Things You Can Tell from
|Above: Blood feather in a blue and gold macaw. Long wing feather has two bands that could be confused for stress bars, but occurred from the feather sheath being retained, causing a constriction of the feather at that level.|
When a bird molts, usually feathers are replaced symmetrically, meaning that the same wing feathers will be pushed out simultaneously on both wings, for example. Most birds replace all of their feathers at least once a year, usually after breeding season, and some may molt more frequently. During a parrot's normal molt, there should never be bald patches present. During molting, the discarded feather is pushed out by the proliferation of the cells at the base of the feather. The length of the feather that is being molted out has nothing to do with the ability of molting to occur. In the past, it was mistakenly thought that the weight of the feather was responsible for the feather falling out, but we now know that this is not true.
A bird that is molting may have many pinfeathers present, and these are most obvious on the head, since a single pet bird cannot preen the normally present feather sheaths from the back of the head. If two or more birds share a cage, they may preen each other's heads, removing the sheaths. But, you can often tell if a bird is molting from visualizing feather sheaths on the wings, tail or head, most commonly.
Left: The appearance of blood feathers,
which are active, growing feathers, replacing molted out ones. Blood
feathers have a soft, purple-blue shaft, with an active blood supply. If a
blood feather is cut or injured, it can bleed excessively. A broken blood
feather should be dealt with by an experienced avian vet. Pulling the
feather out and then applying pressure with a sterile gauze square is
often all that is required. However, if a blood feather is broken off at
the level of the skin, this may require more extensive therapy.
Right: A broken blood feather that is seeping blood. This feather should be pulled out to stop the bleeding and then pressure should be applied to the follicle to encourage clot formation.
Dirty or Depigmented Feathers
The bright plumage of most parrots comes from different kinds of pigments present in the feathers. If a bird has not molted in a timely fashion, due to malnutrition, metabolic problems or an incorrect photoperiod, the feathers may become depigmented, and the result is feathers that have areas that appear blackened or "dirty." These old feathers that should have already molted out often cause concern to owners, but they usually mean that a bird is overdue for a molt, for whatever the reason.
Another reason for depigmented feathers is
from damage to feathers, either from repeated petting and handling by
owners or from a bird repeatedly brushing up against an object in the cage
that is causing premature depigmentation of feathers. Another reason for
depigmentation is from a bird that overpreens its feathers, and thus, over
time, removing pigment from the feathers. This is different from a light
colored bird, a white cockatoo, for example, that has dirty, greasy
feathers from oils transferred from human hands to the feathers.
Left: A scarlet macaw with many unkempt feathers due to rough play. She often lies on her back and plays with her toys and owner, causing rough appearing feathers. This is not due to overpreening.
Changes in Color of Feathers
Birds that consume a diet that is deficient in or oversupplemented in certain nutrients may develop unusual pigmentation of feathers as they grow in during the time of the nutritional problem. Since most birds are fed a nutritionally balanced diet today, this is not as commonly seen as it was in the past when birds were fed primarily seeds.
Above: Broken tail feathers in a macaw. This usually occurs if a bird lives in a round cage and spends time hanging on the bars, resulting in feather breakage. May also occur from rough play or another bird biting off tail feathers.
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