The Story of Dan-Dan

Dan-Dan: The Mad Professor

Dan-Dan is a hand reared African Grey parrot - a mad professor - that I love dearly. Dan-Dan has a very common problem, seen regually amongst captive parrots, that of Feather Plucking.
Dan-Dan is a very bright, interactive, and most intelligent grey that I have had the pleasure of knowing here at the rescue. Unfortunately, he plucks himself - why is this? He plays daily with his toys and chains that he really loves, which is followed by a chorus of his favourite nursery rhymes: pop goes the weasel and humpty dumpty to name a few. He attracts my attention for his tickle on the back of his head by calling for me, like I was his pet dog. It starts quietly, "Julie, Julie," and if I don't respond it gets louder, and he whistles followed by "Julie, Julie, here boy." When he has grasped my attention, he holds his head down for his daily head scratch which sends him all gooey eyed, and cuddly. Some people have said that he has a balanced environment, with just the right amount of human attention and companionship with other birds here, and he seems happy amongst himself, but he still plucks himself a little. He has had tests, and nothing is physically wrong. If he lets his feathers grow, they grow into strong, healthy feathers. We wonder if he has a mental problem.
Many people have phoned me at the rescue, with the same problem I am faced with. Like me, they look at themselves as causing the bird's condition. But what is the cause? I sincerely believe these owners love and nurture their birds just as I do with Dan-Dan, but this is not enough, and they still give you pain, when you see them pluck off their lovely feathers. I have met some of these other "Pluckers" and as a whole I have found them to be very intelligent, but also very highly strung, easy to get into a strop if you don't give them the attention that they ask for. For an intelligent bird, what they lack is common sense. Common sense tells you that plucking your feathers is a crazy idea - especially in the colder climates of this world! Maybe you have to take into account that no two parrots are alike; what may excite one bird, another will find dull. And like humans, they vary from one another on their I.Q levels.
What we have to do is look at a basic fact that I was told by an Avian Vet. No truly wild parrot feather plucks. The only feather removal seen in the wild occurs when a female takes a few of her stomach feathers to line her nest. But no wild bird self mutilates it's own feathers to the same degree as a captive parrot, which might pluck all it's flight feathers, leaving it unable to fly.
So what are we doing wrong in Captivity? What is happening to these intelligent birds, and why is it that hand reared birds develop the problem more frequently than parent reared birds?
There are many questions, and some suggested answers - some which have worked. Some birds stop when introduced to another mate, and some for no apparent reason. The more frustrating for the owner is a bird that stops plucking, allows its feathers to fully grow back, and then they pluck them out again! It has also been said that some birds cannot be weaned off, even though they know of the effects it has on their lives.
But what must be done is to find out why these birds do it and why it only happens in captivity.
Rather than arguing over what methods are best in treating feather plucking, we should aim to prevent this distressing condition. Parrots have feeling of hate, jealousy, and fear just like us humans, and some parrots cannot cope with the trials of our living and must resort to self destruction.
There are many theories on this topic, and for years to come we humans will be arguing over who, or what, is to blame.
I will have to accept Dan-Dan as he is, and if there is any way of helping him, I will do it. As long as he is happy and willing to try, then try we will. Since Dan-Dan loves and accepts me on a bad hair day, I will accept and love my "Mad Professor" on his good and bad hair days too!

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