Foraging opportunity and increased physical complexity both prevent and reduce psychogenic feather picking by young Amazon parrots

  • Meehan C
  • Millam J
  • Mench J
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Abstract

Although many authors have suggested that the quality of the cage environment contributes to the development and performance of psychogenic feather picking by parrots, there is little scientific evidence for this relationship. In chickens, there is an established relationship between absence of foraging opportunity and the performance of a similar behavior, feather pecking. Thus, we assessed whether providing environmental enrichments designed to facilitate foraging behaviors would prevent or reduce the development of feather picking behavior by parrots, as evidenced by superior feather condition. Two groups of eight parrots were parent-reared to weaning and then housed singly in either enriched or unenriched cages for 48 weeks. In the enriched condition, a unique combination of one foraging and one physical enrichment was presented to each parrot weekly. In both groups, feather condition was quantified using a 10-point scale. The provision of enrichments led to an improvement in feather condition over 48 weeks in the enriched group, while feather scores in the control group decreased significantly (repeated measures GLM: F1,46 = 5.59; P = 0.022) during this same period, indicating that feather picking behavior had developed in this group. In the second part of this study, the control group was transferred to the enriched treatment for a period of 16 weeks. During this period re-feathering occurred and feather scores improved significantly, indicating that feather picking behavior had decreased (repeated measures GLM: F1,53 = 35.57, P < 0.0005). In conclusion, our results show that enriching the environment by providing appropriate foraging substrates and increasing physical complexity can significantly modify both the development and the performance of feather picking behavior by parrots. Possible mechanisms are discussed. © 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Environmental enrichment
  • Feather pecking
  • Feather picking
  • Foraging behavior
  • Parrots
  • Psittacine

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Authors

  • C. L. Meehan

  • J. R. Millam

  • J. A. Mench

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