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Parents Pluck Baby Bird’s Feathers

What action to take when parents pluck their baby birds’ feathers

By Diane Grindol

Cockatiel, Bird Behavior, Feather Picking
You may need to remove and raise a baby bird yourself if its parents are plucking the baby bird's feathers.

Q: My cockatiels are picking at their babies’ developing feathers. In every other way they are wonderful parents. I am not sure what to do.

A: When both parents pick at the babies, your only option might be to take them away from the parents and finish raising them yourself. Not only are baby birds with no feathers (or lacking head feathers or feathers on their back) unsightly, they have to put extra energy into growing feathers a second time. This is especially problematic during this early stage of development, when they’re growing rapidly.

Stop this behavior as soon as you notice it, or prevent it if you can. The good news is that plucked chicks usually grow back their feathers and look normal again.

Why Parents Pluck
There are many explanations for this behavior. I subscribe to the theory that parent birds that pluck their chicks are eager to go back to nest, and they use this behavior to drive out the current chicks. Of course, when chicks are too young to leave the nest, this isn’t effective.

Passing On Behaviors
You have a decision to make about breeding this pair. When I’ve had this problem in my flock, I stopped breeding birds that exhibited this behavior. Sometimes I could pair up one of the birds later on, when it was obviously either the male or female that plucked the chicks. Abused chicks can become abusive parents, and that’s not the kind of flock I want.

At my house, “Susie” was plucked by her father and treated her last nest of chicks very badly. She’s been retired from breeding. She’s a wonderful people bird, so she makes visits to senior homes and does other PR work where she can be doted on and appreciated for her affectionate nature toward people. Other retired breeder birds can be adult role models for chicks that have fledged and are learning to preen, bathe and make food selections.

Of course if you have these birds around baby birds, make sure they don’t exhibit their plucking behavior in that setting. They can be sent to new homes to become non-breeding companion birds to someone’s lonely cockatiel. You could also use the pair as foster parents if they will brood eggs to hatching, or let them hatch chicks that are then fostered to another set of birds to be raised in a loving and nurturing nest box.

Lending A Helping hand
If you have to take babies from the parents because of excessive parent plucking, there are excellent hand-feeding formulas on the market. If you choose this route, find an experienced coach at a bird club or pet store to show you how to hand-feed the first few times and to evaluate your technique.

When hand-feeding chicks:
1. Be observant of formula temperature and keep the chicks at a comfortable temperature.

2. Watch for any signs of yeast or bacterial infections.

3. Weigh chicks daily so there’s an indicator if something starts going wrong.


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Parents Pluck Baby Bird’s Feathers

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Reader Comments
Just want to say that I did remove the babys from the mother. She is not being nice by plucking feathers out. So now she is only allowed in the cage to feed and then she leaves I make sure she is not plucking feathers out.
Sharon, Townsend, MA
Posted: 4/5/2014 8:00:35 AM
They need to collaborate and make an Avian Social Services which may need to be renamed due to the acronym. But anyway, when you have delinquent or abusive bird parents like this, the baby birds need to be temporarily taken away. The parent birds should then be forced to take parenting classes and prove they are good parents then they can get their kids back.

I had a bird once that was a bad parent. It was never around for its kid. It never went to its kids baseball games (its like a very scaled down baseball with a paper ball and no bat). The birds would get together and play, but the parent bird would always stand over in my living room watching the tv.
Alvin, Crappenschnitzel
Posted: 1/22/2014 7:51:11 AM
Thank you so much! Great information.
Nilda, Palm beachz, FL
Posted: 10/21/2011 7:54:41 PM
Thanks for this little article. This is happening with my parrots right now. It's horrible. Everytime mother bird gets near baby she either feeds him or pulls out his feathers. It obviously hurts him. At least I know the feathers will grow back.
Joseph, Hobart
Posted: 2/14/2010 6:09:37 PM
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