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Love My Plucker Contest Honorable Mentions

Read more stories about life with a plucked bird.

This contest was brought to you by King’s Cages. Read the winning essays in the July 2009 issue of Bird Talk magazine.

African grey, Curtis
Valeria Rogers, Michigan

Curtis the African grey
Photo courtesy Valeria Rogers
"Curtis loves to dance and comforted me during a sad movie."

My feather-plucking Congo African grey is adopted. His original name was, of all things, "Pretty." And he was. He had full feathers and was a nice, calm bird. We got Curtis when he was 1-year-old from someone who wasn't home enough to give him attention. Well, he got attention at my house. The bird loves to dance and my husband loves music, so the bird bonded with him first. "Pretty" really went bananas dancing to "Superfly" by Curtis Mayfield, and, therefore, his name, Curtis. Curtis soon loved the Rolling Stones, too, and my husband, but he would often sneak up and bite me somewhere. I really didn't like Curtis all that much until I cried during a sad movie. He sidled up to me and nudged my arm instead of biting it. He felt my emotion. There is something disturbingly spiritual about animal/human connections. The eye-to-eye embrace bores a hole through to your soul, and without words, without movement, in a split second, you know the bird will be with you for life because to part with that little soul would constitute the worst form of betrayal.

So here I am, nine years later, with a feather plucker that I'm stuck with or rather on. Bonding with my husband first became the birdfeathers that broke our backs. Shortly after bonding with Curtis, my husband began working overtime. I had to take care of the bird. I'm still his caretaker. He never bites me, no matter what, because he knows I love him even in anger. The problem is that my husband was the bird's first love, and like a 2-year-old child, Curtis has spent years following him around the house, jumping off any perch, and never behaving when he is around. Now, Curtis bites my husband horribly, and deservedly, and while well behaved with me alone, plucks incessantly. 

I have done everything in my power to make Curtis happy. I've read Bird Talk and many other articles, have the proper cage, the proper spot, a heated perch, full-spectrum lighting, toys that overflow the house and an outside summer condo for Curtis. I feed him a variety of food, vitamins, Avi Calm and red palm oil. He is bathed and sprayed with aloe vera for his skin. I have an Austin air cleaner and always humidify my house. My vet announced he seldom saw a more healthy bird. I've taken the bird on car rides, kept him near me, allowed him time in his cage, made him birdie vests to keep from chewing on himself, and I've used Pluck No More successfully, but temporarily. The only thing that curbs Curtis' behavior long enough is a bird collar that I put on him when I'm at my wit's end. Right now, he is in the process of growing in hundreds of feathers with his collar on. It's the only thing that has kept the feathers coming, or there would have been irreparable damage by now.

But oh the guilt of putting that collar on. I wait until the bird is almost bald before I resort to it, because I feel as if I am breaking his spirit, even though he is soon whistling and dancing after it's on. I take it off as soon as he is feathered. His calm demeanor lasts for a while, until eventually I see signs of shredding and know I'm destined to repeat the entire emotional cycle again.

I'm destined to keep Curtis forever. With his collar on, he sat on my shoulder last night, and with horrible culpability for his predicament, I told him I was so so sorry. He bowed his little head for a scratch, then craned his neck toward my face, gave me a nudge and birdy kisses. To add to this enormous remorse/love/frustration I feel, Curtis calls my name. To hear "Ree-Ra, Ree-Ra" when my name is Ria captivates my heart, and I run to his call.

African grey, Talon
Kim Hanvy, Tennessee

Talon, an African grey
Photo courtesy Kim Hanvy
"I tell Talon not to pick his feathers, but he just looks at me and goes back to it."

 Well, my husband and I are kind of bird sitting for my brother who moved (abandon Talon and his cat) to Hilo, HI. My brother thinks that he is getting Talon back, but to his surprise, he is not. By the way I am the older sister. It would be torture for poor Talon for my brother to come back and take him on an airplane then he would have to be in quarantine for six months on top of the airplane ride. So no, he is not getting his bird back. My brother bought Talon as a little chick. All my brother ever fed Talon was seed for almost 6 1/2 years, and his color was faded. I started feeding him stuff he was supposed to have: fruits, nuts, veggies and other stuff, and his color got brighter and darker.

