University of Central Florida Undergraduate Research Journal - Self-Injurious Behavior of a Captive <i><i><i>Coragyps atratus</i></i></i>
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Self-Injurious Behavior of a Captive
Coragyps atratus

By: Jennifer Bouchenot | Mentor: Frank Logiudice


The American Black Vulture, or Coragyps atratus, was first formally described by Johann Bechstein in 1793 with the species name "atratus" meaning "clothed in black" (Holloway, 2003). Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies Coragyps atratus as a species of least concern with increasing populations throughout the southern United States through Central America to southern South America (International, 2016). Coragyps atratus is a scavenger, acting as nature's cleanup crew by ingesting deceased animals that may be too decomposed for other scavengers. Moreover, Coragyps atratus is a New World vulture, meaning they lack a syrinx, and vocalizations are reduced to two sounds: hissing and woofing.

Feather picking is a multi-factorial damaging behavior most commonly observed in captive Psittacine birds (Costa et al., 2016). Feather picking is a self-injurious behavior where the bird removes feathers, and in severe cases, excoriates the skin (Grindlinger, 1991). This maladaptive behavior gives opportunities for infections, and birds may also damage blood feathers, which are notoriously hard to stanch. Gabapentin is a medication used for the treatment of neuropathy in birds. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that Gabapentin can be used to prevent feather picking. The use of Gabapentin is relatively new for treating self-injurious behavior, but no studies have been made to observe its behavioral effects on Coragyps atratus. Studies of Gabapentin's effect on other birds of prey have been conducted for neuropathy and pain management (Yaw et al., 2015), but were not informative for its efficacy in treating feather picking, thus observation of a feather picking raptor on Gabapentin may yield promising data. Comparing the two Coragyps atratus' environments and most common habits may lead to a more effective solution for reducing self-mutilation behavior. Self-injurious feather picking has never been observed in the wild for Coragyps atratus.

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