I had a long conversation about 6 months ago with a woman that I had known for years from bird forums I was active on. I always looked forward to her posts because her perspective on life was so unique. She has an african grey parrot that we’ll call “Margo” that provided her with endless stories to share.
“Helen”, a multiple bird owner with years of experience, always had the right answer to people’s questions. She would carefully craft her explanations in language that everyone could understand and she didn’t give up explaining until she was sure that the asker understood not only what to do, but why. She is one of the best and most knowledgeable bird owners I have ever come across.
After we caught up, I asked her how Margo was doing. I was expecting her to launch into one of her hilarious stories detailing Margo’s latest adventures, but instead she burst into tears.
When she collected herself she explained to me that, about a year before, Margo started plucking and hasn’t stopped. Helen isn’t the type to care that her bird is plucked. Her ego wasn’t involved and this only served to strengthen her love for Margo. Her devastation came from the idea that, emotionally, Margo has been silently suffering.
Helen loves all of her birds, but Margo held a special place in her heart. About 10 years ago, the police found Margo in a cage in the back of a closet of a known drug house.The police believe a user had traded her for drugs. After a lot of red tape, she wound up in Helen’s care.
There is no telling what Margo went through in either of her former homes, and no one will ever know, but throughout the ordeal that followed her rescue, Margo surprised everyone with her resillience and willingness to forgive. Helen was smitten and Margo had a great new permanent home. And then, years down the road, she began to pluck.
Helen and I went over the obvious checklist for the probable causes of plucking:
- Health: There have been three visits to avian vets over the past year, with two different vets. All findings were the same and Margo is in great health. So we eliminated the medical possibilities and moved onto…
- Diet: Helen was surprised to discover that Margo had an excellent appetite right away and eagerly accepted the wide variety of foods offered in her new home. She is a great eater. Also, tests had shown no deficiencies, so that only left…
- Environment: This is biggest, broadest, most confusing category of all! This includes literally EVERYTHING that exists in Margo’s world: things indoors, things outdoors, smells, sounds, views from windows, proximity to doors, household pets, enrichment and exercise opportunities, human stress levels…it’s impossible to list everything.
We touched on every aspect of the environment that we could think of. It didn’t make sense that this was a repercussion of her ordeal 10 years ago. Why would it manifest in plucking now? Something had to have changed that affected Margo deeply and we searched for that answer and found nothing out of the ordinary. Finally, I said: “Maybe THAT’S the problem. Nothing has changed. Maybe she isn’t stimulated enough.” Maybe Margo was too comfortable. I reminded Helen that her bird used to run with a pretty fast crowd. We both laughed.
When Helen charges into action, there’s nothing quite like it. When she does something, she goes all the way. I talked to her this weekend. The bare patch on Margo’s chest is nearly filled in and the feather destructive mentality hasn’t persisted.
I asked her what she did. After she told me, I wished I had asked what she hadn’t done. I can tell you that it began with a new cage for Margo and was finalized with a bird room being added onto the house. And everything in between.
She told me that the biggest change came about as she began to forgive herself for not recognizing that Margo was hurting inside. She feels certain that her own stress over the situation was exacerbating the behavior. When she calmed down, so did Margo. And that’s when she started to respond to the changes Helen was putting into play.
There are two messages I want to emphasize with this post:
- Don’t give up. Try anything and everything. Most importantly, don’t disregard certain ideas because it seems crazy that such a little thing might have such a big effect on your bird. When you have tried everything, go back again and do the things you passed by the first time.
- If you have a plucker, don’t think of yourself as a bad owner. This happens in homes where birds receive the very best that humans have to offer. Don’t beat yourself up. It will stand in the way of finding a solution.
If you have a bird that has been through severe abuse that you don’t know how to work through, take a look at our Abused Parrot Course.