Talon plucked before we got him then, when he started getting the right diet, he just about quit except for just a few feathers every once in a while. I took him to the vet just before we moved from Colorado to Tennessee to make sure his health was good. The doc asked me what we were feeding him and I told her, and she said that was good. Well, the stress of the three-day move made him pluck half his belly bald and around the top of his wings, and he keeps plucking the pin feathers and they sometimes bleed. I tell him not to pluck his pin feathers, and he just looks at me and goes back to cleaning his feathers. We have not moved since August of 2008, and he is still plucking. Feathers or no feathers, blood or no blood, we love Talon. Since he was raised with a male, it has taken me over a year before he would quit biting me. He has drawn blood five or six time, and I am the one who feeds him, cleans his cage which is not really as big as it should be. My husband and I have not found jobs yet and cannot get Talon the cage we would like to have for him.

We love him and I will not abandon him. I would go hungry to feed him, I love him so much. When you get a pet, it is for the life of that pet. You don't just abandon them just because you don't like the cold in Colorado. Talon is such a joy and we laugh at him all the time. He has learned so much since we have had him. If we are eating something, he will ask "Is that good?" He will say "You better eat." He is so smart. He rings like the phone and has a complete phone conversation then says, “Alrighty then, bye-bye” and hangs up. He has the best evil laugh of any bird I have heard yet, and not just because he is our bird either. Talon kisses, drips like water, makes noise like a chicken and snaps like someone snapping their fingers. It is unbelievable the sounds he makes with no lips. Talon would love and deserves to have a bigger cage from King's Cages.

African grey, Crockette
Joyce Crowe, Florida

Crockette, an African grey
Photo courtesy Joyce Crowe
"Crockette began feather plucking after we moved to Japan."

I adopted Crockette in 1984; she was just 8 months old then. She has led a happy and healthy life with very few visits to the vet. She hadn't started to pluck until 1990. Our family was uprooted and had to move when my husband was transferred to Okinawa, Japan. 
After we arrived, I noticed she began feather plucking. We thought because she and her companion, Gonzo, our cockatiel, were in cargo near other birds that perhaps she contracted mites, so we tried mite spray. After close examination and nothing to diagnose, our vet gave her a clean bill of health. He suggested we try an Ott light (which does help) but, she continued to pick for about one year.

We moved back to Florida in 1995, and she and Gonzo were happy and healthy. Then, in 1998 Gonzo died suddenly of egg binding. After being her side-by-side companion of 18 years Gonzo had vanished from Crockette’s life. We never adopted another bird. Gonzo was irreplaceable.

Crockette once again began feather plucking. She was nearly bald, and we were afraid she would catch a chill during a cold spell. We changed her diet from a bird maintenance food to a rice diet, which has helped and she grew quite a few feathers. Her chest is still bare in spots and she continues to pluck to this day. We still feed her and excellent pelleted rice diet along with fresh fruits and veggies. We give her plenty of love, attention and exercise. 

After nearly 25 years (this April), she still continues to show us how much a part of our family she is, providing us hours of laughter and years of love and friendship. Crockette has the vocabulary of approximately 1,000 words or more and speaks in complete sentences, answers when you ask her a question and listens to what you have to say. She is my best friend.

If people have bad habits why can't other animals or birds have them? She is a member of our family and I think we have done all we can and will continue to be sure she is happy and healthy. If there is no medical reason for feather plucking, just accept it. I believe if you love your bird and she loves you, that's what matters most. I've yet to hear of a bird that didn't continue to love you when you're not looking your best. I just don't fret over "her bad hair days" anymore.

White-capped Pionus, Ziggy
Carol Cantor, California

Ziggy, a white-capped Pionus
Photo courtesy Carol Cantor
"Ziggy looked like a supermarket bird when I first saw her, with only feathers on her head."

