Is your finch going bald or being plucked? Yes there is a difference but the differences aren't always easy to distinguish.
Common causes of feather plucking:
1) Behavioral - Breeding or Territory related
2) Stress - Common cause for all types of plucking and can lead to illness
3) Parasites - Feather Mites and/or Lice
4) Skin Ailment - Itchy rashes can lead to self-plucking
Common causes for balding:
1) Disease - Sickly birds will often lose their feathers
2) Stress - Can lead to disease
3) Skin Ailment - Itchy rashes can lead to self-plucking
4) Diet - Unhealthy diet can lead to poor feather growth
5) Light Ė Without proper lighting a finch doesnít metabolize nutrients correctly
The reasons for both will sometimes overlap. This is why the Plucking or Balding question may not be simple to answer. Before you know how to treat the problem you must find the cause. I'm hoping that after this article you'll be able to make the diagnosis and correctly treat the problem.
Please note: If any of the finches in the cage show any signs of illness with the exception of egg binding, you will need to treat the entire flock with the appropriate medication.
The number one behavioral cause for feather plucking is breeding stress.
The drive to build a nest and produce young is very strong. If you haven't supplied the nest and nesting material the finches may do it for you. The finch wants to build a nest but doesn't have the nesting materials of choice, what does it do? Plucks its mate. Mates will pluck one another for nesting material even though I've rarely seen many feathers in the nest. One puts them in the nest while the other takes them out. This is why it's sometimes wise to offer a few different nesting material choices. Keep in mind only a few finches will go to this extreme.
Another breeding stress is the young themselves. Let's face it, feeding a clutch of hungry chicks is far from easy. It's very stressful and taxing on the parent's bodies. Let's give them all the help we can. Hearty Bird and Miracle Meal are my two favorites as breeding supports. Both are excellent sources of nutrition for both the parents and the growing chicks.
SALE! Miracle Meal Soft Food - proteins, vitamins, minerals & trace elements beneficial for successful breeding, molting and plumage.
SALE! Calcium Plus - no longer experience egg binding, soft shelled eggs, thin shells or dead-in-shells. Potent liquid calcium source.
Feather Fast - a dietary supplement of high potency vitamin, mineral, amino acid and concentrated protein designed to aid and promote successful molts in all birds. Feather Fast provides a broad spectrum of nutrients necessary to produce vibrant, brightly colored, healthy feathers in all birds.
If the stress is breeding related it will usually happen during the nest building process or shortly after the chicks have fledged. The chicks are still completely dependent on their parents for food but are also going to be weaning soon. This is probably the hardest time to be a young finch, and a finch owner. The parents will chase, pluck, and yell at their young to begin the weaning process. It's normal. Don't panic unless you see blood or think the chicks are becoming weaker instead of stronger.
The parental aggression can become terribly violent and it doesn't need to be. Keep giving the extra foods and remove the nest and all nesting material. Young finches re-grow feathers very quickly. You should see feather buds coming through the skin within a few days to a week of noticing the bald spot.
Unless you feel the chicks' lives are in danger you shouldn't move them or either of the parents. They really do need the support of both the male and the female parent to develop and learn all they need to know to be a proper finch.
Once the chicks have stopped begging for food you may then move them to another cage. If all goes well your parent finches will return to normal behavior over the next few days or week. The chicks will molt and develop into beautiful young adults.
The second common cause for behavioral plucking is territorial aggression. Territorial aggression can be directed towards any finch in the flock. A mate, a rival, or the young. The easiest way to spot this type of plucking is to simply watch or listen to the birds. You'll eventually witness the plucker attacking another finch, or you'll hear some odd beeps and screeches.
Another way to spot it is if you have a cage full of plucked finches with only one or two (the dominant finch and its mate) who are in perfect feather. The only thing you can do to stop this type of behavior is to remove the aggressive finch.
Now if the cage is full of fully feathered birds and only one or two plucked birds you'll do just the opposite. Remove the plucked finches from the flock. Put it in a hospital cage or a spare cage. Keep them warm and well fed until all their feathers have re-grown. If you put partly plucked finches back into the flock they will be plucked even more violently.
After the finches are back in full feather and returned to the flock you will need to observe the flock for several weeks to see if the plucking happens again. If the same finches are once again plucked you may need to consider moving them from the flock permanently. Not all finches will get along together no matter what you do.
You can attempt to coax the flock into ending the plucking behavior by adding new items to the cage or aviary. Toys and plants can be nice additions if your cage/aviary is large enough to support them. These new additions may help to distract the dominant finches from their plucking behavior. Sometimes new foods will have the same effect. You'd be surprised what a little eggfood or fresh fruits and vegetables can do.
Stress is a complex problem because it leads into other problems. A stressed finch may pluck feathers from itself, from others, or simply become ill and go bald. Finding the cause of the stress is very hard to do. It could be anything inside the cage, in your home, or something outside the window.
