If you have a cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) in your life, it's up to you to make sure the little guy is always as healthy and content as can be. A lot of that involves constantly monitoring his appearance and actions for possible signs of illness or stress. Thankfully, foot pecking often isn't cause for alarm.
Cockatiels are usually impeccable creatures when it comes to maintaining their feet. They enjoy making sure their feet are immaculate and free of debris, whether pieces of skin, stool matter or remnants of the meal they just ate. If you constantly see your cockatiel pecking at his feet, it could simply mean that he's grooming and trying to stay fresh, plain and simple.
Your cockatiel's penchant for pecking at his feet might also indicate an effort to ease discomfort. Perhaps they hurt or feel sore for some reason. Closely examine both of your cockatiel's feet for signs of a wound or bruise.
Note that excessively rough perches are often associated with discomfort in feet for parrots, particularly the ones that aim to clip birds' nails. These perches often lead to unpleasant rawness of the feet.
If your cockatiel's foot pecking habit seems particularly excessive or obsessive, it also could point to a potential self-mutilation habit. As cockatoos, cockatiels are often susceptible to destructive behaviors, whether they involve chewing or pecking the feet nonstop, pulling out their feathers or noisily shrieking all of the time.
Causes of Self-Mutilation
A wide array of factors can potentially contribute to self-mutilation behaviors in cockatiels, and stress is a common culprit. If your cockatiel is stressed out to the max due to moving to a new home, lack of interaction with humans or constant noise, he might just react by being self-destructive, whether through picking at his feet or tugging on his plumage.
Medical ailments are also major triggers for these kinds of behaviors. Health issues that could be responsible for the foot picking include dietary woes, metabolic disorders and allergies. It's often easy to pinpoint these problems in cockatiels. If a cockatiel is chewing and picking on the skin of his feet to the point that they're always bloody, then something is amiss. Take your pet to an avian veterinarian immediately to determine the root of the behavior, whether medical, emotional or both.
- University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine: Feather Picking and Self-Mutilation in Companion Birds
- Cockatiel Cottage: Cockatiels at Home
- Why Does My Bird Do That? A Guide to Parrot Behavior; Julie Rach Mancini
- The Center for Bird & Exotic Animal Medicine: Feather Plucking and Self-Mutilation in Pet Birds
- The Encyclopedia of Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare; D.S. Mills and Jeremy N. Marchant-Forde
- World Parrot Trust: Cockatiel - Care in Captivity
- Gold Coast Bird Vet Feather Picking and Avian Self-Mutilation Syndrome
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images