Ziggy came to me as a second-hand bird. The person who had her before me told me her dog had tried to eat the bird, and so she thought it best if she found it a better home. I already had two other Pionus, a blue head named Skye and a bronze wing named Raku, as well as a Senegal named Pumpkin, so I seemed to be a good choice as far as she was concerned.

Ziggy only had feathers on her head. She looked like a supermarket chicken. She also had this terrible nervous twitch. It was hard for me not to cry when I had her on my finger, she looked so absolutely miserable. I looked up all the information available on feather picking and its causes, but there were so many possibilities it was impossible to discern what the problem was and how to deal with it.

One avenue of hope was shots of HCG, human corionic gonadatropin, that our vet told us was being used to treat feather plucking. The first shot seemed to help at least for a few weeks but it wasn't a cure. The second shot seemed to get rid of her nervous twitch. The plucking continued, but it was reduced to her only plucking her breast. Finally when she was getting new tail feathers and wing feathers, losing that plucked chicken look, Ziggy developed a new destructive behavior; she rubbed her back against the cage bars, ruining her wing feathers. They now stick out, making her look like she was in a tornado.

The spot on her breast remains bare. The feathers grow back and she plucks them out. My husband and I give her lots of attention and she loves to sit with us and get her head scratched. She is a very sweet and loving bird. Ziggy has simply decided to do her own fashion statement and not just look like all the other white caps out there. We don't love her any less because of it, and maybe we love her a little more because she needs it.

Green-winged macaw, Brady
Nancy Havell
When my mother passed away, Zoë (B-F A) consoled me as only a beloved bird can. A few months later, I left to visit friends back East, leaving Zoë with her customary sitter. A message was waiting for me when I reached my friends’ house: call home. The sitter gently explained that Zoë had died. I was stunned; her death, coming so soon after my mother’s, , was incomprehensible.

Six long months later, although still uncertain whether I ever wanted another bird, I yearned to hold one again. Firmly resolved to not even think about purchasing one, I went to a local “bird-exchange.”

A green-winged macaw perched on a play stand greeted me. I’ve long admired green wings. However, his chest and legs were more gray than red and his shoulder feathers were badly chewed. But I had to hold him, and we connected. I soon found out why. Then .

The shop explained Brady’s first owner had taken him along everywhere, especially to flea markets. Brady was accustomed to people, noise and commotion. His owner died unexpectedly and — surprise —  left no arrangements for Brady. finally  He landed with the relatives, who weren’t bird people, knew nothing about birds and were afraid of him. They left Brady locked inside his cage to mourn in isolation, “jailed” with few, if any, toys. He began picking and chewing, and off he went . Brady was taken to be sold.

Each of us had lost the most important person (and bird) in our life; we remained locked in grief. I kept returning, and soon it seemed destined that together we would heal. I vowed to make Brady feel safe and loved again, stop his picking and become the beautiful, majestic bird he’s meant to be. I’d be the best darn Mom there ever was!

For his homecoming I readied a larger cage, a big play stand nearby, a hanging gym on the patio; each furnished with oodles of toys. Brady ferociously attacked his new toys, giving each equal opportunity. I sprayed him daily and dirt dripped off. He tolerated my spraying ‘till he realized, “Hey, I’m home!” Now he cooperates only after he begins bathing. Dunking his head in his water bowl, Brady beats his wings and madly flings water about. Then, “Bring it on, Mom!” He continues playing with an inspiring “play-ethic” too — and still picks.

I’ve tried anything and everything to stop his picking; nothing’s been successful. Might herbs work magic? Nope. Apparently, birdseed was the only cuisine he knew; obviously a proper, balanced diet would be just the ticket. Well, expanding my “picky” eater’s horizons is challenging. The corn muffins I make, which hide fresh kale, jalapeños, cheese and red palm oil are currently acceptable — and he still picks.

Our first visit to the vet revealed pasteurella and low thyroid. Brady’s healthy now, and he still picks. I nixed a cone-collar, aka medieval torture device. Dr. Dave recommended teaching Brady tricks. We initiated a daily training regimen and pellet-“training diet.” Nut rewards and praise proved to be insufficient motivation, but he nibbles pellets now, and still picks. Foraging, you suggest? Although Brady’s a clever bird, I can’t tell whether he doesn’t grasp the concept or he’s just lazy — and he still picks.

