If you are a new cockatiel parent, you might find it very disconcerting to see your cockatiel losing feathers suddenly. Don’t worry; it is probably molting. I explain everything you need to know about molting and other reasons why this might be happening.
Most birds molt and lose feathers at least once a year – cockatiels being no exception.
In fact, they preen even more than other birds as they have lots of dry powder or keratin in their feathers.
But, if you find their behavior toward their feather destructive or aggressive, it is time to sit up and take notice.
In this article, I look at how you can understand your feathered friend’s molting process and identify any abnormalities.
Molting is a process that every bird goes through, and every bird owner needs to know about it. It is like a rite of passage, and even though it is painful for your pet, ultimately, it is an indication that the bird has grown to the next stage of its life.
Let me explain what it is and what you need to know about it.
What is Molting?
Molting is the normal process through which a bird sheds all of its feathers (full molt) and grows new ones in its place.
It happens gradually over a period of time, so the bird is never without feathers.
On average, most birds will go through either one or two molts in a year – though it can be either a partial or a full molt.
Molting can be stressful for birds due to many reasons, such as:
- It requires lots of energy which means a good diet is important at this stage. They will also be irritable and sleep a lot.
- The new pin feathers can be uncomfortable. A bird will spend a lot of its molting season preening its new feathers.
- Sometimes, birds might be flightless for some time as they molt their primary flight feathers.
Common examples of birds that go flightless during this time are ducks and geese. They prefer to remain close to waterbodies at such times to escape predators.
The molting process is triggered by seasonal and daylight changes.
However, for a pet bird kept in a temperature-controlled area, gauging the actual season can be difficult.
Due to this reset of their internal body clock and body temperature, some cockatiels can end up with chronic molting.
Why Does it Happen?
Birds molt or shed their feathers for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is to replace damaged or worn feathers.
Molting is also a way for birds to grow new feathers and maintain their plumage, which is important for activities such as flying, insulation, and attracting a mate.
Some birds also molt in order to change their appearance, such as to have brighter or more colorful plumage during the breeding season.
In others, the first molt signifies the emergence of an adult bird.
Cockatiels especially show a change in their plumage after the first molt, which then becomes permanent. The plumage that emerges helps distinguish male and female cockatiels.
When and How Frequently Do Cockatiels Molt?
On average, an adult cockatiel will have over 3,000 feathers.
While cockatiels will have two to three big molting seasons over a year, they are actually continuous molters and will lose and grow new feathers throughout the year.
Regular molting is difficult to detect and will not usually leave your bird naked.
However, for the full or larger molting process, it will take up to 10 weeks for the new feathers to grow back completely.
Full-scale molting is triggered by changes in temperature and season (as I mentioned earlier) that make it optimal to do so.
You can recognize larger molting periods if your cockatiel has more loss of feathers than usual, or ends up with bald spots in some areas.
There will also be more dust around their cage as they spend their time preening away the keratin sheath of newly emerged feathers.
What Can You Do To Help The Process?
Since molting can be stressful and anxiety-inducing for a bird, you can take small steps to alleviate this for them. Some common methods are:
- Make sure your cockatiel has access to a proper diet and high-nutrition food.
- Give them regular steam or mist baths. This can help soften the keratin in new feathers, making it easier to preen them.
- Your bird will be moody, irritated, and sleep a lot. Leave them alone to their devices.
Bald spots can also be due to feather plucking, skin infection, or a variety of reasons such as stress and boredom.
It is important to be able to distinguish between the two so that you can give your bird the care it needs. Up ahead, let’s learn to recognize the signs of these.
Why Is My Cockatiel Losing Feathers When It’s Not Molting?
Feather loss is a common symptom of many diseases and underlying issues. Here’s a look at some common causes:
Stress & Self Mutilation
Stress in cockatiels can be caused by a number of things, such as changes in their environment, routine or owner, lack of social interaction, or health problems.
Some common signs of stress in cockatiels include feather plucking, excessive preening, and aggression.
