Why Birds Pull Out Their Feathers

One of the curious facts about birds in captivity is that they pull out their feathers, their own as well as each other’s.

Max and Frieda are good examples of that. They are 25-year-old Blue and Gold Macaws who have been with us for about a year now. Max was a perfectly feathered, perfectly good bird but the owner decided he wanted to breed macaws and sell them, so he purchased Frieda. Well, after years of bad eggs and no babies, both their heads were bald, both their backs were bald and both their chests were bald, so the owner brought them to us.

What people don’t realize is that when a bird has a bald head, somebody else has pulled the feathers out of it. They can rip out their own wing feathers, tail feathers and chest feathers. But they can’t pull out their own head feathers.

When Max and Frieda first met and got together, they pulled out feathers to build a nest. After that, it became habit and they couldn’t stop.

We have them in cages side-by-side to keep the bonded pair near to each other, because if they were together, they would start pulling out each other’s feathers again. We’ve gotten a minor feather growth back in a few places on their bodies, but they’re basically condemned to being naked for the rest of their lives. That’s because when the feathers are pulled out continuously from the follicles, the follicles eventually close up and there’s no feather growth.


Once we finish the new flight at Birds on the Brink Sanctuary, they’ll be going in there with the endangered ones, hopefully with the rest of the macaws. Because we haven’t clipped their wings, they have enough wing feathers and tail feathers to fly. They just have naked heads and bodies. We’ll have to be really careful that none of the other birds picks on them, but we’re going to give it a valiant try.


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