At our last visit, Dr. Dave confided that Brady’s his favorite bird. With a wink I replied, “I bet you say that to all the birds!” Then I asked about anti-depressants for OCD, but he discouraged it, suggesting, “Can you accept his picking? He’s one very happy bird.”

And I consulted a pet psychic. She related, “Brady confirmed he’s happy; the story’s true.” One of his requests: “Ask him for help when [I] misplace something.” He fancies himself House-Monitor: surveying all, missing nothing. Curiously, it often works — voilà!

Brady barely tolerates cuddling. He’s blissful when I preen his prickly, inaccessible pinfeathers; that’s it. Playing together is another thing entirely. He adores wrestling beak to hand; gnawing my finger and titanium ring (he crunched an heirloom). Playing “Truck” is a hoot: He lies on his back, feet clutching my hand; I scoot him along the rug while we both roar, “Vrooom-vrooom-vrooooom!” He still picks.

Brady’s health and appearance have substantially improved. Recently, his chest was nearly covered with splendid red feathers! Then for no apparent reason he pruned the red off each and every feather on his left breast, leaving the familiar grey and white remains. Next morning, his right breast was pruned to match. I felt hurt and demoralized for a bit. Then I carried on.

But oh, how that dreadful picking and chewing sound (contented beak-grinding gone dreadfully awry) makes me cringe; at times I want to scream! Yes, I often take it personally, it’s all my fault. Then I pause, reflect on my own shortcomings and recall another of the psychic’s insights, “Brady wants to teach you acceptance.” What we dislike in others we usually find in ourselves, too. Come bedtime, I kiss my sweet prince goodnight and thank him. I’m fortunate, indeed.

Congo African Grey, Poncho
Danyelle Murphy, Michigan
Poncho is my, or should I say, my husband’s 25-year-old Congo African grey. He came to us about seven months ago, after his current owner decided that the trip to Colorado from Michigan would be too much for him. I have come to believe that they just simply did not want him, and, unfortunately, this meant we were about to become his third home. I promised him that we would be his last home, promise I make to all my critters.

When Poncho arrived, he was completely bald on his chest and legs. Since I am a veterinary technician, my first concerns were medical, but all of his blood work was normal. He is very healthy for his age. So after he received a clean bill of health, I started looking at his diet, which previously were only seeds. They insisted he wouldn’t eat anything else. After spending a lot of money and buying birdie cook books, I have found that Poncho is actually the connoisseur of everything. I have also discovered that feeding a little one-pound bird is more expensive than feeding my horses, dogs, cats and other birds. I have to admit though, it’s fun to have someone with whom I can share all my food with.

Beyond diet concerns, we have also worked very hard to work him completely into our lives, something I think he was really missing. At his former home, he was in a back bedroom all alone. Now he resides in our living room, where he is the center of attention. He really seems to like the dogs always moving around and making noise, and he talks to them all the time.

In recent months, I have started adding Pluck No More and I am hopeful that, with all things combined, Poncho will once again be fully feathered. Since coming to our home, Poncho has added such joy. His crazy antics always keep us laughing. My favorite is I started telling him every night as he is going “na night,” that “I love you,” and within a few days, he was repeating it all the time. We have since progressed to saying, “I love you toooooo,” and he really seems to know which order to say it. Poncho has added such a new element to our home. He has made it crazier than it already was, but I wouldn’t trade him for anything. He is a wonderful companion and friend.

Congo African Grey, Layla
Leslie A. Machese

Layla, an African grey
Photo courtesy Leslie A. Machese
"Layla started over-preening her chest feathers at age 4."

Love my Plucker? You betcha! Layla recently celebrated her 17th “bird-day” on February 14th and we have been together since she was a dark-eyed baby of 7 or 8 months old. She has always gone to the vet for wellness exams, and in her early years (2 or 3), the vet said she didn’t think Layla would ever be a picker because her feathers were perfect. Be careful what you speak, as Layla, at age 4, started over-preening her chest feathers. Of course, I took her to the vet to see if there was a health issue going on, but she checked out fine.

