Plucking is very frustrating to witness. Sometimes it can be easily resolved by providing your bird with more toys or attention, and sometimes nothing seems to work. In this post I'll address a few causes of plucking and some possible resolutions.
When people start asking me why their bird is plucking, I try to get some backstory on the bird. If I'm unfamiliar with the bird, some of the questions I ask are how long the customer has had him, the size of the cage, if he has any toys / how long have those same toys been in the cage, the age of the bird, the gender, whether he gets played with or not, if this is a new behavior, diet, and most importantly, if anything has recently changed in the bird's environment.
Sometimes it's really easy to pinpoint why the bird is probably ripping those feathers out. If he has no toys or ones that have been there for years that are worn out, there's a good chance that he's just really bored. Birds are exceptionally bright creatures that need stimulation. Think about it. If you were stuck in a room with nothing in it, just a view of what's outside of your room, day in and day out, wouldn't you go a little nuts? This is still true if the bird has nothing to play with even if he is taken out of the cage frequently. Even if he has unlimited access to being out of the cage. Parrots need to chew and destroy, and they will do it. To a toy. Your furniture. Themselves. I personally prefer them destroying a toy. They will also lose interest in toys that have been there too long. Think of them as children. You know how long their attention span can be with new toys. But when they see a toy that they haven't seen for awhile, it's like a new toy again! That's why it's important to rotate your parrot's toys. And to have a big enough cage to hold those toys but still be comfortable enough for him to move around in.
Whether or not the bird is played with can have a big impact on them as well. Parrots are very social. When they are handfed and sold as pets, humans become their flock. They can be very well-adjusted if they have ample time with their adopted flock, and have been taught to entertain themselves with their own toys when you're unable to be hands-on with them. Some birds are content to just have their people in their general vicinity, listening to them. Others can become depressed if they don't have the contact they crave. Some people ultimately decide to get their bird a friend. I'll address the issues that that situation can have in a later post.
The gender of the parrot can sometimes cause issues. Sometimes females will pluck the feathers on their legs as they grow older. This is because they can have calcium loss in their bones just as women can. And it causes their legs to hurt. Hence the plucking. Other hens will pluck their feathers on their breast in preparation of nesting. This isn't to say that only females do these things. Males pluck their chest feathers all the time, they just don't usually try to line a nest with them. Both males and females will sometimes pluck when they are feeling hormonal, usually during breeding season (spring and summer, typically).
Diet. Simply, sometimes an unhealthy diet can cause health issues which can cause plucking. Or allergies. Sometimes you can stop plucking by changing the diet.
Has anything in the environment of the parrot changed? Did you move the cage? Added a new family member to the household? Has someone left? Did your routine change? That chair in the corner that has always faced one direction, did you move it? Did it fall over and now your bird freaks out when you move it? It can be a huge change or something minute. You can either change back whatever is bothering your bird, or try to help him cope with the change if that's not possible.
If you can't figure out what is causing the plucking, or how to help him, you can try supplements. I always try to figure out if he just needs a new toy or more attention, etc. before I recommend anything else, other than a vet check. But some people have a lovely big cage filled with awesome toys, feed super wholesome and healthful food, and give the bird all the freedom and attention his little heart desires. And he still plucks. In those cases, after a vet check rules out any underlying health issues, I would try supplementation. There are a few products that can help stop or curb plucking. They are hit and miss though. What works for one bird may not work for another. Trial and error.