Spend a little time with a pet parrot or any pet bird for that matter, and you soon come to realize they are losing their feathers, which may cause you some worry …but the truth is that they are going through the molting process, which is a completely normal process, and we will talk about how often this happens.
How often do parrots molt? About once per year, your parrot will go through a molt. This is to make way for new feathers after the breeding season and grow in new, fresh and strong feathers as if he was replacing old, worn-out clothes with new ones. Your parrot will molt about 1-2 times a year.
So now you know the answer to how often parrots molt, but there is so much more to it you should be aware of. Continue reading to know how you can make this an easier time for your pet parrot.
Taking A Closer Look at Molting
If you are a pet bird owner, you know how stressful a molt is for a parrot. This is not like buying new clothes for school or work as a human, which is sometimes seen as exciting.
No, for a parrot, this is a stressful time and he needs your help.
Feathers are a bird’s clothing. They are not just beautiful accessories for a parrot. Feathers aid a parrot in flight, the act of keeping warm, sexuality, and safety.
Parrots, after all, take pride in keeping their feathers healthy and you will often find them preening as a result. Molting is stressful because your parrot is losing what he really loves and it takes energy to produce new feathers.
Just why does your parrot love feathers so much? Well, aside from being the tools he uses to survive and propagate the species, feathers are a feat of engineering.
Feathers are made of keratin, which is a protein. See the parts of a feather here:
- Calamus-This is the hollow part that attaches the feather to the skin of your bird.
- Rachis-This is the shaft of the feather; vanes are attached to this.
- Vane-This is the flat part of the feather, attached on both sides of the rachis.
- Barbs-These are the branches that come off the rachis to form the vanes
- Barbules-These are small extensions from barns that are held in place by barbicels
- Barbicels-These are hooks that interlock and hold barbules in place.
Mother Nature is one amazing engineer, and it is no wonder that birds stress when losing these amazing tools. But the question remains, why do birds molt in the first place?
Why A Parrot Molts
The reason why a parrot molts – or any bird, for that matter – is because the feathers of a bird take a lot of wear and tear. The feathers of parrots who live in the wild see lots of sun, dirt, water, and heat, plus cold, on some occasions.
Pet birds may not see any of these elements, per se, but they do experience stress that leads to less than stellar feather health.
Also, parrots kept as pets can damage feathers on their cages. Pet parrots who have clipped wings may fall off perches and break tail feathers or even wing feathers, which are necessary for balancing.
A molt happens because of circadian rhythms-the same natural rhythm that helps us fall asleep, get hungry, and know roughly what time it is during the day.
They are mental, behavioral, and physical processes that follow the daytime light cycles that a living being experiences.
All of the living creatures on Planet Earth experience these Circadian rhythms, whether they are a microbe, a plant, or an animal. Light plays a part in regulating levels of hormones in birds, which leads to the start of a molt.
Birds that live out in the wild will experience a different molt than a companion bird that lives in a room with artificial lighting. Molts happen in a symmetrical way. When a bird is going through the molting process, feathers will be lost symmetrically.
This means that if you lose a few feathers on one side of the body, the same feather that is on the opposite side of your bird’s body will be lost, too. This allows a bird to fly in a stable fashion during his molt but still stay guarded against nature’s elements.
To molt all of one’s feathers can take many weeks to a few months, depending on how big your bird is as well as what species he is.
Molting is not fun for birds. To regenerate new feathers, he must be in optimum health. And, besides all this, the process of growing new feathers is irritating to birds. New feathers will appear on your bird in the form of “pin-feathers”, or thick, pointy and short quills.
Each feather is like a complex work of art, made of proteins and amino acids, which is why a bird has to be in top health to regenerate feathers that are strong and healthy.
As the new feathers are being made, the pin-feather is filled up with blood and may feel moist to the touch. Once this new feather is done growing, the keratin will dry, crack, and let the new feathers come out.
Birds will use their natural grooming techniques to get rid of this keratin but may need some help from you to reach the backs of their heads.
As we discussed earlier, each feather is comprised of keratin and features six parts to each individual feather. Growing all of this hundreds of times over is not easy for your bird, so give him a little break!
He may be cranky or more apt to bite during this period. He is experiencing a lot of physical and emotional stress. Although this article centers on parrots, those of you with pet canaries may find they don’t sing as much, preferring to devote energy to feather growth and not singing.
All nutrients that are taken are put toward the growth of new feathers. Pin feathers can be itchy and even painful. They aggravate a pet, leading to those cranky behaviors.
How To Help Your Parrot During Molting Season?
Now that you know how stressful a molt can be, there are ways you can help your buddy get through this tough time. Here are some steps you can take to aid him in making those new feathers grow.
- Help your bird feel comforted by keeping him warm. Keep him away from drafts, fans, and vents. Keep humidity at a good level in the room so skin stays moist. Heated perches are a good idea during this period, too – We show you our favorite heated perch here!
- Your parrot may over-preen his new feathers. He is stressed out and possibly bored, so offer him preening toys that allow him to chew and preen so that he does not irritate the new feathers growing in.
- Understand what he is going through. We get irritable when we are in pain, and your parrot is the same way. Do not punish your parrot or ignore him. Instead, ignore temper tantrums and make sure you are making him comfortable as you can. Only pet or handle him very gently as this may be painful.
- You can also offer your parrot the chance to take a bath. This helps get keratin dust away and keeps the skin moist. This dust should be kept away from their nostrils and ears because it can have harmful bacteria inside. Mist him with a bird-safe bath solution or Aloe Vera to keep debris away and keep skin soft and clean. You can also provide him with a water bowl so he can bathe whenever. Some parrots like to shower with their owners. Read our shower guide here!
- Keep light available. Expose him to natural sun, or bird lights that are timed. Most birds like about 12 hours of daylight time. He also needs about 12 hours of quiet, dark time as well each night to get adequate sleep. Even though they can’t see well in the dark, you should cover the cage during the night – we explain why here!
- Make sure he has socialization opportunities. This helps keep over-preening and plucking at bay. Set him on a perch where he can see your family. Allow him time out of the cage to play and stretch the wings. Keep petting to a minimum. We also recommend getting a swing for your parrot – Here is why they love swings so much!
- You can use a soft toothbrush/ mascara brush (a good one) to brush through the new spikes and to get rid of the dead spikes. Some parrots like that and it helps during that phase which can be so uncomfortable for them.
Is my parrot plucking or molting?
If your pet bird is losing feathers at a time other than the usual molting period, he may very well be feather plucking. Be sure that your pet is always given adequate exercise and playtime so that boredom does not lead to the plucking of feathers.
What time of year do birds molt?
This is dependent on the bird itself. Some will molt earlier in the year and others later on. Some birds take a long time to molt, for instance, Herring Gulls’ molting process takes about six months to complete!
How do I get my parrot’s feathers to grow back?
Feathers are naturally recurring, just like hair on humans. They grow back after they are pulled out. However, in some cases, skin may be so damaged that feathers will not come back. Always make sure your parrot has plenty of toys and ways to stay stimulated.
The answer to how often do parrots molt is not hard, but you should be ready to help your pet find his way through this process that, while totally natural, can be a real pain point for our pets.