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Feather damaging behaviour in parrots: a review with consideration of comparative aspects

By Y. R. A. van Zeeland, B. M. Spruit, T. B. Rodenburg, B. Riedstra, Y. M. van Hierden, B. Buitenhuis, S. M. Korte, J. T. Lumeij

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Feather damaging behaviour (also referred to as feather picking or feather plucking) is a behavioural disorder that is frequently encountered in captive parrots. This disorder has many characteristics that are similar to trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder in humans. Unfortunately, to date much of the information regarding the aetiology and treatment in both syndromes is based on 'expert' opinion rather than on experimentally founded results. Comparative research in humans and parrots might therefore be mutually beneficial. Feather damaging behaviour (FDB) may also share similarities with behavioural disorders present in other bird species. Feather pecking (FP) in poultry is of particular interest in this case. Because of the major impacts on welfare and economy, the disorder has been thoroughly investigated. It has been shown that genetic, socio-environmental and neurobiological factors all play a role in FP. Several theories have been postulated about the different motivational systems that affect the behaviour, of which (redirected) foraging appears to be the most generally accepted. FDB may result from similar motivations and underlying mechanisms, but has also been regarded as a grooming disorder. Grooming or preening is behaviour that serves both physical and social purposes. In the presence of stressors, such as novelty, so-called displacement grooming may develop that can result in excessive grooming when chronic stress is experienced (maladaptive behaviour). Adrenocorticotropic hormone, opiate, dopaminergic and serotoninergic systems have been shown to influence the onset, development and maintenance of this behaviour. Primary brain dysfunction (malfunctional behaviour) may also explain the occurrence of various abnormal behaviours. Differences in neurotransmitter levels and distribution have been found between high and low feather pecking lines of laying hens, and psychopharmacological interventions in humans and parrots suggest similar alterations. The exact pathways via which neurotransmitters influence the execution of these behaviours have not been identified. It is also not clear which brain areas are involved in this dysfunction, and why the behaviour sometimes persists despite intervention. For these purposes it is important to consider the current system-level insights on different types of abnormal repetitive behaviour, to which these disorders may be classified.

Date 2009
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 121
Issue 2
Pages 75-95
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2009.09.006
Language English
Author Address Division of Zoological Medicine, Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiteit Utrecht, Yalelaan 108, 3584 CM Utrecht, Netherlands.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal science
  4. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  5. Birds
  6. Brain
  7. Causality
  8. Cerebrum
  9. Chickens
  10. Egg production
  11. Environment
  12. Etiology
  13. Feather pecking
  14. Foraging
  15. Fowls
  16. Grooming
  17. Hair
  18. Health services
  19. Hens
  20. Interventions
  21. Mammals
  22. neurotransmitters
  23. pecking
  24. peer-reviewed
  25. Poultry
  26. Primates
  27. Public health
  28. syndromes
  1. peer-reviewed