Parrots happy in their feathers

The problem

Many parrots that are kept as pets suffer from behavioural problems. Feather plucking is one of them, which especially affects grey parrots and cockatoos. Another form of behavioural problem is stereotypical behaviour, in which a bird repeats an apparently useless action over and over again.

These kinds of behavioural problems occur because the parrot’s environment is not optimally attuned to what the parrot needs - it doesn’t feel ‘at home’.  

What we want to do

We aim to find out what parrots need in their environment, and how that differs from parrot to parrot. To that end, we aim to: 

  1. Develop new feed enrichments that present the parrots with a mental and physical challenge, allowing them to display their natural behaviour as they would in the wild.  
  2. Conduct motivation- and preference tests, in which we offer the parrots different types of enrichment. This will allow us to test how each type or form of enrichment motivates the parrots, and which characteristics of the enrichment are most important. 
  3. Determine the influence of various types of enrichment on the birds’ behaviour and physiology, such as stress hormones.
  4. Develop and conduct behavioural tests to identify the parrots’ personality characteristics (it’s true - parrots have their own individual personalities). We will then try to find a connection between these types of personality characteristics and what the birds like, or what makes them feel stressed.  
  5. Conduct surveys among parrot owners in order to determine if we can find connections between the birds’ behaviour and their living environments. 

The end result

Once we have identified a number of risk factors, we want to examine whether we can reduce the behaviour problems (feather plucking) as we eliminate the risk factors.

But eventually, we of course want to spread all of the new knowledge and work to shape the parrots’ environment in the way that best suits the individual parrot, so it can really feel at home in its own feathers. After all, that’s the least these intelligent and social birds deserve!



What do we need? 

€ 25
Purchase of extra/new food enrichments to use in motivation and preference tests.

€ 100
Purchase of extra data storage to store video recordings.

€ 200
Construction of an extra prototype of the new enrichment.

€ 500
Housing and care of one parrot for one year.

€ 2,500 
Construction of a test installation to conduct the motivation studies.

€ 12,500 
Purchase of video analysis equipment (software and hardware).

Who I am

I am Dr. Yvonne van Zeeland, veterinarian, European certified specialist in avian medicine, and small mammal specialist. I am also a behavioural therapist for parrots. My daily work consists of conducting research, teaching and treating patients (birds and the occasional exotic animal). 

As a child, I knew that I wanted to become a veterinarian, and I’ve always had a fascination for birds. When I was little, I even cut off a bit of my hair so that the birds in the garden could use it to build their nests - but for some reason my mother didn’t think that was a good idea...

What I do

I eventually made a profession out of my passion, and I became a veterinarian, with a specialism in treating birds. But I’ve always been interested in behaviour as well, and when an opportunity presented itself to do a PhD in feather plucking, I jumped at the chance. 

I earned my PhD in 2013, but the challenges that the project offers and the complexity of the problem mean that I can still devote my passion and inspiration to the subject - and to making the project described here a great success! 

If you would like to know more about me, click here.