Does Hand-feeding Baby Birds Lead To Future Feather Pluckers?

There are several hypotheses as to why birds destroy their feathers, ranging from dietary inadequacies, illnesses, and hormone imbalances to environmental and psychological issues. One controversial opinion in the avicultural field is that hand-fed birds are more prone to feather pluck. Some vets feel that hand-feeding newborn birds might increase the intensity of feather plucking. Aviculturists often remove the youngsters from their nest around 2 weeks of age and begin hand-feeding them with a syringe. This is usually done in the aim of making the birds more docile or because the parent birds are inept.

However, “these birds lose out on the regular training and developmental connection with their parents,” says Jeffrey Jenkins, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Southern California. These parrots are imprinted on humans and do not learn to be birds. This results in unusual behavior, such as feather plucking.” He found that before to 1992, when parrots were still being imported, few birds were feather pluckers. “Because they were nurtured by their parents, the imported parrots learned how to be birds,” Jenkins said.

Young wild macaws in South America’s rain forests stay with their parents for two years before venturing out on their own. They spend this time watching and learning from their parents. Pet birds may not get this critical instruction if they are taken from their nests at an early age.

Hand-fed young birds, according to some avian enthusiasts, lose out on one of the most crucial life lessons: how to care after their feathers. “Probably the majority of pet birds nowadays do not know how to properly groom themselves or care for their feathers,” said Richard Nye, DVM, an Illinois veterinarian. “When a feather goes out of place,” he said, “the pet bird doesn’t know what to do with it, so it grabs the feather, chews on it, breaks it off, or pulls it all the way out.” The bird doesn’t know how to smooth up the feather in its beak so that all the small veins stay together as they should.”

Other avian specialists, on the other hand, believe that the assertion that hand-feeding enhances a bird’s risk of feather damaging behaviors is premature, if not harmful, since not enough is known about feather plucking. “We need additional evidence,” Dr. Susan Clubb, DVM, Dip. ABVP, remarked, despite the fact that it is “quite simple to get to that judgment.” Clubb has been looking for such information. She undertook a 4-year research on 3,000 parrots, both hand-fed and parent-reared, in partnership with the Loro Parque Fundación and other vets to trace the origins of feather pluckers. She discovered that both wild-caught and hand-fed birds might be feather pluckers, but that parent-reared — not hand-fed — birds were more likely to be pluckers.

Clubb noted that she thinks many vets believe hand-feeding youngsters might lead to feather plucking later in life “simply because what they’re seeing in their practice is hand-raised birds.”

This attitude is shared by Howard Voren, president of the Organization of Professional Aviculturists and a breeder for 35 years. He said that in the United States now, there is a higher number of hand-reared birds than parent-reared birds, causing people to believe that hand-rearing increases the odds of a bird plucking since hand-reared birds are what people are familiar with. “You still had lots of feather pluckers twenty years ago, when the bulk of birds were imported,” Voren added. “I rear 1,800 kids a year, and none of them become feather pluckers,” Voren added. Voren stated that he had one pair of feather-plucking sun conures and that the majority of their offspring, whether born from an incubator or parent-reared, are feather pluckers.

When a parrot’s owner goes to work during the day and the bird is left at home alone without appropriate toys or other entertainment, the bird may grow distressed. “Many of these hand-fed birds have never been trained how to occupy themselves and have no idea what to do when they’re alone,” Jenkins said. Stress or boredom may cause the bird to pluck its feathers.

However, according to Clubb’s research, many feather pluckers have an inflammatory skin illness. This was especially common in macaws and Amazons. However, it is still possible that certain birds, such as cockatoos, have a psychogenetic condition that causes them to pluck their feathers.

So, what is the answer?

Both Nye and Jenkins believe that co-parenting is the solution. This means that the baby birds remain in the nest until they are weaned or fledge, and the parent birds are responsible for all feeding and rearing. “When the youngsters are around two weeks old, the bird breeder may begin touching the chicks for a brief period of time every day,” Nye said. “The human just holds the chicks for a few minutes to get the infants acclimated to being handled before returning the babies to the nest.” The birds may be brought out of the nest for a bit longer each day.” “You’ll get a tame baby bird that knows how to be a bird and probably a lot less problems down the road with feather picking,” he said.

“The major contributing factor to feather plucking, above and beyond a bird’s individual proclivity for nervousness,” Voren says, “is what they are confronted with in their living environment long after they are weaned.”

Co-parenting was presented as a solution to feather plucking at UC Davis, according to Clubb, but nothing has been proven to work yet. “We need to keep researching the causes of feather plucking,” she said.

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