Home > Pet Parrots > Feather plucking in African Grey Parrots.

Feather plucking in African Grey Parrots.

I was looking through articles in Applied Animal Behaviour Science tonight for another project and came across an article on feather-plucking in African Grey Parrots (Psittacus erithacus). It provided more evidence that giving parrots the opportunity to forage decreases the chance that they will pluck their feathers. Parrots in the study who had foraging toys in their cage had better feather quality than ones whose food was supplied only in a bowl. The foraging toy was a tube with hole in it that the parrots could roll or swing around, depending on whether it was on the ground or hanging from the cage roof. Food would then fall out of the tube.

Now, I have met some parrots that pluck despite having lots of toys, so a lack of enrichment or foraging opportunities is unlikely to be the only cause of feather destruction in captive parrots. It does, however, seem to reduce the likelihood of it happening.

Here’s the title and abstract (summary of the article supplied by authors for the journal):

Foraging ‘enrichment’ as treatment for pterotillomania

Johannes T. Lumeij and Caroline J. Hommers

aDivision of Avian and Exotic Animal Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiteit Utrecht, Yalelaan 108, 3584 CM, Utrecht, The Netherlands bGrote Baan 9, 5445 PA Landhorst, The Netherlands


This study was performed to determine whether foraging ‘enrichment’ reduces self-directed psychogenic feather picking (pterotillomania) in parrots. A positive correlation between increased foraging time and improvement of feather score was hypothesised.

Eighteen pterotillomanic African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) were randomly assigned to experimental and control groups in a crossover design for two 1-month-periods. The experimental group received food in pipe feeders, while the controls received food in a bowl in the presence of two empty pipe feeders.

The 10-point plumage scoring system from Meehan was used as an indirect measurement of feather picking behaviour (better plumage results in higher score). Scoring took place before the study; after 4 weeks, just before the crossover; and 4 weeks after the crossover. Foraging time was calculated with a time-lapse recorder.

A pipe feeder significantly increased foraging time and feather score. The logistic model of the influence of foraging time on improvement of feather score was significant (Chi-square 7.1; d.f. = 1; P = 0.0076). Each hour extra spent on foraging multiplies the odds of improvement of feather score with a factor 2.9 (95% CI 1.2–7.0).

The results suggest that the redirected foraging hypothesis might be an explanation for pterotillomania in African grey parrots and provide an effective treatment strategy for this common behavioural disorder. The findings may have implications for the treatment of trichotillomania in humans.

Keywords: Psychogenic feather picking; Feather pecking; Impulse control disorder; Animal model; Trichotillomania; Redirected foraging behaviour; African grey parrot

Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 111, 85.

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  1. January 3, 2009 at 8:48 pm

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