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August Abbott, CAS
August Abbott, CAS, Certified Avian Specialist
Category: Bird
Satisfied Customers: 7601
Experience:  Cert. Avian Specialist; Int. Assoc.Animal Behavior Consult; Pet Ind. Joint Advisory Council; author
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My Bird is itchy all the time and plucks his feathers bald.

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My Bird is itchy all the time and plucks his feathers bald. How can i go about to see if he has parasites or if it became psycological? Thanks Chris
Let's take a look at some more details first

Just to be sure I'm clear, it's a male (DNA/genetically or otherwise determined?) and he's been with you for all or most of his 10 years of age?

How long ago did the plucking begin ? Has it ever resolved or seemed to get better ?

Do you recall what might have been going on in your or his life when it first began?

Are there other birds in the home (if so, tell me about them). How about other animals at all?

Give me a walk through of his day. Start with about what time you begin the day, how you greet him or start the morning interactions (if at all)

What kind of foods does he eat the most of and what treats

How much, if any, 'out of cage time' does he get and is it every day?

How much does he weigh on average?

Finally - how about sunlight? Does he go outside or is he at a window location

Take your time - I'll be on for several hours. By the way, what's his name?

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
His name is XXXXX XXXXX

- My Grey is a Male YES DNA/ Genetically determined

- He started plucking from a very young age. I would say almost immediately.

- He would sometimes lets some feathers grow back, but he would never look fully feathered.

- I have moved several times in my life and have given my bird many different homes which i know could be a big part of his plucking. I just feel like he is very itchy all the time. Almost as if when i go close to him and kiss him he points out to me something about his feathers. Or maybe i read him incorrectly??

- He weighs about 14 ounces.

- He doesn't get loads and loads of attention because i work all day. on an average day i definitely spend 2 to 3 hours a day with him. I wake up take him outside on my porch on my shoulder and he looks like hes relaxed and having a good time. I change his food everyday and new water everyday in the morning. Go to work from 10-6 and then spend my day with hercules.

- He hates most foods. He eats the Abba1500. He used to eat harrisons organic, but he chooses the seeds over harrisons. He's not big on trying new foods. Maybe some table food he'll nibble at, but not much other than the Abba. He looks disinterested in other foods.

- My bird loves me and really only my hand he wants to touch and then again bite on occasion, but we get used to that as parrot owners.

- He goes out everyday. He actually i never in his cage. He starts plucking his feathers and gets very claustrophobic inside his cage with the door closed. I know its weird..

- I do have 2 cats also. my bird has gotten a little used to them. He doesn't care for them, but then again just deals with them i guess?
-- Thank you for the details.

The first thing you wanted ruled out was his having some sort of bug or ectoparasite, which is a parasite on the surface of the host rather than internal - and while there are some instances of mites, it's not likely in Hercules' case so hopefully you can take some peace of mind from that.

Here's a way to tell 'for sure' - Cover his cage or at least the sides where he favors for sleep at night with a solid, light colored sheet. In the morning check for what will look like "pepper flakes" at or near where the cage bars meet and intersect with each other.

Mites (the red mite being one of the more often seen ) are nocturnal. The don't actually live on the bird, they live in crevices and cracks of the cage, coming out at night and getting their meal off the bird then.

Just in case you're wondering or are ever tempted: Never use pet store or internet products that reportedly treat mites or are supposed cage protectors. These are just awful products, often causing serious health problems in birds and even people and most importantly, they don't work, never did and never will.

It's like carrying a charm to ward off elephants in your bathtub. People are going to believe either the charm works or elephants in the bathtub are highly unlikely. Wink


Moving on: One of the most frequently discussed problems with our birds and the people who love them is nutrition. It's like having a toddler for 50-60 years! That toddler (or bird) will choose the junk food each and every time. What kid wouldn't opt for ice cream and cookies instead of broccoli and beans?

This is where we need to be creative and firm. Try getting him on any pellet diet with fresh foods rather than seeds.

Offer a pellet from your fingers as a treat (if your bird is used to taking treats from your fingers that is) and go ahead and try one yourself so the bird can see. I’m serious – try it yourself. Your bird shouldn’t be expected to eat anything that you wouldn’t eat yourself.

I’ve mixed pellets in with cereal too, especially a good, healthy, low sugar type. Try crushing them into an all natural yogurt or baby food of mixed vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash or the like. One of our macaws started to love them when she found them in with her blueberries and other cut up fruit.

I’ve found it’s not a good idea to mix the pellets in with the seeds, but be creative otherwise.

One warning is that if you mix the pellets in with anything wet or even make a ‘mush’ out of the pellets using plain water, a natural, low sugar fruit juice – you must remove the dish (must!) after an hour or two, tops. There’s too much chance for bacterial growth in wet foods and this only makes a problem worse.

Sprouting fresh seed for vitamin and enzyme loaded greens for your bird is easy. The rumors about it being dangerous, often referring to fungal contamination or bacteria, are greatly exaggerated and not a concern when sprouting is done right.

