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My pet bird (African Grey Congo) has been a plucker for years. We tried the "cone of shame" for a while as recommended by our vet to break the habit, but she goes right back to plucking the second it comes off.

She has toys to play with. The behavior started shortly after we got the bird and went on vacation. Our pet sitter was a little nervous about such a big bird and didn't take it out of the cage or interact much with it while we were gone for 2 weeks. It might have started as boredom, but I'm afraid now it is just a bad habit.

Are there any effective remedies for birds who pluck and can you provide tips for using them effectively?

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As you state the change in carer, her nervousness and resulting lack of attention could all have combined to bringing it on. These birds seem to be attuned to human emotion and it is important to stay calm with them, in spite of this behaviour, as a negative reaction before the bird, may exacerbate the problem. However, it's always sensible to get your bird checked by a professional, to exclude health issues that may be causing the behaviour change.

After excluding health problems, there is a few things that can be done, all the advice stems around health, diet and environment:

Cage – is their cage large enough? Is it clean? Hygienic animals by nature, a dirty, unkempt cage is detrimental to a Grey's mental as well as physical health.

Baths / Showers – your Grey should be getting regular baths or showers to keep them clean and healthy. Also expose them to moist air – put them in the bathroom to enjoy the steam while you're taking a shower. No one likes to be itchy and dirty, least of all an African Grey.

Fragrances - Room fresheners, candles, perfumes, hair sprays etc, can irritate an African Grey’s skin

Give your African Grey self-confidence – encourage it to explore and be curious. Expose it to change – take it into different rooms in the house, show it different colors and toys, socialize with other people; so it learns change is okay and these things shouldn't make it afraid. A happy bird is a healthy bird (1)

African Grey Feather Plucking / Feather Picking african-grey-parrot.com (1)

The following article also confirms this type of solution and adds some more tips about diet and feeding. Contrary to the title, they are acknowledging that African Grey Parrots can pluck, but don't like them being referred to as "pluckers".

They suggest checking for seed and peanut allergies and reactions. Some seeds can also carry toxins, depending where they are sourced from. These things can lead to feather plucking. The article goes into quite a bit of detail about diet.

  • Provide a widely varied soft food diet that is comprised of birdie bread, beans/grains/pasta/veggies, sprouts, fresh fruits and veggies. Choose fruits and veggies high in Vitamin A for their immune system benefits. A plucking bird is usually a stressed bird and may need the immune system boost that high Vitamin A foods provide. (2)

THE AFRICAN GREY MYTHS African Greys Are Pluckers by Bobbi Brinker (2)

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    A wonderful and comprehensive answer! The only addition I would have is that AG's tend to get stressed if they are cordoned off where they can't be involved in family activities. Sometimes they just like to sit in the room with you and watch people. This makes them more sociable too. A sociable bird is generally a happy bird. – maple_shaft Oct 15 '13 at 11:43

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