She continued with this behavior on and off for the next couple of years, and at age 8, she laid her first infertile clutch of eggs. She picked the brood patch area more and she has not had a full tummy of feathers since. Every year, she lays a clutch of eggs in April or May. I leave her to it as her vet and I thought it best, so she doesn’t keep producing eggs, and Layla is very content with her little housekeeping situation and it does not seem to upset her at around 28 days, when I pull the eggs. I do believe she feels the frustration at the lack of fruition of her nest, and this could lead to her to over preen. She even works her shoulder areas under her wings but she does not look “bald.”

Layla is smart, talks up a storm and eats dinner with me every night, which 90-percent of the time, is vegetarian. She has a healthy diet and her gram weight average is 465. I used to have two other birds when Layla came to live with us: Ellie, my cockatiel who died at age 26 in 2001, and Joey, my quaker parrot who died at age 18 in 2006. Layla and I have gone through these losses together and they did not affect her feather plucking.

I have a friend who comes over often on Saturday mornings for tea and conversation. Layla’s room is in the formal dining room and the table where we sit is accessible from her cage, so she comes and goes as she pleases. This friend is a man in his late 70s and Layla seems to have great respect for him but the man has often remarked, “too bad” she feather picks. He truly feels sorry for her and I’ve told him that she has been to the vet, nothing is wrong with her, it’s just a psychological thing she got into, like a person biting their nails. He doesn’t get it that Layla is OK, but his thinking about it seems to bother her. When he comes over, she sits on her chair with her back to him. I’ve interpreted this as she knows his thoughts about her appearance and she shows him her back, which is fully feathered.

I talk about her knowing what people think and after living with her for all these years, it is very apparent that she is a bit of a mind reader. She voices things before I even speak the, she says the name of the person I am thinking of , or if someone is coming over she just knows. Your have to think about a flock of 250-800 strong, all flying together yet never bumping into anyone, never crashing, always “knowing” what the flock is going to do next. They must have a communication system and we, humans, have no idea how it works! So, when Layla says the name of the person I’m talking to on the phone, I’m certain she knows who it is. I picture Layla and I 20 years from now (she would be 37 and I would be 79), sitting on a rocker on our front porch in summer, two old ladies just enjoying the day. And if she still doesn’t have any feathers on her chest, who cares? I love her more than life itself, and I thank God every day for this gift of bird!

In 1998 after being without a pet for nine years, I got my first bird. One day I went to the pet store and picked up a yellowish cockatiel. I knew nothing about birds. I bought the book the store recommended. I thought all he would do all day was chirp. Boy, was I wrong. This little bird stole my heart. He didn’t know how to step up or down. The first time I tried to pick him up, he hissed at me and I was scared. After that I used gloves for a week. He was fine from that point on. He loved to be held and have head scratches.

After having him for a year, I decided I wanted to get another bird. I knew I had to learn more about birds before I could know what kind I wanted. I subscribed to Bird Talk. I didn’t know there were so many birds to choose from. After spending another year doing research, I finally found the one I hoped would be right for me. Thanks to Bubba (my cockatiel) and Bird Talk, I settled on an Eclectus parrot.

Now to find a breeder. I did that very day in the back of Bird Talk and called that night to make arrangements. It was a four-hour drive one way to see him. There was our bird, he was beautiful. He was such a vibrant green with red, blue feathers. His tail was navy with gold trim. The bird was 5 months old and we wanted to take him home with us.

Eclectus, Ethan
Shirley Peterson

Ethan, an eclectus
Photo courtesy Shirley Peterson
"Ethan stole my heart. He loves to be held and have his head scratched."

In 1998 after being without a pet for nine years, I got my first bird. One day I went to the pet store and picked up a yellowish cockatiel. I knew nothing about birds. I bought the book the store recommended. I thought all he would do all day was chirp. Boy, was I wrong. This little bird stole my heart. He didn’t know how to step up or down. The first time I tried to pick him up, he hissed at me and I was scared. After that I used gloves for a week. He was fine from that point on. He loves to be held and have his head scratched.

