From the smallest of finches to the largest of macaws, pet birds and parrots experience molting several times a year. During these periods they need extra care.
Molting is an important function in a bird’s life, as it is their body’s process of shedding old, worn and potentially broken feathers and replacing them with new feathers. Molting occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes. Nature has timed the molting cycle to occur at times when it would be most ideal. Even so, what triggers the molting process is complex and not fully understood.
Molting isn’t like growing hair or fur because of how feathers are shaped. Feathers emerge from the skin wrapped in keratin, a wax-like substance, which the bird picks off with its beak. Pinfeathers are sensitive and can cause itching or pain throughout the growing process, so it can be very stressful for a bird. Thankfully, most birds don’t completely lose all of their feathers at once, but shed a number of them during each molt.
Because molting is an intense process, birds and parrots need extra care at this time. Bird caretakers can provide optimal conditions for molting to produce the healthiest results. Here are five tips for supporting a bird’s health during molting season.
- Nutrition. A bird’s primary nutritional need during molting is protein, as deficiencies can result in malformed feathers. Proteins are the building blocks of body tissue and will be in high demand as a bird grows new feathers. Foods rich in protein that can be supplemented into a parrot’s diet include nuts, boiled egg yolk, spinach or even mealworms.
- Warmth. Though a bird won’t lose feathers all over its body, its feathers will offer less warmth until the new ones fully emerge and fill out. This may cause the bird to get chilly. Maintain a warm temperature to keep Polly from catching a cold.
- Rest. Molting birds need extra sleep. Eight to twelve hours of total darkness per day may be required. If a bird starts settling down for the evening earlier or stays sleepy later than usual, he or she may need more sleep, as well as peace and quiet.
- Security. During molting season, the instincts of a bird direct it to be quiet and stay hidden: The loss of feathers may handicap their flying skills, making wild birds more susceptible to predators. Though pet birds don’t face these dangers, they may react more strongly to unexpected noise or movements. They may need extra quiet or more attention, depending on the individual bird.
- Preening. Birds that live with other birds, in the wild or in captivity, will preen each other during molting, picking off the waxy sheath from around each other’s feathers and speeding up the grooming process. Similarly, pet caretakers can help solitary birds by gently picking away at a feather’s keratin casing using fingernails. Be careful: When performed well, the bird will be very appreciative, but a wrong move could result in a nip.
A healthy bird will be able to endure the stresses associated with molting just fine, especially with the support of an observant caretaker. Follow the tips listed above to help a bird through this time with the most comfort. Consult a veterinarian if feathers emerge malformed, too many feathers are lost at one time, or if a bird begins to pull out healthy feathers.
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