Validating owner-reporting of feather condition of pet Psittaciformes using photographs

Emma L Mellor, Michael T Mendl, Georgia Mason, Catherine Davison, Yvonne van Zeeland, Innes C Cuthill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Reporting of outcome variables by care-givers in welfare studies is commonplace, but is open to subjective bias and so requires validation. Biases can occur in either direction: familiarity with an animal allows a deeper insight into welfare problems, but also can lead to reticence in admitting that an animal in one’s care is experiencing problems. Here, we aim to validate owner-reporting of plumage condition of pet parrots, including those with self-inflicted feather-damaging behaviour (FDB), by comparing owners’ scores of feather condition with those of two independent raters, blind to the owners’ and each other’s assessments. We surveyed pet parrot owners to collect data on basic demographics and feather condition and requested four standardised photographs of birds. We received 259 responses (17% of the 1,521 people contacted); 78 sets of images of appropriate quality for assessment by raters were provided. Mean percentage agreement between owners’ and raters’ scores was mostly fair to substantial using Cohen’s kappa; however, raters scored a greater proportion of feather damage than did owners. Overall, our results indicate owner-reporting of feather condition, including FDB, to be generally reliable and consistent with independent assessment of photographs. As the use of photographs can be limited by image quality, a failure to represent the long-term state of a parrot, and the potential for incorrect recording if assessed without relevant information (eg on moulting), this evidence that owner-reports can be reliable opens the door for larger-scale surveys of the extent of welfare-relevant problems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Welfare
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15 Sep 2021


  • animal welfare
  • feather damaging behaviour
  • feather picking
  • feather plucking
  • plumage
  • psittacine


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