To rule stress out the finch should be moved to a warm hospital cage and given the best diet possible. They start looking for the cause. If necessary, move the finch's cage to a quieter area of your home. Keep other family pets away from the finches and ask the kids not to yell and run around the finch cage.
There are many in cage things you can try. Remove any mirrors in the cage, and remove any nests. Add a new toy or swing. If the cage is over crowded consider moving some of the finches to another cage. If the stressed finch is a parent that is still being housed with its' mate and adult offspring, please remove the offspring.
Tetratex - broad spectrum antibiotic dissolves in water. For primary and secondary Chlamydial bacteria infections.
Worm Away - Water Soluble one dose avian wormer.
Now let's say your finch isn't plucking itself and isn't rubbing itself bald, instead it's simply going bald. This can be a dietary deficiency or the sign of an underlying illness. Before rushing your finch to the vet and not learning much I suggest you try some simple dietary adjustments because this is usually where the problem lies. Hearty Bird and/or Miracle Meal are the supplements I use to balance out my finch's diet however for severely balding birds I recommend a combination of Feather Fast and Calcium Plus. When balding is caused by diet itís often due to a lack of Iodine or vitamin D3.
It's not always possible to know exactly what your finch is lacking in its diet. It's often a need for iodine, fatty acids, or some vitamins. When dealing with a dietary problem it's simpler to cover everything and improve the finches the diet from all angles.
Dietary imbalances can lead to plucking of other finches but it's rare. To get the nutrition the finch needs it will attempt to eat its own feathers or the feathers of others.
You may notice the finch rubbing its head on the perch, cage bars, or food/water cups frequently. This could be the sign of feather mites or some other itchy skin ailment.
Topical ointments for skin rashes don't do much for birds. It's hard to properly apply the medication through the feathers. This is when an antibiotic may be called for. You will need to examine the finch closely and it may be wise to consult a vet. If you don't have an avian Vet in your area I suggest a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as Amoxitext or Tetratex or an immune system booster such as Thrive.
External Parasites - Mites/Lice:
Another possible cause for the balding is Parasites. Feather Mites/Lice are very small and need magnification to be seen properly. Sometimes they can be seen as they jump from feather to feather but they'll only look like tiny white flecks. To stir them up, slowly and very gently run your fingers through the bird's feathers. If Feather Mites or Lice are the diagnoses, Avian Insect Liquidator or Pestex is the treatment of choice.
If one finch has Lice or Mites they probably all do. Treat the entire flock.
Disease & Internal Parasites:
If you are confident in your finch's diet, then we must go on the assumption the cause is an illness. Even a seemingly active and healthy finch can be sick. Most won't show many signs of illness until it's too late to do much about it. You don't have many options here. You can either take the finch to your vet or you will treat it yourself. The longer you wait the greater the risk of the finch dying. As with the skin ailment, you treat internal diseases with Amoxitex or Thrive. Dirty drinking water is often what leads to illness in finches.
There are a few more options here though, Ronivet-S and Worm-Out Gel. If the finch is losing weight, puffy, and balding you may need to consider the problem is an internal parasite such as a protozoal infection. These are very rare with indoor finches, especially if no new finches have been added to the flock in the past 6 months. If new birds have been added, then this possibility must be considered. In addition to Protozoal infections your bird could have also picked up intestinal worms. These are treated with Worm Away.
If the problem is an internal (disease or parasite) the finch will most likely behave normally and simply be going bald. Over time the balding will get worse and eventually the finch will show subtle signs of the illness. The first sign to watch for is sleeping more. Next the finch will change its eating habits. If the finch eats a lot but is losing weight, you may have a protozoal or worm problem. If the finch isn't eating much you may have a bacterial problem.
Most all diseases and parasites are contagious. The entire flock will need to be treated.
Thrive - is a full spectrum blend of high potency vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electrolytes and protein for sick or injured birds.
Light is very important to a finch. Most species are active all day and sleep all night. When finches arenít given the proper lighting or insufficient daylight hours they can become depressed and dull. In time this effects their feather quality and over all health. Sun light is necessary for the body to metabolize some of the vitamins and produce other nutrients they need to survive. A good 12-16 hour day of full spectrum sun light can stimulate new feather growth. Please view my article on light for more information.
I've gotten to this point with a few finches in my day. They are bald and no matter what you do, they stay bald. It's frustrating to say the least. Parasites, disease, diet problems, and plucking have all been ruled out, now what can you do?
It's time to add a little Feather Fast to the diet. This supplement helps to stimulate feather growth and does work very fast. After using Feather Fast, I've even seen feathers regrow on finches that had been bald for months. Feather Fast can also be used to help finches and canaries come out of a molt. It doesn't happen often but these birds can become stuck in a molt cycle.