I think I can finally say that Erin has made it through her rut as a picker and is essentially back to being a normal bird! Its taken from March until now to get her to stop picking and to let her feathers grow back in, but as long as we don’t have any huge setbacks I believe we are in the clear.
For those who do not know, Erin is my 6 year old handicapped cockatiel. She was not my first bird, but she was my first handicapped parrot and she was my inspiration to get involved with handicapped animals. Her whole story is in the ‘About Our Flock’ section.
Anyways, out of all my birds, Erin was the one that I felt was least likely to start picking. I thought for sure it would be Bella. After all, Erin was well adjusted, friendly, loving, and happy with everyone. She seemed, in general, like a happy, easy bird. However, after I went away to school, Erin wasn’t recieving as much attention as she was used to. She rarely got out of her cage because Bella was so demanding of time and attention that my family didn’t have time to play with the smaller ones as much. The other two birds played with their toys and entertained themselves, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Erin.
The straw that broke the camel back was when my well meaning mother attempted to change Erin from being bedded on Carefresh to being bedded on diced newspaper. Erin flipped out and began pulling her feathers out.
When I came home for spring break, my mom announced on the car ride home that we had a problem with Erin that everyone had apparently been keeping a secret from me. She had a patch the size of a dime cleared on her chest. I was mortified as well as completely furious that no one had told me. I made a vets appointment and took her later that week.
Erin’s test came back clean and she was deemed a neurotic cockatiel. They gave her anti-anxiety medication. However, the medication was too strong and Erin soon began not eating while on the medication. I pulled her off the medicine and her plucking became worse. I bought her all new perches and toys and totally outfitted her cage. I attempted to change her diet, which she thorougly hated, to a new rice based diet, incase she was allergic to wheat. Nothing seemed to slow her down.
By the middle of April, Erin had completely balded her chest. I bought her a no pick vest. Erin began picking under her wings and progressed to self mutilation. At this point, I wanted to take her to a vet yet again, but I had no money and finals and no support. Poor Erin had to wait. Taylor also got sick and needed veterinary care, so I was completely wrung dry of all funds.
By the middle of May, Erin was so caked with goo from sprays and aloe that she looked like she had been involved in an oil spill. She was miserable. Every waking moment was spent pulling out the pins of the feathers that had been coming in. She would squeak pitifully everytime she pulled on another feather. There were some nights that I would just put her to bed early just so I didn’t have to hear her pulling her feathers out.
At this point, I was home regularly, so I was beginning to think her plucking had become a habit and she was continuing because the pins coming in were itchy. So, in a last attempt, I cut the toe off a sock and put holes for her head and her wings and made her wear the sock. The sock didn’t allow her access to under her wings, her back, her belly, or any part in between. At first I was doubtful about whether it would work or not. I figured she would chew through it or shred it apart to get at the pins.
Within a week I was seeing new pins. At first, Erin did try to take the sock off and shred it. But she couldn’t. I could tell she was itchy, but as the pins sprouted into new feathers and less pins needed to grow in, she got more comfortable. She began to seem happier and cleaned all the grease off her feathers. She started to look like a bird again!
Today, Erin still wears her sock when she is in the cage and to sleep. However, she is gradually being weaned off of it. She no longer needs it while she is out of the cage and will happily play, eat, and preen without pulling out any of her feathers. She is almost fully feathered, only having a small bald spot in her wing pit, which is quickly being filled, and on the very top of her one knee. She no longer mutilates at all. In the future, I plan to decrease Erin’s time in the sock while in the cage until she no longer needs it at all. She is also going to move down to school with me when I go in August, so she can recieve more one on one attention and hopefully not revert back to picking. She’s going to have a whole suite of girls to love on her, so hopefully that will be enough to make her happy!
Although Erin will always be prone to picking now, I am confident that with close monitoring she will not revert back as badly as she has been in the past.
This is Erin, taken today, July 15th 2011