Excessive preening – parrot forum – parrot owner’s community

My mom and I have a green cheek conure, who just turned 1. However, we’ve noticed he’s constantly preening. He has tons of toys, which we change so he doesn’t get bored, and we take him out and play with him every chance we get. The vet says he’s a very well socialized bird. He plays, talks, sings and does small tricks like dancing to a specific song or giving kisses.

Often though, in the middle of playing, dancing, or just sitting on us, he will stop and preen. I’m a bit worried because it’s constant. As in he’ll have just finished 5 minutes of cleaning himself, and then 2 minutes later he’s back at it. He doesn’t have any bald spots, is a healthy bird and is on a very well balanced diet. We’re just worried his preening has become a bit obsessive, almost like he’s a neat freak.

The only incident of a feather that shouldn’t have fallen out was a flight feather. He was having a shower with my mom and something startled him. He took off and had a bit of a rough landing in the shower. 30 seconds later his big flight feather, very literally, fell out. What was worrying about this situation was there seemed to be a bit of blood on the tip of the feather that is connected to him, but our bird never made a sound of pain.

Anyway, should we be worried by what seems to be excessive cleaning of his feathers? Or is it normal that they should spend a long time cleaning, and then let’s say you pet them or give them a scratch on the shoulders, the clean themselves all over again? As I’m writing this, he’s cleaned himself at least 5 times, in no more than 15-20 minutes (scratching and cleaning feathers).

As long as you aren’t noticing any of his feathers looking like they are "over-preened". With Green Cheeks, as Monica already pointed out on your bird, they tend to get a little obsessive with the feathers in their shoulder area and upper back. That seems to be one of the very first places they start out over-preening, and you can tell this because eventually the tips of the feathers on their shoulders and upper back start to become frayed, or kind of "chopped-up" looking…So it’s not that they are actually "plucking" or pulling their feathers out, but they are over-preening and actually chewing on the tips of their feathers until they start to get scraggly and chewed on the ends. That’s when you know that you may have an issue, as this is a feather-destructive behavior, and can lead to them eventually plucking.

I can’t tell in those photos whether or not your bird’s feathers are over-preened, you’d have to post a close-up of his back. They do look to be a bit "bronzed", as Monica pointed out, so it could be that he’s concentrating on those particular feathers. The hard part is trying to figure out why he’s doing it. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to figure out, as they have all the toys in the world, they’re never locked in their cage, they get all kinds of attention, they eat a great diet, and yet they still over-preen or pluck. I had a Budgie who did this to the feathers on his shoulder and back, you couldn’t really notice it until you got a close look at him, then you could see that the tips of the feathers on his back were all chewed-up. We tried everything, including blood-work and cultures at his Avian Vet, and everything was fine. For whatever reason he just kept doing it, like an addictive sort of behavior. It didn’t effect his flying, so we just kept showering him daily and making sure that we tried to distract him whenever we saw him doing it.

If you have had your Green Cheek to a Certified Avian Vet or Avian Specialist Vet for a yearly wellness-exam, then that’s where you should start. It’s a very good idea to find an experienced Avian Specialist that you trust, and get basic, baseline blood-work done on him to check for infection, anemia, liver function, kidney function, etc. And then you do this once every year and you’ll have the baseline values to compare with each year. Sometimes it’s an infection causing it, sometimes it’s a parasite like feather-mites, sometimes it’s even a kidney or liver issue. And with birds hiding all outward signs of illness and/or pain for as long as they can, it’s very important to stay ahead of the game anyway and do at least a once-yearly "wellness exam" that includes both routine blood-work and cultures, in addition to a complete physical exam.