Birds – Skin and Feathers

Claire Dunling

A bird’s beautiful plumage is one of its finest assets – ask any Monty Python fan – so when skin or feather issues do arise it’s understandably distressing.

Feather plucking

Feather plucking or picking is a fairly common complaint for birds that suffer from skin conditions. This could just be them plucking because they’re bored or it could be a sign that your bird has some sort of irritation from its environment, a certain chemical that they’ve come into contact with, or potentially an allergic reaction to food.

Boredom is the easiest to tackle. Handle them for a few minutes each day. Keep things in their cage fresh by swapping different toys in and out and be sure to play the radio (or the TV if you’re feeling flash) when you aren’t there. A little dietary variety never goes amiss either.

If you’re fully engaged with your bird and they are still plucking then look to your vet for help. They may just be able to reassure you that this is normal moulting behaviour or step in if it is a little more serious.

Feather cysts

The most likely place you will find a feather cyst is on the wings. Cysts are a result of a stumped feather that’s unable to protrude through a natural opening. The feather then curls up within the follicle – a similar issue to an ingrown hair. As the feather is concealed under the skin, it will not be immediately noticeable, until it begins to produce a smelly discharge.

There are two main causes of feather cysts: the first is a result of genetics, which is found occasionally in macaws and frequently in canaries. The second cause will be an infection of the follicle. If you suspect that your bird has feather cysts, take them to the vets immediately – your vet will advise what the best treatment will be, usually surgery is required to remove the infected feather follicle.


It is still fairly unknown as to what causes xanthomas in birds, however the most reported causes have been:

While all vets will be familiar with birds and bird issues, it may be worth finding a practice with a specific bird specialist
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

As xanthomas are essentially fatty tumours, it seems probable that a high fat diet is the most common reason for this condition. Some experts also suggest that thyroid gland issues or genetics could be culpable too. Understandably, as the growths increase, birds tend to peck themselves and pluck out feathers to relieve the discomfort. Ensuring a healthy balanced diet is given and making sure your bird gets some daily exercise to minimise the chances of contracting xanthomas is a top priority.

Even birds of paradise don’t spend every day in paradise and need some skin care assistance at times! There are some great natural ingredient products that can alleviate the discomfort, but it is always recommended to seek veterinary advice to rule out any serious conditions or diseases.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!