Cockatiels molt, everyone knows that – but surprisingly few know much about it. For example, when do cockatiels molt, which season do they do it in, and how many times? I answer these questions below.
If you own a pet cockatiel, you’re probably familiar with how many feathers they constantly shed.
A cockatiel molting is nothing new – it’s necessary for all birds to develop a shiny, new plumage.
However, long molting periods can be a cause for concern.
Pet birds also molt slightly differently than their wild counterparts. Here’s how you can identify what’s normal and what’s not.
What is Molting? Why Does it Happen?
Molting is a normal process through which birds shed their old, damaged feathers and grow new ones in their place.
A bird’s feathers are similar to our nails or hair.
It’s made of keratin and is essentially a “dead” end (unless it is a new pin feather, in which case it will have a blood supply and is called a blood feather).
This means that ruffled or broken feathers cannot heal themselves. The only way ahead is to replace them.
Most birds will molt at least once a year, if not more.
The process will continue for a period of months, during which birds expend a lot of energy in growing a shiny new layer of feathers.
Even flight feathers get replaced during this time – rendering some birds temporarily clumsy fliers.
When Do Cockatiels Molt?
Cockatiels molt at least once a year. Depending on the climate where you live, this can occur at any time of the year that is most favorable for the growth of new feathers.
Usually, it happens around spring or summer – cockatiels prefer warmer temperatures.
Molting birds will generally be grumpy, less active, and consume a lot of food for energy.
The entire process, including the growth of new flight and tail feathers, can take upto three months.
Molting season aside, cockatiels shed a lot of feathers throughout the year as well.
You will only notice one or, at most, two heavy molts in a year. Favorable temperatures and climates usually initiate the molting process
Because of this, indoor pet birds subjected to a climate-controlled environment may end up with chronic cases of molting (more on this later).
When Do Baby Cockatiels Molt For The First Time?
The first molt is when a baby cockatiel develops into an adult.
The new coat will contain changes in color that help distinguish the gender of the cockatiel.
The adult plumage can also be more striated, colorful, and varied than their baby feathers.
For the first molt, you might start noticing signs at around six months of age, though some may start as late as one year.
First molts take a considerable amount of time. The time of recovery will also vary from bird to bird.
Typically, they will lose their tail feathers first. Next, their body feathers will follow. Wing or flight feathers are replaced at the end.
What Time of The Year Do Cockatiels Molt?
Generally, a warmer temperature will trigger a molt. Hence, you will notice feathers dropping as summer approaches, around springtime.
There is no specific time, and a lot depends on the climate of the place you are at.
Just be sure not to keep your bird in a body temperature-controlled unit at all times, as it can affect their body’s perception of temperature and time.
In warmer climates, cockatiels may molt up to 3 times a year – one for each season.
During molting, you will notice new, sharp pin feathers emerge. This is a sign that your bird is healthy and is growing new feathers to replace the old ones.
How Often Do Cockatiels Molt?
Every cockatiel will go through at least one full molt in a year.
However, I have known of cases where cockatiels undergo two or even three total molts in a year! This depends on the climate, your bird’s health, and its diet.
Molting is natural and not a cause for concern.
However, if your bird is too young to be molting or shows baldness in targetted spots, you might want to consult a vet.
You can also track their behavior to see if they are unnaturally drowsy or losing appetite. This could indicate an abnormal molt.
What To Expect During Molting?
Molting, in general, makes birds grumpy. They expend a lot of energy growing new feathers and have sharp, pin feathers to deal with.
It is normal to see your bird inactive, lazy, and angry at times. Some common things you might notice are:
- Bare patches, especially around the head or neck, as your bird molts. These places will eventually grow new pin feathers.
- Even domestic birds may get aggressive during this time.
- They will sleep and nap a lot.
- Your bird might temporarily stop flying as much as they molt its flight or tail feathers.