After having him for a year, I decided I wanted to get another bird. I knew I had to learn more about birds before I could know what kind I wanted. I subscribed to Bird Talk. I didn’t know there were so many birds to choose from. After spending another year doing research, I finally found the one I hoped would be right for me. Thanks to Bubba (my cockatiel) and Bird Talk, I settled on an Eclectus parrot.

For the next five years he was beautiful. He talked, played fetch, cuddled, kissed and was such a joy. He still does. Then we remodeled our kitchen. The bird, Ethan, was in anther room and couldn’t see what was going on, but he could hear the saws, hammers and air gun. He had never heard this much noise. That’s when his plucking started. We didn’t think too much of it at the time, thinking he would stop when the work was done. It didn’t happen.

Our vet gave him a clean bill of health and suggested the following: change his toys often, hide some of his food so he had to forage and keep giving him baths. His food was fine; pellets, warm foods, veggies, fruit and small amounts of seed. The vet returned in six months, no improvement. I asked about a collar and she said she didn’t think that was a good idea. I asked about a sleep cage and she thought that was a good idea. After a few months in the sleep cage, he was starting to grow feathers. We thought we found the answer. In three months, he was starting to look pretty good. Then it started all over. By now you think it’s your fault and you don’t know what you are doing wrong. You keep trying, as he loses more feathers, and you know it will continue until he has no more. Everyone but you will think he’s ugly. It has been two years of him having a couple of new feathers come in and the next time you talk to him, they will be gone. It breaks your heart.

I love my plucker because it’s OK with him if he doesn’t get as much attention as thinks he should have, but he loves me. He makes my world shine on the bleakest day. He is company when I am alone. He doesn’t care who has the remote, but he would rather watch cartoons. He doesn’t care what he has for dinner as long as he has dinner when I do. We play games and, of course, he always gets the treats. My treat is his unconditional love and company.

Blue-and-gold macaw, Jade
Carolyn Yaskulski

jade, a blue-and-gold macaw
Photo courtesy Carolyn Yaskulski
"Jade has a great vocabulary, does tricks, loves to sit with me and is a joy."

“Leave your feathers alone!” “What did you do to your feathers?” I have said that so much to her that she says it to herself. Jade is 6 years old and has been plucking for two years. She goes so far and stops. The feathers begin to pop up and she’ll start all over again. The feathers she doesn’t decide to pull out are absolutely beautiful, deep in color and luster. She first started two years ago when my husband and I went on our first cruise. I thought the plucking would stop once she got back into her old routine and had me home again. I was devastated because she continued. I never dreamed I would have a plucker in my flock of an African grey, lesser-sulphur-crested cockatoo, blue-crowned conure and a caique. The diet is Harrison’s, fresh fruit and vegetables. They are housed in large King’s Cages. The bird room is a sunroom with two JWR air systems. All get a lot of attention because I don’t work.

Jade has a great vocabulary, does tricks, loves to sit with me and she is a joy. I recently had surgery and when I returned after two days and entered the bird room, she yelled to me, “How are you?” We purchased Jade from a breeder, went on visits to handle her before she was weaned and ready to come home with us. I have tried several remedies, additives, sprays and boosters. When I use a solution or an ointment, I tell her to put her wings up and she does. I then spray or rub on an ointment and she tells me in a loud voice, “Good bird!”

I want so much for her to look like the blue and golds in the magazine. Perhaps someday I can stop asking her, “What did you do to your feathers?” and she’ll stop telling me, “Leave your feathers alone.” After all, I love my plucker. Perhaps someday she will pluck no more.

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Love My Plucker Contest Honorable Mentions

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Reader Comments
It's good to read text about bird plucker and there owners. It make me feel that I'm not the only one and it gives me some ideas to help my bird. But, the most important is to accept that the bird is a plucker and to love him like he is.
Laurie, Toronto, QC
Posted: 8/26/2009 1:17:52 PM
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