Molting Basics

Molting Basics
A bird’s feathers serve more than one purpose. Down feathers insulate and support cover feathers. Cover feathers provide protection and include a bird’s flight feathers. Flight feathers are primarily the wing and tail feathers. Obviously, wing feathers are used for flight but tail feathers steer the bird while in flight, similar to a rudder on a boat. It is important for feathers to stay in excellent condition and should be a primary concern for any bird owner. Molting is a natural part of avian health and is critical to feather health.

How Often
Usually, birds molt once per year. This will vary depending on the individual bird but it usually occurs at the same time of year for that bird. Baby birds will often loose their baby feathers and grow their adult feathers, along with their adult markings or colorations, at their first molt, usually at about 10 to 12 months old. During a normal molt, feathers will be lost and regrown symmetrically. For example, both corresponding wing feathers will be lost at the same time. However, your bird should never exhibit bald spots during a regular molt. Baldness is an indicator that something is wrong and requires your bird to be taken to an avian vet for further investigation.

How Long
When you are cleaning up feathers, you may think that your bird’s molt will last forever. A typical molt can last several months. A general rule is, the larger the bird the longer the molt, with large birds like macaws and cockatoos lasting the longest.

Molting is an itchy process and will cause your bird to preen more than usual. If your bird lives with another bird, they will often preen each other. If your bird lives alone, you will be responsible for helping your feathered friend reach those hard to get-to places, like the back of the head and neck. If your preening causes the bird discomfort wait and allow the feather to grow longer and try again.

Most bird owners notice a marked change in their bird’s behavior during a molt, especially if it is a particularly extensive molt. Molting is itchy and uncomfortable and will cause most birds to become grumpy and more unpredictable than normal.

To ease the discomfort of molting, bathe your bird daily. This will soften the feather shaft and make it easier for the bird to preen of the keratin sheath. A daily bath will also remove excess dander created during the molting process.

Provide your bird with a health diet including, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables and small amounts of protein. By keeping your bird in optimal health, times of stress, such as molting, will be much easier for your bird to tolerate gracefully. It is best to offer this healthy diet all the time; do not attempt to supplement a poor diet just at the time of molting.

It is important to understand the stress your bird faces during their normal molt. By understanding the process you are able to meet their needs and make the transition as easy as possible.

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