A day ago, I saw a lone feather float to the ground, and I began to consider the various reasons why birds, particularly cockatiels, lose their feathers.
Cockatiels are known for their distinct feather color and pattern.
For many owners, the loss of feathers can be worrying when trying to figure out why.
Especially as cockatiels are normally household pets and companions.
So why is your cockatiel losing its feathers?
To answer the question, a cockatiel can lose its feathers for a variety of reasons like molting, stress, feather destructive behavior (plucking), excessive preening, weather, or infections. Feather loss can be caused by a variety of reasons, but it is knowing whether the loss of these feathers is normal or abnormal.
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What is molting?
Molting is the process of shedding old feathers to produce new ones.
This may be why your cockatiel’s feathers are not looking their best, a little disheveled.
Molting for a cockatiel is the process of losing some feathers, much like how dogs shed their winter and summer coats, or we humans shed our hair.
It is a perfectly natural thing.
It is difficult for your cockatiel to use up extra energy to try and shed their feathers, so they will need all the help and extra treatment you can offer.
How often do cockatiels molt?
Cockatiels should begin to molt between the ages of 6-12 months.
Cockatiels can normally molt all year round, although heavy molting can occur up to two to three times a year.
Heavy molting is when a cockatiel loses a large portion of feathers, especially from its tail and wings.
As their old feathers fall out, new ones begin to grow in and at the beginning, they are called blood feathers.
Blood feathers are the beginning of new feathers growing through, as during the beginning stages every feather is connected to blood vessels to provide nourishment.
As a cockatiel’s blood feathers grow, it is incredibly important to keep an eye on them in case they break under the skin.
It takes 7 to 10 days for a new feather to emerge after the old one is shed. It can then take 6 to 8 weeks for a blood feather to grow completely.
What should you be aware of during molting periods?
Molting can cause some discomfort for a cockatiel.
Underneath their feathers, they are like small chickens, when the new feathers begin to grow it can cause some annoyance for them.
This may be why you see a change in your cockatiel’s behavior during periods of molting.
Cockatiels may become more defensive during molting and may prefer some alone time.
Other reasons a cockatiel may be losing its feathers?
As said before, a cockatiel can lose its feathers for several reasons.
The key is recognizing the difference between naturally molting and abnormal loss of feathers.
Feather plucking or overactive preening can be a sign of a physical or psychological issue with your cockatiel.
It may also indicate a disease or allergy, particularly a skin infection.
Cockatiels can have naturally itchy skin but would normally itch under the wing during periods of infection.
However, your avian vet would most likely want to run a variety of tests to make sure.
Although it could be caused by psychological issues also.
Cockatiels, in the wild, normally travel in swarms and enjoy the company of others.
Without company or drastic changes to their environment, it could lead to their stress levels being heightened.
Birds that face emotional distress often begin to see alterations in their physicality too.
Anxious, stressed birds that pluck and self-mutilate can end up damaging their hair follicles stopping the regrowth of new feathers and causing scarring.
Stress can be a leading factor that causes cockatiels to pluck or over preen their feathers, however, its causes can be various.
For some, it can be out of boredom, anxiety, or loneliness (amongst others) and if that is the case, your cockatiel just wants some quality time with its owner or some stimulus to keep it busy.
Your cockatiel’s surrounding environment is important to how it interacts with itself.
Reaction to environment
A cockatiel may begin plucking or preening in reaction to the environment around them.
For example, if the heating is on full blast, the cockatiel will react to that change in temperature.
In an attempt to regulate its body heat it may begin plucking.
For many cockatiels and parrots in general, the loss of feathers helps regulate body temperature.
Observing how your cockatiel reacts to its surrounding environment can be a key factor in realizing why your companion is losing its feathers.
What is the difference between molting and feather plucking?
In the beginning, it can be difficult to notice the difference between plucking and molting.
Observation is key to noticing the difference between molting and plucking in a cockatiel.
The key signs can be in the actions of your cockatiel and even the appearance of their feathers.
Are the feathers broken? Does your cockatiel stop whatever they are doing to “groom” themselves? Can you see bare patches of skin?
These are a small amount of some of the questions you should ask if your cockatiel shows signs of molting or plucking. Also, during periods of molting, your cockatiel should not be losing an excessive number of feathers at a time.
Cockatiels lose their feathers for a multitude of reasons; it is knowing what to be aware of during periods such as these.
In most cases, it is completely normal for a cockatiel to shed its feathers as it molts during various times throughout the year.
Although, it is knowing when the molting or losing of feathers is abnormal.
Of course, your first port of call would be your vet, but knowing if it is molting, stress, plucking or infection will be your greatest advantage to both you and your companion cockatiel.
Observation of your cockatiel is key.