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BirdTricks Blog | Parrot Training

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Feather Damage?


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Rosebreasted Cockatoo/Galah. This is Merlin, taken in Oct 2009. I had found him 2 months earlier, in shock and bleeding in a pet store due to a bad wing clip. I bought him and drove the shop crazy by reporting them and plying them with subsequent vet bills. (The shop couldn’t hit Merlin over the head with a brick to hide the evidence if I brought him home, could they?)

 

Every now and again I am asked the question: “How long will it take ...

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Rosebreasted Cockatoo/Galah. This is Merlin, taken in Oct 2009. I had found him 2 months earlier, in shock and bleeding in a pet store due to a bad wing clip. I bought him and drove the shop crazy by reporting them and plying them with subsequent vet bills. (The shop couldn’t hit Merlin over the head with a brick to hide the evidence if I brought him home, could they?)

 

Every now and again I am asked the question: “How long will it take for my bird’s damaged feathers to grow out?” Most of the time, the question relates to a clipped bird, but sometimes it is someone with a bird who has recovered from an illness or is dealing with a plucking/self-mutilation issue.

 

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Taken in November 2009, you can see Merlin is starting to moult and regrow his flight feathers.

 

The standard answer is approximately 12 months. In other words, the average bird goes through some sort of moult at least once a year. When the bird goes through a moult, the damaged feathers should hopefully be replaced with new ones. That’s only the standard answer though and it’s actually probably not that simple in many cases.

 

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10 months later (Late August 2010) – Merlin still hasn’t fully recovered.

 

A little over a year ago, I was dealing with serious feather issues with my Blue and Gold Macaw. Fid had recovered from Psittacosis but had to face the reality of feathers that had some pretty nasty flaws in them. Due to illness, his feathers hadn’t had the consistent nutrition required to develop flaw-free. Instead his body had used what resources it had to battle the illness.

 

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Taken June 9th 2012 (so a little more than 3 years after the dodgy wing clip was done.) There is still a slight abnormality that you can see in the centre of his wing. (Feathers are slightly shorter and matted).  It took Merlin approximately 4 years to totally recover.

 

This meant that after he recovered from the illness, the new feathers (which were getting the nutrition they needed) were still struggling to grow out. They didn’t have the protection that older feathers would have provided, which meant they were getting damaged as Fid played and flew around. I lost count of the blood feathers that I dealt with last year.

 

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One of Fid’s blood feathers last year. The white powder is corn flour (if you’re Australian) or corn starch (if you’re elsewhere in the world), that I used to stop the bleeding/stabilise him before snapping a pic.

 

The situation was made worse by the fact that Fid had his wings clipped before he’d even learned to fly. He also wasn’t clipped ‘correctly’. Whatever scissors/tool had been used, they hadn’t been strong enough to cut cleanly through larger feathers. The process had left the remaining part of the feathers splitting and peeling down the central shaft, making them catch on everything Fid passed.

 

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The four upper feathers were broken off Fid’s damaged tail last year. The two bottom feathers have been recently moulted. They’re still not great but it’s a big improvement.

 

The result was a clumsy bird, with an extraordinarily long tail that he was learning to maneuver without the aid of the full counter weight/balance that his wings should have provided. The worst blood feathers were on Fid’s tail as he was constantly knocking it. His wings weren’t pretty either. He wasn’t in good shape for a time in his life when he was naturally starting to learn to fly.

 

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A recent photo, you can see how one wing tip is damaged and causing a few balance problems.

 

Fast forward 12 months. His clipped and damaged feathers should have grown out, right? He’s healthy. His feathers should be perfect, right? Well that’s not quite how it works.

 

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Fid dropped these feathers (one from each wing) within days of each other. I’m glad to see it’s the same feather on each wing and the fact they dropped within days of each other, indicates they’ll grow out at the same time and help the balance issue he has had.

 

When a parrot moults, it doesn’t moult out every single feather in one hit. If they did, we’d have a stack of naked, flightless birds running around. There is some order to it though. Flight feathers moult bilaterally. Which means as a feather is dropped from one wing, the same feather on the other wing should drop within a few days. This is a handy fact to know if you’re trying to judge a bird’s health. If the feathers aren’t moulting in this way, it could be a sign of either illness or some sort of damage to the feather.

 

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I had hayfever, Fid stole the last tissue. I didn’t kill him. (He was lucky.) You can clearly see the black spots on his wing and how ratty his tail is here.

 

Just how big a moult a bird has is going to depend on a number of things, including the bird’s species, the bird’s age, the bird’s sex, the time of year, hormones, amount of light a bird is exposed to, or a bird’s health.

 

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He can fly very well now but still has steering issues due to the damaged tail.

 

Fid has just hit the age of two, so he’s due for a really massive moult. At the time of writing, in Australia – many parrot owners are saying it’s moulting season, birds are moulting very heavily right now.  Fid lost his first full length unbroken tail feather about 2 months ago. It wasn’t pretty. It was a former blood feather that grew out. So instead of a bright shiny blue, it had some serious blackening and was barbed. It was one of only two tail feathers that made it through to full length without breaking after last year’s blood feather nightmare.

 

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Learning to land (aiming to get close to that jar of almonds).

