Why Do Finches Pluck Each Other’s Feathers? (Explained)

When finches begin plucking each other’s feathers, you’ll notice bald spots starting to appear and feathers lying on the bottom of the cage. Plucking can be pretty alarming and is a reason for concern.

The first thing you need to do is narrow down the reasons why your finches are plucking one another.

Finches pluck each other’s feathers for two reasons: aggression and nesting instincts. They pluck one another out of aggression in overcrowded cages or after introducing a new bird. Finches also pluck each other when nesting materials are scarce, and they need extra feathers.

Why Finches Pluck Each Other’s Feathers

It can be rather alarming when your finches begin picking each other’s feathers. If this starts happening, you’ll want to narrow down the reason why so that you know how to address it.

There are two main reasons why finches would pluck one another’s feathers: aggression and nesting.

Here’s a brief explanation of each:

Aggression

Aggression is the most common reason why finches pluck one another’s feathers. This habit often begins when an aviary is too crowded or after you add a new bird to the cage.

Older finches may bully the new additions to the cage by plucking their feathers. Other signs of aggression include biting and shooing other birds out of their space.

Nesting

Finches may also start plucking each other’s feathers when they’re nesting, especially if they don’t have access to other nesting materials.

Both members of a breeding pair will do this and even pluck their chicks’ feathers if they have no other available materials to nest.

What To Do if Your Finches Pluck Each Other’s Feathers

Feather-picking can result in permanent baldness. That said, if your finches are plucking each other, you’ll want to fix the problem as soon as possible.

The right way to respond depends on the reason.

If you suspect that your finches are plucking out of aggression, the best thing to do is move either of the birds to a new cage.

Relocating one of the birds will give each finch more room to fly and explore, decreasing the stress of sharing territory. 

You can also try providing more food for your finches, as competition over food is another reason why finches may become territorial.

Does it look like your finches appear to be picking feathers to make a nest? If so, you can solve the problem by providing nesting materials or offering a toy that reminds the finches of these materials.

An example would be a jute string toy that frays and allows the finch to pull at the strands as if collecting the materials. A toy like this is a good outlet for nesting instincts. 

Why Finches Pluck Their Own Feathers

There are many reasons why finches pick their own feathers, most of which come down to illness. The top reasons why finches pluck themselves are:

  • Allergies
  • Parasites
  • Lack of fresh air
  • Low air humidity
  • Liver disease
  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • Cancer
  • Fungal infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Malnutrition

You can determine the likely cause of the plucking by noticing when your finch plucks. For example, a finch that plucks itself when you’re gone could feel stressed and lonely or even crave more interaction.

You can also check to see if the air in the bird’s room is humid enough, as dry air is a common cause of plucking. 

Finally, if you’re not able to diagnose the cause of the plucking, it’s a good idea to take your finch in to see an avian veterinarian who can take a closer look at the problem.

This step is essential because plucking can be a sign of several serious health conditions. 

What To Do if Your Finch Is Plucking Its Feathers

There are several things that you can do to address finch’s feather-plucking. The following are all things worth trying to reduce this habit:

  • If your finch picks when you’re away, try spending more time together to guard against loneliness. But if your finch plucks right after being handled, consider touching your finch less to reduce stress.
  • Change your finch’s cage environment by introducing or moving perches and toys in case the reason for the plucking is boredom.
  • Give your finch a gentle shower, which will help if it’s plucking because its skin is itchy, dry, or dirty and will promote preening instead of plucking. However, make sure that you stop showering your finch if it starts flapping its wings in a panic.
  • Try addressing gaps in nutrition by checking that your pellet mix is species-appropriate and providing a blend of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Difference Between Plucking, Preening, & Molting

The acts of plucking and preening look very similar, and the effects of plucking and molting look very similar.

But telling the difference between the three behaviors can prevent an unnecessary trip to the vet or help you see a vital clue that something is wrong. 

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Signs That Your Finch Is Molting

If you see feathers strewn about the cage, this could be a sign of either plucking or molting. To tell the difference between the two, check for these other signs of molting:

  • Time of year: If you have a Gouldian finch, molting will usually happen once a year during the summertime, for about 6-12 weeks. Other finches molt little by little year-round.
  • Activity level: Finches become less active when they’re molting to conserve energy.
  • Sensitivity to touch: A finch that’s molting won’t like being handled as much, as molting can make the skin more sensitive.
  • New quills: When your finch is molting, you’ll be able to feel the new quills coming in.
  • Scratching: As new feathers are coming in at the end of a molt, your finch will start scratching to encourage the process.

Molting is natural, poses no reason for concern, and is how finches replace old or broken feathers. 

Preening

Finches preen themselves as a way of keeping their feathers oiled and waterproof and removing dander.

You’ll know that your finch is preening rather than plucking if it rubs its head around the preening gland.

Finches do this to transfer the preening oil from the gland to each feather, end to end.

A finch may enjoy preening in front of a fan or open window, as a slight breeze can help to carry away dander. 

Preening is a healthy and normal activity for a finch, and it’s a good way for these birds to stay waterproof.

They may preen themselves or their companions, a common act of bonding. Often, you’ll see this in monogamous bird pairs.

Preening doesn’t result in the total removal of feathers, so a good way to tell that a bird is just preening rather than plucking is by checking for feathers in the bottom of the cage.

An absence of feathers is a sign that your bird is practicing healthy preening behaviors. 

Conclusion

Finches generally pluck each other’s feathers for one of two reasons: aggression or nesting. They pick out of aggression when their cages are overcrowded or when you welcome a new bird.

Finches also pluck due to nesting instincts when a breeding pair lacks appropriate nesting materials or nesting-material-like toys.

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