for your companion can sometimes be disheartening. This
is especially true when, no matter what you try, you
cannot seem to help them. Carey and James are going
through this very scenario with their cockatoo, Kuku.
is a 4-year-old sulfur crested cockatoo and has lived
with Carey and James since she was 16 weeks old.
According to them, she is a very affectionate bird and
loves to spend time cuddling with her caretakers. She is
rarely caged, spending most of her waking hours in
whichever room she finds James or Carey. Neither James
nor Carey work outside their home so Kuku is almost
always close by one or both of them.
the last few months, Kuku, for as yet an unknown reason,
has begun to pluck out her feathers. It started as a
very occasional occurrence resulting in a few feathers
being left in various parts of the house and in her
cage. Recently, this behavior has greatly accelerated to
the point now where Kukuís chest is devoid of feathers
and her wings are not far behind. It saddens both Carey
and James to see this behavior but they cannot seem to
stop Kuku no matter what they try.
comes the line, say it with me, "Kuku needs to see
her veterinarian." This needs to be a veterinarian
skilled in avian medicine. It needs to be determined
whether Kuku has an underlying disease process that
might be causing her to destroy her feathers. There are
many possibilities, too many to list here, but an
absolute necessity in discovery if we are to help Kuku.
If there is no disease process involved, we must then,
and I hate this term, "assume" she might be
dealing with a behavioral issue.
are noted for being very interactive, highly intelligent
birds and, often times, very emotional. These
characteristics make them especially loving companions
-- however they can also lead to behaviors that are
sometimes interpreted as attention-getting or
obsessive/compulsive, to borrow from the human side.
These are not always correct. In Kukuís case, we have
no way of knowing what might be going on in her specific
case so I will limit my recommendations here to the
aforementioned need for a thorough veterinary evaluation
both physically and environmentally, and a behavioral
dealing with many multiples of plucking cockatoo
patients in the past I will share a common solution that
has worked for many patients. This involves keeping the
bird stimulated in its environment -- enrichment if you
in nature are foragers spending great amounts of time
working their environments for food. When we take these
highly intelligent animals into captivity and fill up
their bowl with food every day, there is not much
stimulation involved for them beyond just dipping their
heads in a bowl.
a relatively free-ranging bird like Kuku, placing food
in various locations throughout the house as well as
putting the food inside accessible containers, she can
spend part of her day working for her food. This is less
time for her to be, for lack of a better term, bored.
key is keeping her stimulated and thus not plucking.
This sounds like I may be oversimplifying Kukuís case,
primarily because I likely am, however, there are many
plucking cockatoos, as I mentioned, that do indeed
respond very well to enrichment of their environment.
I hope Kukuís case is simply solved as a behavioral
issue and not a disease process. And then that some
relatively simple techniques involving environmental
enrichment and mental and physical stimulation will
eliminate her plucking behavior.