Soaking seeds in an even cleaner environment can be effected by adding 1 tablespoon of GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) to a gallon of plain water and then using that water to soak the seeds.

When rinsing the sprouts, use a fresh batch of treated water.

One of the very best and most comprehensive guides I’ve seen on sprouting, including detailed instructions and explanations of the different kinds of seeds and nuts is here

For overall feeding and nutrition for your bird, this is a pretty extensive resource that includes homemade recipes that are for both birds and their owners to share


Grey’s have a tendency to develop what can only be described as allergic reactions.

There are different possible causes.

Rhinitis (inflammation of the nares/nostrils). There would likely be a nasal discharge involved that may be clear, cloudy or yellowish; thick or thin. The underlying cause may be anything from viral to bacterial or fungal. It could also be a reaction to a foreign object, which could be as common as dust or other bird’s feathers/dander.

Also try installing a vaporizer (as opposed to a humidifier) in the room. The hot steamy air can be helpful to both feather quality and respiratory tracts. There are also cool mist vaporizers that make more sense in summer.


Vacuuming instead of just sweeping or dusting, needs to be done daily. It might sound like a lot of work, but when done on a regular basis it’s really not so bad. I do it twice a day to help one of the permanent residents, a wonderful macaw with acute allergies. She’s improved quite noticeably with these efforts.


Calcium Deficiency Disorder is rather common in African Grey’s. It’s not that they need more calcium than any other bird (though this is a popular myth), they seem to have more severe reactions to lower calcium levels than many other birds.

You may see imbalance, falling, what appears to be fainting and even seizures.

It’s not suggested that you use calcium supplements since over dosing on calcium is also a possibility that will produce dangerous results.

The first thing you should do is have a vet check your bird’s BCL (blood calcium level).

With avians, blood calcium levels are deceptive. They will often fall within the normal range (8.0 - 13.0 mg/dl), so an ionized calcium level needs to be done.



If it’s low, the vet may offer options. Your own options are to feed a pellet diet for the most part of the bird’s nutritional needs. Supplement fresh foods with higher calcium foods like almonds, natural cheese, natural yogurt and even offering a (cooked) chicken leg with a bit of the meat left on it (no skin, no spices). There’s something a bit curious about watching a parrot snap a chicken bone and expertly dig out the marrow with their tongue.

I try to offer this treat about once a week.

You can also give an original formulation Tums, although I’ve never had to do this. ½ tab a day or every other day. Some birds eat these like it’s a treat. The fruit flavored types are fine as well, but be sure it’s nothing more than an antacid (calcium) product. You don’t want aspirin or other drugs added.

In order to properly process calcium in their system, birds need adequate D vitamins too. Ideally this is from natural sunlight, but these days with more energy efficient windows, much of the UVA and UVB rays are blocked.

A full spectrum light bulb in the area of your bird for at least two hours a day is a good idea. Not all full spectrum light-bulbs are necessarily the same. It’s best to buy one made specifically for birds and keep in mind that though the light might come on, after many months the efficiency may be down.

I replace them once a year. If you consider it a lightbulb, it’s expensive; but, if you remind yourself it’s a piece of the sun and a health product for your bird - it’s a bargain.

You can see more about Calcium, D, and more here


Have your vet perform a blood serum test for zinc levels (just in case your vet isn’t an avian vet, zinc levels over 2 ppm are positive for zinc toxicity). There will also likely be elevated WBC’s (white blood count).

Zinc can be ingested slowly over time when toys, clasps, chains, links or even cages are chewed on or played with. Other poisonings occur when the bird actually swallows a toy, link or piece of one. Watch out for bell clappers for instance.

Metal toxicity (lead, zinc being most commonly found). Quick links, cage bars, even professionally supplied toys, depending on where they're manufactured, may contain lead and/or zinc. It's frightening to learn how many sources of zinc there are in any household. If anything in your bird's environment is magnetic, it may be a toxic metal.


. I strongly suggest getting regular weights.

A gram scale is one of the best investments a bird owner can make since many illnesses are not noticed until pretty far along. With a regular weight monitoring, you’ll know when a weight loss (or gain) trend occurs and may be able to stave off serious problems by catching them early.

A bird needs to be weighed on a gram scale. Ounces won’t do it. By the time an ounce scale registers the loss of an ounce, it’s more than 28 grams! That’s significant for a bird

I weigh everyone every Saturday morning, right after a dropping. They’ve come to expect it and happily step up on the scale when it’s their turn.

For more ideas and options at conversion, take a look at these links. There are as many ‘right ways’ as there are individuals.


I know this seems like a lot, but it's far easier than you think and I'm here to work with you and Hercules all the way.

Just one step at a time - one feather at a time. Let's get him in his ideal health and feather, while also putting you more at ease too.

August Abbott, CAS and other Bird Specialists are ready to help you