ricoincar.org Rico came to live with me last year, and to be honest, he seemed sad from day one — as though he were missing someone. He is a lovely, gentle Moluccan cockatoo. He rests his head on my shoulder, talks and laughs…and plucks. He has also ripped the skin off of his chest.

His story, told to me, was that he had been turned into an animal shelter in Southern California. He was adopted; when that situation didn’t work, Rico came to live permanently with me. I am his new person, Karin. While I give him lots of attention and love, he remains wistful and needy. Moluccans are by nature super needy, but who knows what his story is, where he came from, what trauma he might have experienced?

I wonder about it; his voice is a high pitched woman’s voice. He will say, “Hi, Rico” or “Rico, Rico, Rico” in a very soft voice.  You can see and hear a happy Rico here…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO5JmQZ1YkQ But other times, he will yell out  “Wake up! Wake up!” in a frantic way. Whatever his story (and might it just be hormones?) by the time he came to live with me, Rico was mutilating his chest and had pulled out all of his chest and leg feathers. He resembled a rubber chicken. Not a pretty sight; his self-inflicted chest wound was then over 2″ wide and 1.5″ high. It was a raw, bleeding, painful-to-look-at sore.

Thus began our journey together toward recovery. While it’s an ongoing learning process, I made a great discovery along the way, and want to share it with other bird owners who are disheartened over their bird’s feather plucking. It is depressing for an owner to be unable to stop the destruction. I felt terrible about it, and was frustrated by the many homeopathic and medicinal/dietary supplements and sprays I purchased that just didn’t work. I have continued the supplementation however (more on that later).

I should mention that Rico is also now living with three other cockatoos in a beautiful, tropical bird room my husband built for me, with classical music, television, air conditioning, air filter, large windows, soundproof walls, swings and lots of home cooked parrot food! It’s pretty nice. I give the birds Harrison’s pellets too.

A vet check is important. I took Rico to my avian vet for an exam. He flirted with the women working there, whistling at them and jumping like a crow around the vet table in a funny dance. His blood work and exam came back normal (no allergies, no toxic metals, etc.), his weight was normal, he appeared healthy apart from the plucked and poked chest, so what was I to do? My vet showed me several birds he had in the back of his clinic wearing plastic dish collars; they looked miserable. I just couldn’t do that to Rico. I needed to come up with a better solution.

I began researching the problem on the internet, and learned that first of all, I needed to be happy when around Rico. Parrots, like most animals, are very sensitive, and if I showed too much alarm over his raw, bleeding chest (believe me, I WAS alarmed!) he might just pick more to get attention. He certainly didn’t want me touching or spraying medicine on the wound, that was for sure. He actually stopped trusting me for a period while I applied the Silvadene cream and spray the vet had given me.  I believe that once these birds start self-mutilating, it becomes an almost unbreakable habit they want to continue. It seemed too, paradoxically, that he was bugged by the scabs and wanted to pull them off. The sore would not heal of course while he continued to peel the skin with his beak.

Look at the picture below, and you can see my solution to the problem. Read on to learn how you can help your own bird for just a few dollars (after a $$ vet check, of course!) using, of all things, polar fleece! This solution has worked for me, at least.

I hope you give it a try because it’s a pretty easy solution. And please send me any of your stories and photos …and welcome to my blog! This page has detailed instructions. Save your money and make the vest yourself. There is no need to buy anything on the internet or elsewhere.

rico in his third sweater vest

Rico likes to watch television …and laughs at Big Bang Theory.