Written by Claria, Budgieobsession
It swiftly escapes through the wire, falling ever so slowly to the ground. To your horror, you see that it is soon accompanied by many, many more. Your heart thuds as your fingers grip onto the trusted handle. The poor machine has barely survived the last vicious cycle before it is soon thrust into another. You reach out again, groping for your other ally. You creep forward, Hoover and mister hand in hand. You are ready and prepared for the next battle; the next war.
So your bird is molting and scenes of the above soon flash before your eyes. Molting is a stressful time for both of you- especially your bird. The poor guy is having keratin-covered feathers constantly poke through his skin. Try to imagine little soft, plastic-feeling quills poking through your skin. No wonder he's so irritable lately! Molting happens at least once a year but can happen more as each bird is different and lasts from one month to a couple. They'll lose their old feathers which happens gradually over a a period of time and get replaced by new ones. The new feathers are called pin feathers or otherwise known as blood feathers. Blood feathers have a vein containing blood that nourishes the feather as it is growing. The blood feather is covered in keratin, a waxy sheath that looks like a white, plastic quill. The keratin will soon flake off the feather when the bird preens it or you scritch it off. That is why you usually only see quills on the head or neck of the bird since that is the place that cannot be reached by the bird's beak. Once the blood supply in the feather ceases, so will growth of the feather. So broken feathers will remain so until the next molt.
You will notice your bird itching a lot more so it is best to offer him frequent baths to help relieve his itchiness. If your bird won't bathe on his own, then it is best to mist him 2-3 times a week with a spray mister that has had no chemicals or pesticides in it. Always make sure to give him baths in the morning so he will have time to dry off and that where he is drying off, there are no drafts. You can also put Aloe Vera in his bath water which may also help with the itchiness. It is best to have a mixture of 9 parts water and 1 part Aloe Vera juice. Just make sure that you read the labels very carefully; you wouldn't want alcohol or sugar added to it as that can cause problems. It can be found at most health food stores.
Helping your bird to remove the keratin is a great idea if he is used to you and will accept scritches. Do be careful for if the keratin is too hard and you accidentally hurt him, he will let you know. To remove the keratin, slowly rub it between your thumb and index finger until it turns to powder. You can use water as well to help soften the keratin before rubbing. He will appreciate the help on his preening conquest especially if he is an only bird with no one else to preen him.
Molting takes a lot of energy out of your bird as well as protein since that is what the feathers are mostly made of. You should make sure he has at least 10-12 hours of sleep, if he already doesn't. It does not mean you should leave him in the cage the whole time but it is best to make sure he's getting his rest as he needs it. I find that food brands in the pet store targeted as 'Molting food' are a waste of money since it's much cheaper to use safe human food to make your own mix; one containing cooked beans, egg, a little bit of well cooked chicken and fish is great. You can offer it about once a week since you do not want to offer too much protein. Be sure to take it out after a couple of hours for it will spoil. Hardboiled or scrambled eggs with the shell are a great and quick source of protein. You could hard boil an egg and then mush it up or cut it into small pieces as well as crushing the shell. I prefer nuking a scrambled egg in the microwave for about 30 seconds as it is fast and much more convenient. Eggs can be given about once a week and can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. They will be needed to be taken out after a couple of hours as well.
Because molting is such a discomforting thing for your bird to go through, you may notice that he is irritable and moody. He may become less interested in coming out and doing what you ask him to. It is important to give him his space and sympathize with him. There will be moments when he doesn't want to come out and you should respect that. That shouldn't mean though that you should let him get away with everything; make sure he still knows he can't avoid everything you want him to do such as stepping up. You should also postpone any wing clipping until after he is finished his molt since it is stressful and dangerous with the amount of blood feathers present. Be aware that as new feathers replace clipped ones, he will be able to gain more height than usual. Also if your bird is prone to night frights, be careful for when molting, blood feathers are at their most.
Molting may bring physical changes to your birds as well. Budgies will usually lose their barring on their forehead after their first molt, indicating that they are older than 6 months. Their iris will usually, in certain mutations, turn white gradually over time during the first year. In cockatiels, some mutations may lose certain aspects such as pearlings in pearls or gain bright yellow heads such as in normal greys, indicating their sex. Any bends, stains or breaks in the old feathers will soon be replaced with new, healthy feathers.
Molted feathers actually have (some) uses as unusual as that may seem. I took to collecting them and putting them in a jar if ever the time came when I had to part with my birds as a reminder of them. I recently had to give them up due to money issues so I took several of their feathers and framed them which now sits upon my dresser. Feathers are also great toys for your birds; mine loved playing tug-of-war with them and I would gladly participate. The white tips on the feathers fascinated them and they just loved nibbling on them until they were destroyed. Try making a bracelet with plastic beads and stuff feathers between them. It won't take long until they end up on the floor for you to pick up!
Feathers may override your house and the air may be filled with irritability but hopefully with these tips, you'll be able to get through it a little bit better this year; if only I could say the same for the Hoover.