3 Ways to Take Care of a Bird That is Moulting
Why do birds lose their feathers?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines moulting as the process of: [a bird or animal losing] its feathers, skin or hair as a natural process at a particular time of year so that new feathers, skin, or hair can grow.”This process is called moulting when birds lose their feathers and shedding when mammals lose their hair or snakes shed their skin, for example. To better understand the phenomenon in other domestic animals, see our articles on dog shedding and cat shedding.
Just like cats and dogs lose more hair when their fur is renewing itself in response to season changes, your bird’s feathers will fall out and new ones will grow periodically.
Here’s what you should know about your bird’s moulting process. You will learn how to provide your winged companion with special care that will make the process easier on them and help them successfully grow back a strong, new, healthy plumage with stunningly vibrant colours.
Moulting: a vulnerable period for your bird mue
Moulting can be physically demanding. Growing new feathers requires lots of energy and internal resources, and your bird will have more specific needs during this period.
Among other things, their bones will be a little more fragile during the moulting process, and may be more subject to fractures. If your bird’s food doesn’t contain enough calcium to grow new feathers, their body will pull it out of their bones instead. Their immune system may also be weakened, making your bird more prone to infection.
If your bird is in good health and their food is properly adapted to this important process, moulting will occur normally. If they’re in poor health or have nutritional deficiencies, the moult could take longer, be incomplete or even delayed, and their new plumage could be more fragile and more drab.
How moulting can affect your bird’s behaviour
Moulting can also cause hormonal disruptions and sometimes give rise to certain behavioural changes. It’s normal for your bird to scratch themselves to make it easier to dislodge their old feathers. They will likewise have a general tendency to become less active, to sleep more, and to vocalize less frequently. If their health is not optimal, your bird may appear more tired and stop singing. They can become a bit more agitated or even irritable. This could be a sign that they are stressed and require extra attention.
My bird is pulling out their feathers... Are they moulting?
Sometimes birds pull out some of their own feathers when they’re moulting. However, if your bird seems to be pulling feathers out compulsively, to the point of causing bald spots, if the moulting process drags on for several months, or if your bird can no longer fly normally, it could be the sign of a false moult. Feather pecking, an abnormal behaviour in which a bird pulls out their own feathers or the feathers of fellow birds, is a sign of stress, discomfort or inadequate living conditions. Bald patches can also be caused by skin irritation, parasites or a disease. When in doubt, it’s best to consult a veterinarian.
The moulting process: a natural phenomenon
The nature and role of feathers
Feathers are keratinous growths unique to birds. They consist of a flexible shaft (called the “rachis”) that branches into barbs and barbules. They completely cover a bird’s body and play several significant roles in a bird’s survival:
- They enable birds to fly thanks to their lightness and the aerodynamics of the plumage.
- They regulate body temperature.
- They provide protection from impacts and bad weather.
- They enable birds to recognize their own and other species.
- They help males seduce females during courtship.
- And more.
Did you know?
Canaries have more than 1,500 feathers while turtledoves have around 2,500.
The feather life cycle and the moulting process
Like the hair on our bodies, feathers emerge from the skin, grow and have a finite life. Bird feathers age and become worn, and must be renewed—during regular moulting—to continue to effectively perform their functions. During moulting, feathers lose their vitality; they become loose and fall out. They are replaced by younger feathers that have been developing in the same feather follicle. Generally, this loss occurs gradually and in a specific order, so that the bird is never completely bare and can thus continue to fly.
Did you know?
Duck moulting does not follow this rule. They lose all their feathers simultaneously in what is called an “eclipse.” As a result, they cannot fly for several weeks and must hide from predators.
The evolution of a bird’s plumage
From chick to mature adult, birds go through several successive plumages, interspersed by moulting periods that can last up to several weeks and can occur at different times of year, depending on the species.
The first plumage, also called “natal” or “neoptile” plumage, consists of more or less abundant down feathers, according to the species. Successive plumage stages include the pre-juvenile, juvenile and post-juvenile moults, leading to the emergence of “true” contour feathers that are more robust than the initial down feathers.
When birds reach adulthood, their plumage changes according to the seasons and their reproductive cycle. A bird’s sex hormones will determine the colour, form and arrangement of the feathers that grow. Moulting occurs once or twice a year, generally after the summer solstice or after mating season.
Factors that cause a bird to moult
Several factors play a role in triggering the moulting process:
- The photoperiod (the length of days and nights);
- Temperature and ambient humidity;
- Hormone fluctuations and the reproductive cycle;
- The female’s egg-laying;
- Living conditions and stress.
In the case of a pet bird living in captivity, these factors are often altered, and abnormal moults can result. Too much or too little exposure to natural light, for example, can cause imbalance and disruption.
Did you know?
Plumage makes up, on average, 10% of a bird’s weight.
How to care for your bird during the moulting process
Tip 1: Minimize environmental stressress environnemental
To help your bird through this vulnerable phase, be attentive to their well-being and avoid all unnecessary stress. A calm, well-fed bird living in a suitable, stable environment will have a much easier time.
Tip 2: Give your bird food rich in essential nutrients
Growing new feathers takes lots of energy and assorted nutrients at the cellular level. Make sure your bird’s food is sufficiently rich in quality proteins, mineral salts, sulphur-containing amino acids, calcium and vitamins.Among other things, feathers are made up of keratin, which primarily consists of sulphur-containing amino acids. Eggs, legumes and grains contain keratin, but the quantity required will depend on the species. Ask your animal health specialist for nutritional advice.
Tip 3: Supplement with avian-specific prebiotics and probiotics
Moulting can throw your bird’s intestinal flora out of balance, causing elimination problems. Sub-optimal flora can also compromise their digestive system’s ability to properly absorb nutrients. And finally, their immune system can be weakened, increasing the risk of infection.
Avian-specific prebiotics and probiotics can help build up or rebalance your bird’s intestinal microbiome, increase their natural enzymes, optimize their diet, improve their health and promote a healthy, vibrant plumage. These supplements are especially helpful during the moulting period but can also be given throughout the year for your bird’s overall health.
“If your singing is as lovely as your plumage...”
As the fox so shrewdly said to the crow in Jean de La Fontaine’s famous fable, a bird’s plumage is a reflection of its vitality.
Losing feathers during moulting is a normal cyclical phenomenon, but nonetheless a demanding one for your feathered companion. Be attentive, feed your bird a nutrient-rich diet, supplement with prebiotics and probiotics as needed, and your bird will soon recover their good health and all their splendour!