady detox for lasting results for years to come!
Finally, remember that years and years of feather destruction can permanently damage feather follicles. This translates to the possibility that your bird will never completely regrow all of its feathers back in. Those feathers that do grow back may never look as beautiful as a bird who never engaged in feather destruction; again due to damaged feather follicles.
The result we all want more than anything is that our birds do not continue to engage in feather destruction because that may lead to self-mutilation of skin, veins, and organs. Even if our bird is not visibly beautiful, ultimately we just want our feathered friends to survive and have the best life possible!
Author’s note: While I have found that almost all feather destruction is caused by a long term unhealthy diet, there are instances where a bird may have internal and/or external parasites, liver damage (almost all feather destroying birds have liver damage due to a long term unhealthy diet), kidney damage, or other organ disease(s). A bacterial, fungal and/or viral infection may be present but undetected. Metal toxicity is also a possibility. It is absolutely paramount that you have your bird thoroughly vetted. Have your vet perform an in depth CBC, crop swab, and check the droppings for parasite and fungal infections. Make sure your vet listens to the heart and inspects other organs. You may even desire a radiograph IF you are absolutely certain your bird does not have metal toxicity (placing a bird under anesthesia which has metal toxicity can potentially cause death). Radiographs can show tumors, enlarged livers, and more.
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