Acharya, R., Rault, J.-L. 2020. Risk factors for feather-damaging behavior in companion parrots: A social media study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 40, 43-49.
Studies on the etiology of behavioral problems often involve interference in the animal's routine or reliance on owners' self-reports like surveys. Gathering data from videos posted on social media, a technique coined ‘video mining’, offers novel opportunities to study the animal's behavior in their home environment remotely and with minimal disturbance. We use this technique on companion parrots, for whom inadequate captive environment and lack of social contact may cause various behavioral problems, with feather-damaging behavior as the most salient issue. Videos posted on YouTube were collected for feather-damaged (n = 36) and species-matched control parrots (n = 26). We scored plumage condition and recorded the parrot's characteristics: genus, sex, age, origin, and other behavioral problems. We also scored environmental characteristics: owner type, valence of human-animal interaction, presence of other parrots, presence of other companion animals, cage location and size, environmental enrichment with the provision of foraging, chewable and non-chewable devices, and type of feed. Finally, possible interventions against feather damage and their visible effects were recorded. The probability of feather damage was significantly influenced by several predictors (P = 0.001), with the presence of non-bird companion animals in the household and the provision of vegetables and fruits in the diet, foraging devices and chewable devices all reducing the risk of feather damage. Family-owned parrots were less likely to be feather-damaged, and women-owned parrots were more likely to be feather-damaged, although this finding could be biased by the type of person willing to share videos, to adopt a feather-damaged parrot, or other confounding variables. The various interventions attempted by owners (rehoming, conspecific, environmental enrichment, drug, collar, or combinations of these) resulted in plumage score improvement overtime (P = 0.04), with rehoming the parrot being the most common and effective, whereas parrots that received no intervention worsened overtime. These findings highlight the importance of the household environment, feed and foraging enrichment on feather-damaging behavior in companion parrots. Scientists should take advantage of the wealth of data available on video sharing websites, especially when interested in understanding the risk factors for behavioral problems in the home environment.