Meet Keno, my beautiful 25 year old Blue & Gold Macaw. Yes, she is a severe feather plucker.
Most people that see a plucked bird think the worst: "Oh, there is something wrong with that bird", "Oh, that bird must have been mistreated or is sick". Just because a bird is a plucker doesn't mean there is something wrong with them. There are MANY reasons for a bird to start feather plucking and many unknown reasons. Sometimes a bird will start plucking because of allergies, hormones, diet, nutrition, stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, fear, bacterial infection, boredom, etc. Unfortunately if not caught and stopped in time it can become a habit and even if caught early doesn't mean it still won't become a habit. When a bird plucks a feather out it causes a immediate release of endorphins by the brain, which causes a pleasure feeling for the bird, similar to what happens when people self-harm. Some birds will think "Oh, that felt good" and be done and not pluck again but others can think 'Oh, that felt good" and do it over and over again. If you notice your bird is plucking or destroying their feathers at all, it is best to get them into an Avian Certified Vet to try and get to the cause of the problem and to help your bird as soon as possible, even if it doesn't completely stop the plucking.
Back to Keno...Keno and I met when she was relinquished to the bird farm in 2019. I was never a Macaw person because their beaks were always too intimidating to me but she won me over and got my love for Blue & Gold's started. She is the sweetest girl you can meet! She did come in the store as a plucker, but unfortunately she wasn't as severe of a plucker as she is now; she had patches missing from the tops of her wings, her lower half and legs were naked, and patches were missing from her chest. Her feathers were a mess because it seemed she didn't have a bath in a while. She came with just one toy in her cage that looked like it had been in there a while. We are not 100% sure of the reason she began plucking but when she was vet checked she did have a bacterial infection (which sometimes can cause plucking to start) and was placed on antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Unfortunately her plucking had already become a habit. Once the habit has started it becomes almost impossible to get them to stop. She did seem to slow down her plucking at first and then it became worse. I have tried Hormone Havoc Tea by Greywood Manor, giving her lots of toys to play with and time out of her cage, vitamins and bathing on a regular basis. I did take her back to the vet and she did have another bacterial infection and back on antibiotics she went. Then hormonal season hit, she started nesting in the bottom of her cage and started laying eggs, she even stopped playing with her toys. I still would give her new toys each week and move around her toys, she was even in a double wide style macaw cage. When nothing would get her to stop nesting in the bottom of her cage or get her to play with her toys I moved her out of the big double Macaw cage and put her single one back in. That seemed to help for a few days but then went right back to the bottom of her cage and plucking more again because she was trying to nest. I did finally realize that if I replaced her papers every few days or so, after she would tear up a toy or would dirty her papers, she wouldn't go to the bottom of her cage so often. She is still plucking but we are working on that all the time. No one talks about how stressful it is to have a plucking bird. You get so excited when new feathers start coming in and then heart broken when they are on the bottom of their cage a few days later. I love her to pieces and I know she can't help it. No matter the outcome I will always love her and never stop fighting for her! Next time you see a plucked bird try and ask for education on the bird and know that it is loved and deserving of love, not just a "sad looking bird".