In case breeding season isn’t enough to make you crazy, we can now also embrace molting season. Half of me loves the molting season. I am always fascinated by new feather growth – out with the raggedy and in with the shiny and new. The other half, perhaps the bigger half, hates it for the extra work it creates.
I am taking care of the Womach’s budgies while they are on the road. A small bird might have as many as 3000 feathers on it’s body – X 2 budgies = 6000 feathers. Doing the math, and looking at what’s on the floor, these birds should be naked. And I hope I have finally learned to stop trying to sweep up those feathers they deposit on the floor near the cage. Sweeping creates a breeze and breezes make the tiny white feathers take flight all on their own. Soon the feathers are deposited everywhere. I found one stuck to a shelf in the fridge.
The real positive here is the fact that is probably is the end of the hormonal behavior for the littlest birds in the flock. Generally speaking, when the serious molting begins, the breeding urges are in a decline. Feather and egg production both use considerable amounts of the body’s calcium supply, so it is uncommon for both to be happening at once. I hope the bigger birds are paying attention.
I get excited for my birds to finally rid themselves of certain unruly feathers. My goffins cockatoo, Theo, has a wing feather that somehow twists upside down and points upward and away from her body. I can truly live without that feather, but she seems in no hurry to let it go. When I rehomed my first umbrella cockatoo, Abu, her tail feathers were a ratty mess. I was told that, in her former home, she was left free to roam an area with textured cement floors accounting for the worn feathers. It was such a thrill the next year when they were replaced with silky new ones.
This time of year there are always questions about molting. I have noticed a lot of them this year are pertaining to concerns that their birds are slow in shedding certain feathers and wondering if these feathers will be molted this year since they weren’t the year before.
There are conditions and circumstances that can be a deterent to the molting of old feathers. Poor diet, stress and ill-health can play a huge role in the disruption of the molting cycle. If your bird suffers from any of these things, its body has more important concerns than the exchanging of feathers and will fail to do so. If your bird is long overdue for a good molt, you should bring her in for a work-up and be sure to tell the vet about your concerns.
For those of you with birds who have had feathers damaged in an accident, or who are feather destructive and have damaged their feathers themselves, know that these feathers seem to defy the typical molting cycle and may take a while to fall out. This can also apply to birds who have received severe wing trims, where the flight feathers have been cut too far down the shaft.
The only thing that stimulates feather regrowth is the loss of the existing feather. Barring any health or emotional issues, the feather will eventually be molted. Please never remove a feather for aesthetic reasons. It can be too painful and traumatic an experience for your bird to endure for the purposes of appearance. The only time we should forcefully remove a feather is when it is a broken blood feather presenting an immediate danger to the bird or if a damaged feather is hanging painfully from the follicle.
So right now the birds are screaming and biting and somehow there are feathers in the silverware drawer. Soon it will be over…until next year.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.