 

Watching that first new tail feather grow in (a macaw’s longer tail feathers take months to reach their full length), the difference between it and his older feathers is remarkable. It’s a very shiny, lighter blue and it just looks healthy compared to his older feathers. Unfortunately though, the state of the older feathers is again impacting on the new feather as it grows out. While it doesn’t have stress bars, it is getting knocked around more than I’d like, due to lack of protection from neighbouring damaged feathers. On the bright side, at least this year there is enough protection so that his entire tail should reach its full length.

 

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Lori – my rainbow lorikeet is sitting on my shoulder. She was a rescued pet. Another bird that came with psittacosis. Her original avian vet said she was a mutation/hybrid because of her colouring. (See the blue on her wings and leg? That should be green.) The vet was wrong, Lori isn’t a mutation/hybrid. The colouring was caused by malnutrition. Given a corrected diet (and having overcome psittacosis) – those blue feathers disappeared within 2 years.

 

Fid is also still sporting some blackened feathers on his shoulder that he just won’t moult out yet. They look worse than ever because the new ones are so bright and shiny in comparison. If I didn’t know his history and saw him for the first time I’d be worried he’s ill. The point is though that I know which feathers are new and which are old. Seeing the new feathers as they come in, it’s obvious he’s very healthy.

 

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Abandoned on the side of a busy intersection along with a clipped Indian Ringneck, this unweaned juvenile rainbow lorikeet had its tail ripped out by ravens and very nearly died from her injuries. Dori wasn’t in great shape when she moved in here.

 

It can be hard being public about a bird with damaged feathers. If you post a picture online, people immediately comment on the broken feathers or blackened spots. Most people don’t think it through and realize that it can take years for a bird to recover good feather condition after illness or damage, so if they know you have had the bird for years and it still has damage – in their eyes you must be doing something wrong. I think people dread that judgement and don’t share their pictures for that reason, which also stops people from seeing /realizing how long the road to recovery is.

 

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You can see in this picture that the blue on Lori’s wing is almost gone. The juvenile lorikeet is looking healthier too.

 

The best thing that you can do for a bird with damaged feathers is really make sure you’re getting the bird’s diet right. (Check out the BirdTricks.com feeding program if you need help with that.) Make sure that the bird is getting everything it needs to grow strong healthy feathers. Frequent bathing opportunities, adequate sunlight and proper sleeping patterns will help too. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a few moults (which for many species means several years) for your bird to recover. That’s normal. The worse the damage is – the longer it will take.

 

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Frequent bathing helps encourage a healthy type of preening.

 

As a note to all of us: Pause before you comment on a bird’s feather condition whether the bird is clipped or damaged. Clipping is a highly emotional topic. I don’t clip my birds but I don’t judge those who do because I can think of situations where people have had to make a judgement call on clipping for the safety of their birds.

 

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The same birds a few years later. Dori (the juvenile from the upper pics) is perched above, Lori (the one who used to have abnormal blue feathers).

 

I very nearly clipped my elderly galah when he recovered the ability to fly because his desire to fly long distances was putting a strain on his heart. I didn’t want him flying far until his heart condition was under control. Clipped birds can still fly and I decided clipping wouldn’t slow him down enough to be worthwhile.  Likewise, Fid was originally clipped during a moult, which meant wing feathers on one wing grew out faster than the other. The feathers that grew out fast got damaged due to lack of protection. It has made him extra clumsy because he’s lopsided. I think if even one more wing feather on that damaged wing was broken, it would have been bad enough that I would have had to clip his good wing during this moult, in order prevent him crashing as he flies. The aim there would be to give his tail a chance to grow out undamaged and then let his wings grow out next moult when his tail was in a condition to cope. My point here is, some people have very good reasons to clip and we shouldn’t judge them without knowing the situation.

 

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Fid has come a long way – the colour of his new feathers is something to see! So apparently is that jar of almonds…

 

Likewise, owners of plucked birds are doing it tough. There are many reasons a bird might pluck and it doesn’t mean they necessarily have a ‘bad owner’. In fact the owner may be a good owner who is trying to fix the situation. The guilt that comes with having a plucked bird is terrible and it stops many owners from sharing their experiences and possibly getting the help and support that they need.

 

Any feather damage takes time to repair and understanding that makes it easier for anyone dealing with this issue.

 

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Stolen almonds taste better.

 

22 comments


  • hiiii. I have a cockatiel and my husband on him accidentally .. He lost some feathers from his face and can see red skin from that part…. He is closing his left eye again and again but behaving very normal. Should I take him to vet…

    Bindiya Malhotra on

  • And I didn’t read it!

    Iesya D. on

  • hi mel i also have two lorikeets and they are both recovering they eat nectar apples pears mangoes bananas and native foliage and flowers

    peter on

  • Thank you, Mel, for this great information. I decided to stop clipping my Sennie’s wings (vet clip) some 2 1/2 yrs ago, and t recently noticed that she still has one more clipped feather to moult. Was a bit concerned, but now realize even a healthy bird can take years to replace feathers. Always appreciate your posts.

    Maureen Tweddle on

  • Great articlesfrom you and others. Pepsi our fav girl cockatiel is bald as her mate Soni plucks her neck & head. she is ok, but I dont know how to fix her. Reet Nicholl, Sydney.

    Reet Nicholl on

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