- They will spend a lot of time preening their new feathers. You will notice lots of small and large feathers inside the cage, along with a powdery substance, which is the sheath.
I made a table below to keep track of your bird’s molting behavior, which might vary by sex:
|Specification||Male cockatiel||Female cockatiel|
|No. of times per year||2-3||2-3|
|First molt||6 to 9 months||6 to 9 months|
|Color before molt||Pale||Pale|
|Color after molt||Colorful||Light|
|Duration||1 to 3 months||1 to 3 months|
How Can You Help Your Bird During Molting?
There are some things you can do to make your bird happier while they shed its feathers:
- You can help remove the sheath of its pin feathers by giving them warm, mist baths. This will soften the sheath making it easier for the bird to pick at it.
- Keep their beaks and toenails trimmed to prevent scratching of featherless areas.
- If you are well-bonded with your bird, help them remove the sheath by gently rolling your fingers onto the new pin feathers. Be careful not to hurt them!
What To Feed Cockatiels When Molting?
Feathers are made of keratin which is a protein component. Hence, add more protein to their diet. This includes pellets, egg shells, and supplements.
You should also provide more fat-based food such as seeds, millet, and nuts to provide energy for the molting stage.
It’s best to reduce low-protein items like greens.
Keep them on a stable diet with proper nutrition during this time, offer treats frequently, and engage with your bird.
An unbalanced diet can cause chronic or irregular molting, as your bird will lack the necessary nutrients to grow a new layer.
Abnormal Molting: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
A variety of factors can cause abnormal molting in cockatiels, and it can be a sign of a health problem. Here are some common causes:
- Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, can lead to abnormal molting in cockatiels. Usually, your vet can prescribe a proper diet for your bird to recover.
- Disease: Certain diseases, such as psittacine beak and feather disease, can cause abnormal feather growth and long beaks and claws. PBFD is potentially fatal but has been cured in some cases with early diagnosis (through supportive care). There is no other current treatment.
- Stress: Stressful situations, such as changes in the bird’s environment or routine, can cause a cockatiel to stop molting normally and indulge in feather plucking. The best treatment is to keep them in familiar locations and bond better with the bird.
- Parasites: Lice, mites, and other parasites can cause feather loss in cockatiels, along with other symptoms like white deposits and open sores. You can treat these with over-the-counter sprays.
- Underlying diseases: Certain issues with the liver can also result in patchy feathers. Your avian vet will provide a treatment plan if the problem is caused by any disease, hormone imbalance, or any other medical condition.
Frequently Asked Questions
What months do birds molt?
Spring and fall are the common reasons for molting time. Usually, a rise in temperature is when birds get ready to molt.
However, some birds may molt multiple times a year. Not all molts are full molts – some may be partial molts.
How long does a cockatiel molt last?
This depends on your bird and its diet. Some molts may last as short as seven days. At the same time, some cockatiels may take as long as three months to fully molt.
The length of the molt is usually not a cause for concern unless your bird keeps shedding more feathers – pointing to chronic molting.
Do cockatiels molt in the winter?
Cockatiels do not molt in the winter. However, they do get ready to molt towards the end of springtime.
A rise in temperature is what cockatiels look for when getting ready to molt. It is rare to see a winter molt, but those birds that live in warmer climates may do so.
What triggers bird molting?
Molting is generally triggered by the hormone levels of a bird, which in turn is triggered by temperature and exposure to light.
Because of this, wild cockatiels and pet birds might end up having very different molting cycles in a year.
Loss of feathers is a new thing for many owners. However, by knowing what to look out for – you can identify a normal molting versus an underlying condition.
Make sure you give your bird lots of protein and fats during its molting period to help it gain the nutrients needed for a healthy molt.
Moreover, I talked about some things you can do to help your bird, such as giving warm mist baths. Make sure you follow those care tips.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent more serious health issues from developing. Keep a look out for chronic molting.
Thank you for reading.