Did you know that parrots are some of the most popular pet birds globally? Compared to other species, birds are generally the fourth most popular pets in America. The one thing all bird lovers unanimously agree on is how stressful molting is on their feathered friends. Although this process is an annual event for most birds, parrots can molt up to two times a year.
If you don’t already know, molting comes soon after the breeding season as the parrot prepares to face the coming seasons head-on. Needless to say, feathers are an essential feature of any bird, parrots included. It is, therefore, vital that your pet replenishes them regardless of how taxing it might be.
Molting is the process via which birds shed old and worn out feathers to give way for healthier ones. Naturally, healthy feathers are a parrot’s prized possession. They provide warmth, confer the critical ability to fly, and truthfully, are an embodiment of your pet’s sexuality.
Just as wear and tear are inevitable for anything in constant use, so is it for a parrot’s feathers. Notable causes of the wearing out include exposure to extreme temperatures, dirt, and wind. Stress and malnutrition are additional causative factors for pet parrots.
As some feathers continue to deteriorate in health, you will notice that your bird will incessantly preen them off. Preening refers to the process by which birds clean and tidy up their feathers using their beaks. Unlike molting, which happens twice a year, preening is a recurrent process that some birds partake every day.
Light – A Molting Trigger
Although pet parrots may be more familiar with artificial light, natural light triggers the molting process. All living things follow circadian rhythms. One way this distinctively manifests in parrots is when light regulates the hormones that trigger the shedding of old feathers.
When your pet bird is ripe for a molt, light rays will prompt the parrot’s hormonal glands to secrete the chemical messengers that kick-start and maintain the feather-shedding process.
The Molting Process in Action
As mentioned earlier, molting is a naturally challenging process for any bird. For starters, the event irritates the parrot’s skin, and to compound the matter further, it can take anywhere from several weeks to months. Now imagine this continuous feeling of discomfort happening to your pet twice every year!
Fortunately, there’s a silver lining to all the chaos. Molting happens symmetrically, meaning that your winged pet will maintain their balance throughout the process. For each feather your parrot loses on one side of their body, they automatically shed off the same feather on the opposite side.
As a pet owner, you bear the responsibility of ensuring that your parrot survives this gruesome molting process. How do you do this, you ask? It is pretty simple – ensure that your feathered friend is in optimal health at all times. This means putting them on a regular and well-balanced diet, protecting them from the elements, and keeping them away from stressful situations.
How to Recognize Molting
What are the signs of, say, a Quaker parrot molting? You’ve probably seen splintered or chewed up feathers at the bottom of your parrot’s cage. Does this mean that they’re in full molt mode? Hardly. New bird owners may misinterpret this to be so, but in truth, damaged shafts on shed feathers indicate that your parrot is engaging in feather-destructive behaviors.
More often than not, this is usually a sign that your pet is stressed. When a parrot is molting, what you’ll find in their cage are feathers with their shafts fully intact. Since parrots symmetrically shed their feathers, most of those you notice will highly likely be identical. If your bird lies on the larger side of the spectrum, brace yourself for a longer molting period.
What Comes Next After Shedding?
As worn-out feathers fall off, new ones replace them almost immediately. Their replacements come in the form of pin feathers, otherwise known as undeveloped feathers. Whereas mature ones constitute dead keratin, pin feathers are vascularized living tissues with an ample supply of nutrients, depending on the bird’s nutritional status.
The blood flowing within the new feathers gives them a noticeable purple hue. However, this shade often remains covered by the feathers your bird has yet to shed. Interestingly, this “cover” protects the parrot from bleeding to death. As mentioned above, pin feathers are highly vascularized. In the unfortunate event that one or more pins sustain an injury, profuse bleeding ensues, and your feathered friend could die in a heartbeat.
Protecting Your Bird From Fatal Injuries
They say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. To this end, it is only prudent to have some styptic gel in your pet bird’s first aid kit to stop any bleeding from occurring. Accidents do happen, and your beloved friend may hurt their baby feathers while merely flying around in their cage.
As a precaution, make it a habit to regularly inspect your parrot’s cage for any telltale signs of active blood loss. In the case of bleeding, apply the styptic gel at the injury site and mount some pressure for a maximum of two minutes. If you don’t have access to the gel, styptic powder, corn starch, and flour are the recommended replacements.
Next, move the parrot from their regular cage and have them under observation in a new one for about an hour. If no more bleeding occurs within this period, then your feathered friend is out of the woods. If not, you should immediately rush to the vet. In the case that push comes to shove, your vet may recommend pulling out the bleeding pin feather altogether.
Helping Your Parrot Survive the Molt
During the taxing molting process, your Quaker, Macaw, African Grey, or any other parrot species will need to replace at least 25% of their body protein. And seeing as parrots are not mammals, they don’t store most of the nutrients they need within their bodies.
As such, their daily diet determines their overall nutritional health. Out in the wild, parrots molt during the sprouting season.
Sprouting plants are nutrient-rich, making them the delicacy of choice for wild parrots. Since your pet parrot doesn’t have the same luxury as their wild counterparts, it’s up to you to ensure that they feed well daily. The 25% of body protein that needs to be replaced translates to a 25% increase in daily consumption during molting. That said, ensure to factor in these changes when budgeting for their food.
A lack of proper nutrition during the molting process often results in weak, sparse, and curly feathers, which in the long run, may lead to your bird’s demise. Parrots love colorful fruits and green leafy vegetables. These are all nutrient-packed options they need most when molting. If you don’t serve your bird these, you’ll be doing them a great disservice. Make a habit of it and watch your bird thrive.
In addition to a well-balanced diet, it wouldn’t hurt to top their daily helpings with supplements that promote feather growth. Fortunately, these supplements are readily available commercially. If there was ever a perfect time to expose your bird to as much sunlight as possible, it has got to be when they are battling the molt. If natural light isn’t an option, go for full-spectrum lights that sync with the sun.
Did you know that during molting, some parrots have the constant urge to pluck their feathers? It is almost a compulsion, but there’s a simple solution for it – misting. Regularly misting your pet will ease the constant irritation on their skin, leaving the feathers to fall off naturally in the symmetry that they should. After misting, consider providing a heat lamp to dry your bird off.
Last but not least, parrots are ever anxious during molting. As if that wasn’t enough, the process is also painful. That’s why it is necessary to provide a calm environment for your little birdie during this painful process. Adding some warm elements to the quiet room will also help tremendously. And when the event is finally over, you’ll be proud that you stood by your feathered friend all the way.
As is evident, molting is a natural process every bird undergoes. Just as you cannot prevent the sun from rising, you also cannot protect your bird from molting. Luckily for your pet parrot, they have you to count on during this challenging process.
With help from your vet, some online research, and the few pointers mentioned above, you can figure out how else to make your bird more comfortable.
As a bird lover, your parrot’s well-being should be a priority if it isn’t already. Now that you know what to expect for the next molting season, your bird is sure to be grateful. It’s even more exciting if you’re only just getting started on your journey as a bird parent. Since knowledge is power, let your bird enjoy the strength of the information you now wield with pride.