They might eventually stop being active and show interest in other things.
If a cockatiel is experiencing stress, it is essential to identify and address the cause to prevent further self-mutilation.
Loneliness and lack of mental stimulation are other things that can lead your bird to pluck its feathers. Try to interest them in toys, or spend more time with your bird.
Another common cause of feather plucking is if a bird is too attached to its owner or a buddy cockatiel who refuses to spend time (or mate) with them.
The agitated bird can then resort to feather plucking.
Make changes to the cockatiel’s environment for it to explore, change its mate, and address any underlying health issues.
It is important to seek the help of an avian veterinarian if the self-mutilation continues or becomes severe.
Bacterial and Parasitic Diseases
Some common bacterial infections that can cause feather loss in cockatiels include respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, and skin infections, such as folliculitis.
These infections can cause inflammation and damage to the feathers, leading to shedding. Circovirus is a common virus that infects wild cockatiels, leading to feather loss in birds.
Parasitic diseases, such as mites and lice, can also result in the fallout of feathers in cockatiels, along with sores and other symptoms.
These parasites can live on the skin or in the feathers, feeding on the blood and tissue of the bird. They can cause irritation and damage to the feathers, leading to shedding.
If your bird seems to have any of these, immediately separate them from their cage mate. It’s best to consult a vet for proper treatment.
Treatment may involve the use of antibiotics or antiparasitic medications, as well as supportive care such as providing a clean and healthy environment and a balanced diet.
If these diseases end up damaging your bird’s follicles by any chance, they might not be able to regrow their feathers again.
Obesity and Liver Problems
Liver diseases, such as fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis) or zinc poisoning, can cause a cockatiel to have skin irritation.
This, in turn, can lead them toward feather plucking. The best way to treat this is to get to the actual root cause.
Liver disease and obesity also show up in the form of a distended abdomen and a quick-growing beak.
They can also have black spots on their beak and toenails, which are actually signs of hemorrhage.
If you see these symptoms in your bird, get them treated at the earliest. A healthy diet should be able to bring them back on track.
However, if your bird is too used to a diet of high-fat seeds, it might take some time to get them onto a pellet and fruit diet.
Heavy Metal Poisoning
This is commonly seen in many pet parrot species.
The birds end up ingesting heavy metal from household objects that they tend to chew on, including the bird cage and any toys that you bring them.
If you’re giving your cockatiel time out of its cage, make sure you keep an eye on the objects they are in touch with. Invest in a cage with non-toxic paint.
Lead and Zinc are the metals that cause the most damage.
Heavy metal poisoning can lead to loss of motor coordination, feather loss, regurgitation, and more.
Metal poisoning is fatal for birds and but you can treat your bird if they’re in the early stages.
Lack of sleep
Sleep is essential for any bird or animal. Cockatiels run on an internal clock that in turn, depends on sunlight.
If your bird is not exposed to natural sunlight at all, it can become restless and anxious.
The lack of sunlight can disrupt its circadian rhythm, which can disrupt its sleep cycle and, in turn, cause stress – leading to feather plucking.
Lack of proper sleep hours can also cause your bird to develop an irritating personality, topped with a lack of interest in food, resulting in poor immunity.
It’s best to allow at least 10-12 hours of darkness for your bird to sleep by covering the cage at night. They should also get 10-12 hours of light or sunlight.
Feather and skin diseases such as dermatitis and folliculitis can contribute to feather loss. PBFD is the most common disease that affects feathers in budgies and cockatiels. I have discussed it below.
Apart from this, you might notice other feather abnormalities such as curled feathers, clubbed feathers, or just poor plumage color and condition. These are due to various dietary deficiencies.
Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) is a quick-spreading viral disease that affects the beaks and feathers of birds.
It can lead to weak feathers that break or fall out easily and bleed. Along with this, you will notice changes in your bird’s beak, weight loss, anxiety, and depression.
PBFD can be fatal if not treated early. It has a high death rate, and there is no current treatment other than providing supportive care.
