Everyone must have seen the pictures of cockatoos and parrots with a featherless chest. Sometimes even the whole bird is featherless, exposing a dark grey skin. The lack of feathers can have two causes; a disease or plucking of the feathers by the cockatoo himself. For more information about the diseases, check the Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease page and the Giardia page. This page is about cockatoos pulling out their own feathers.
What is going on?
Your cockatoo starts pulling out its own feathers. Usually he starts with the feathers on his chest. You begin to notice a bald spot, it’s even getting larger and every newly growing feather gets pulled out as well. Some cockatoos will even bite or nibble at their own skin, causing a wound on their chest.
Why cockatoos pluck themselves
Most cockatoos start plucking themselves out of frustration and boredom. Cockatoos are smart birds that are build to live freely with other cockatoos in stimuli-rich nature. Now it finds itself in a cage with few or no toys, only few interaction with other beings, no mates, no other cockatoos, no distractions from its life in the cage. Out of frustration the cockatoo will start pulling out his own feathers. Not every cockatoo in such a situation will start plucking, but many start this behavior in this situation. Even when the cockatoo is removed from his dull and frustrating environment, he can continue to pull his feathers out of habit. When feathers get pulled out multiple times, damage is done to the follicles in which they grow. After a while the feathers will never develop again.
Sometimes there is a medical cause to plucking, like itching parasites, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, itchy skin or a lack of certain nutrients. Always talk to a vet when your cockatoo starts to pull his own feathers.
Making it stop
When a cockatoo develops the habit of plucking, it can be challenging to make him stop. You have to both remove the causes of plucking in the first place, and provide the cockatoo with enough distractions to not continue his habit of plucking.
The best remedy is placing the cockatoo in a large aviary with other cockatoos of his species.
When it does not stop
When a cockatoo continues to pull his feathers, they eventually will not grow back. This spot on the body will stay bold for the rest of its life. If it also develops a habit of inflicting wounds on its body, it will eventually die of infection.