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Feather Plucking

Feather Plucking

Although feather plucking is preventable all canary breeders would have experienced this troublesome affliction at one time or other. There are a number of possible reasons and causes and these need to be correctly identified for preventative as well as remedial action: - 

  1. Overcrowding in the aviary or other housing.
    With insufficient room to fly and places to perch fighting will result and feathers plucked. This may give rise to blood pinfeathers, the taste for which causing more fights and more bloodfeathered birds. Within a relatively short time the aviary may contain a multitude of bloodfeathered birds with all its consequences. Birds will become worthless for exhibiting since the implant of the feather has become so badly damaged that the new replacement feather becomes twisted and the damage has become irreparable. Any new feather growth may also be marred when the bird starts plucking its own feathers. Provide therefore adequate space for your birds and ensure that any plucked birds are promptly separated from the healthy ones. 
  2. Perches not properly mounted and/or constructed.
    In breeding cages where perches have not been placed properly there is a greater likelihood that birds will feather pluck particularly during the moult and towards the breeding season. Place perches so that each bird has his own spot and is well separated from the others. Always remove any plucked birds from the healthy ones.
  3. A lack of amino acids and/or other nutritional elements.
    Not usually a problem where normal nutrition with adequate natural vitamins is provided. Pinfeathers contain amino acids, which are savoured by birds and are the main reason for the rapid escalation in feather plucking. Amino acids can be readily provided by giving moulting birds in an aviary/flight half an onion each week. Provide natural vitamins during the moult and winter time.  
  4. Birds with bloodfeathers not promptly removed from the aviary/housing.
    As mentioned above the problem quickly multiplies if affected birds are not immediately removed from the healthy ones. Other measures are as described under (1) – (3) above.

 A shortage of nesting material.
Normally the older birds commence building their new nest, when the young are about to leave the nest and they are nicely attired with a new coat of feathers. When there is insufficient good nesting material about the young will be quickly robbed of their down feathers and unless quick action is taken their new flight and tail feathers as well. Thus provide the hen with proper soft nesting material so that she can make her new nest at the right time. In other words make sure that the hen has laid her first egg as the young fly out of the first nest. At this point any feather plucking of the young will have ceased. What is even better if you can is to make breeding cages that have a baby cage attached. What is still simpler when the time comes is to remove the nest with the young to a larger enclosure containing (say) five hens. These hens will serve as foster parents and feed and raise the young well. Five hens can accommodate up to eight nests with young nearly ready to fly out and they will be fed and raised most effectively. All other measures from (3) above still apply. 

  1. Pastel and/or ivory factor birds placed together with other varieties.
    Many breeders are aware that some canary varieties are more prone to being feather plucked than others, viz., pastel yellow-ivory and to a lesser degree the browns. I do not know the reason for this but would recommend that these “pluck prone” varieties be kept together and not mixed with others in the aviary.
    All other measures still apply.
  2. Boredom – birds lack adequate distractions.
    This particular cause is really part of point (1). With adequate and proper nutrition, cuttlefish bone, shellgrit, natural vitamins, onion weekly, here and there millet sprays, suspended coarse strings and no overcrowding, feather plucking will essentially be prevented. Thus provide adequate distractions for your birds. Other measures still apply. 
  3. Young independent birds placed together with older birds in the same aviary.
    This may happen when the older birds want to make a nest but nesting material is not available. As a consequence these birds will start to pull the feathers off these young defenceless birds. During the breeding season do not place young birds in an aviary with older birds for the purpose of promoting their growth and development. 
  4. A disposition inherited.
    In spite of what has been written above I believe that feather plucking can to a large degree be inherited from mother to daughter and father to son. Record these feather pluckers in your stockbook and dispose of them if feather plucking has indeed become a frequent occurrence. By doing so you will have largely eradicated a troublesome and painful habit.


By taking proper precautions in aviaries and breeding cages and through timely observations and corrective action it is possible to virtually eliminate feather plucking. I hope that the above measures will make feather plucking a thing from the past for you. If it still persists you can be rest assured that you are dealing with a hereditary factor.              Wout van Gils



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