There are cases of birds recovering from it, but all those birds will be lifelong carriers of the virus. Hence, you should keep them separate from any other birds in your aviary.
Reaction to a Medicine
If your bird is on a medication and you notice some feather loss, it could be that your bird is allergic to the components in the medicine.
Ask your vet for a different supplement or treatment plan.
Losing Feathers in Specific Places, With Reasons
If you see your cockatiel spot-balding, it could be due to an underlying disease or specific preening in that area due to itchy skin.
For example, brooding birds often have feather loss in their chest region.
Some cockatiels, like the Lutino, normally have a bald patch behind their head due to a genetic defect.
Cockatiel Losing Feathers Around Beak?
Targeted bacterial infections can cause skin irritation. This, in turn, leads the cockatiel to scratch the area, turning into a vicious cycle of unhealed skin and feather loss.
Other possible reasons could be ringworms or mites that are in the head region. Mites can cause dry, scaly skin and sores around the beak region.
Cockatiel Losing Feathers Around Eyes?
Sinusitis is a common infection seen in cockatiels.
Since cockatiels have their internal sinus system around their eyes, it’s common to see some feather loss in this area if they do catch an infection.
You will be able to identify if your bird has this by looking for other symptoms like – a runny nose, constant sneezing, puffed body, lethargy, and a swollen eye and beak area.
Sinusitis is not fatal and can be treated with antibiotics, food supplements, and a good diet.
Why Is My Cockatiel Losing Feathers Around Neck?
Loss of feathers around the neck can be due to the following:
- Over-preening by either a parent or a mate. If this is the case, separate them into different cages, and it will solve the issue.
- Abnormal molting due to chronic molting or lack of a proper diet. You can visit a vet to get a good dietary plan.
- Ringworms in that region of your cockatiel’s body. The common treatment is to use antifungal.
Why Are The Feathers On My Cockatiel’s Head Falling Out?
Some species of cockatiels, like the Lutino, normally have a large bald spot on their head behind the crest.
This is due to a genetic defect that came forward as a part of that plumage’s breeding.
With a good diet, even a Lutino should be able to have a smaller bald patch, though complete eradication is usually not possible.
Other reasons can be ringworms and chronic or abnormal molting. It could also be due to an improper diet that has less vitamin A or parasites.
Why Are My Cockatiels Tail Feathers Breaking?
Tail feather loss is totally normal and a part of molting that all cockatiels go through. Other possible causes can be an underlying disease or over-preening due to boredom.
Try to engage your cockatiel by giving them more time and toys. If the problem persists, or if you notice other symptoms, it’s best to take them to a vet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my cockatiel plucking its feathers?
Feather plucking is a common self-mutilation sign that we see in cockatiels that are bored and disinterested in their environment.
Try to mentally stimulate them by giving them more toys and spending time with your bird. Alternatively, keep them in an aviary with a flock.
What are the ways to prevent or treat loss of feathers in cockatiels?
The first thing to do is find out the case of this. If this is due to a disease or infection, you need to get proper medication for this.
An improper diet can also contribute to this. Or your bird could be going through its large yearly molt.
Will cockatiel feathers grow back?
If your cockatiel is losing feathers due to molting, the feathers will grow back in around ten weeks.
However, if your cockatiel self-plucks or has lost feathers due to a disease – the feathers may or may not grow back depending on how damaged the follicles are.
How do I know if my bird has feather mites?
The common symptoms for mites are crusty and scaly sores near the beak region. Once they dry, you will be able to see white deposits in the area.
Their beak will appear scaly, and they may even lose feathers around their beak and eyes.
Owners are usually adept at recognizing any abnormal signs in their birds. Molting is a natural process that all owners should be prepared for and know what to do during this time.
But if you notice your bird losing feathers due to reasons other than molting, I have shared most of the common problems that might be causing it.
Remember – if it is a disease-related issue, never self-medicate; always visit a trusted and recognized avian vet.
Thank you for reading.