Of all nature’s creations or processes, parrot molting and birds come to mind as one of the most exquisite and delightful feats of Darwinian engineering. For millennia, man dreamed of taking to the skies and soaring with the birds, only finally being able to achieve powered, directed flight with the confluence of thousands of years’ worth of high technology. This culminated in the airplane, an invention that didn’t truly become safe and reliable until decades after man’s first flight, with advanced engineering painstakingly working out the formidable barriers to this activity that is as natural to birds as walking is to us.
Despite the nearly intractable challenges that flight posed to humans, nature’s evolutionary mechanisms had worked out perfect solutions to these problems tens of millions of years before man ever existed. The birds we see all around us are living testament to nature’s infinite inventiveness.
But their awe-inspiring ability to soar to the heavens comes with a cost: Birds’ highly niche-specific physiology means that they contend with a number of unique circumstances and challenges that are not seen in other pets.
The most important of these may be the molting process. A bird’s feathers are far more than a mere analogue to a dog’s fur. They are the primary means by which a bird powers itself in flight, producing lift and helping it stay aloft for up to days at a time. As incredible as this gravity-defying function may be, a bird’s feathers are also its chief insulation as well as a layer of armor that protects the animal from the elements, collisions and predators. Finally, a bird’s feathers act as a status symbol as well as an aphrodisiac, helping the bird to attract mates. In some animals, feathers even produce buoyancy, allowing birds to enjoy a summer day in cool water or hunt for aquatic prey.
Feathers are like nature’s Swiss Army knife.
Parrot species molt up to three times per year
But to keep this multipurpose machinery in top working condition, parrots, like most other birds, molt. Most parrot species only molt once or twice a year. But cockatiel molting and parakeet molting can take place up to three times per year. Macaw molting and African grey molting typically only take place once per year but can occur more frequently.
Parrot molting is a crucial part of maintaining the bird’s health. Feathers are made of keratin, the same material found in hair, fingernails and animals’ claws. Like with hair or fingernails, feathers are subject to wear and tear. Because they are constantly exposed to the elements, feathers will eventually sustain damage that renders them ineffective at performing their chief biological functions. Parrot molting occurs in order for the bird to shed old, worn and damaged feathers and replace them with new plumage that is in top condition. In effect, molting is nature’s way of performing a rigorous airframe overhaul.
What does it mean when a Parrot is molting
When a parrot is molting, it simply means that the bird’s circadian clock is saying that it is once again time to overhaul its plumage, replacing old and worn-out feathers with sparkling new ones that ensure the parrot will be able to fly effectively and stay protected from the elements.
But unlike the all-too familiar shedding process in cats, dogs or other animals, where the animal’s fur may simply fall out at a noticeably faster rate than at other times of the year, molting in parrots is a stressful and all-consuming biological process that can leave your bird fatigued, stressed and, in some cases, more vulnerable to disease.
It is important to understand that, while feathers are made of keratinous material that is similar to that seen in fur and fingernails, the process by which feathers are formed is far more complex. Birds have evolved a mechanism that ensures perfect symmetry in the shedding of old feathers in order to maintain stable flight in times of molting. This means that any feathers that a parrot loses on one side of its body will also be concurrently lost on the other side of its body. If this process were to evolve too rapidly, the parrot would be at risk of developing hypothermia or being unable to fly. For this reason, molting tends to take anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months, allowing for the slow and orderly shedding and replacement of all feathers.
But this means that molting can last weeks to months, lengthening a period in which your parrot may appear sad, stressed or overly cranky. These changes in mood and personality are partly because parrots that are molting in the wild need to be hypervigilant for any threats. Lethargy can also arise due to the fact that the growing of many new feathers along with the required preening can take up to 30 percent more energy than the bird normally consumes.
This means that getting the right parrot food during your bird’s molting period is especially important. Macaw molting and African grey molting often lead to iodine deficiency. This can be addressed by feeding your bird premium parrot food that with ingredients such as kelp. This will not only helps to boost deficient iodine levels but also includes such essential nutrients as magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, potassium and vitamins A through E. Due to the nutrition-intense processes involved in the formation of new feathers, all of these nutrients can easily be depleted to dangerously low levels while a parrot is molting. But it should be noted that increasing a bird’s total parrot food intake by as much as 25 percent throughout the molting period may be required as parrots simply need far more raw calories to adequately form new plumage.
Caring for your parrot during its molting period
During the molting process, parrots will grow a large number of pin feathers. These are are stubbly feathers that are both venous and innervated. These pin feathers will eventually grow to replace the bird’s full plumage. But in the meantime, they are often highly sensitive and may be susceptible to puncture. Careful attention must be paid to birds that are in the early stages of molting. This is where many pin feathers are present, because these feathers are veined, and any injury to one of these proto-feathers can quickly lead to life-threatening blood loss.
This is another reason why it is so important to try to minimize the stress that your parrot experiences throughout the molting period. Stressed birds are more likely to peck or overgroom their feathers. Puncturing a venous pin feather can quickly lead to a life-threatening emergency. This is why any sign of blood on your bird during the molting process should be immediately diagnosed. If the problem cannot be resolved through the quick and total removal of the pin feather at its root, the parrot should be taken immediately to see a veterinarian.
During molting, birds will have fewer feathers than normal. This means that keeping the room in which the parrot is caged a little warmer than usual can help them to feel better. Also, helping your bird to groom by gently breaking up the hard keratinous substance that encases new feathers can be helpful.
Overall, giving extra attention to your parrot throughout its molting period can help relieve the bird’s stress. It helps to keep in mind that any change in your pet’s personality is the transient result of a stressful once-or-twice per year event and that your parrot will likely return to its normal, jovial routine when the molting process has completed.
Molting is often little fun for either parrots or their owners. But with the right diet, attention and care, you can help your parrot to get through this challenging time as comfortably as possible.