Right off the bat, the molting of feathers is a natural process for the cockatiel and if it is not chronic, nothing that should alarm you. However, there are other reasons why your ‘tiel might be losing more feathers than usual, and we are going to take a closer look.
The main reason why your cockatiel loses feathers or molts is that they are considered dead organic parts like our human fingernails. The bird’s natural processes do not repair the feathers, but instead replace them when the need arises, like during a change in season. It’s when the molting becomes severe because of illness, boredom and improper nutrition, resulting in bald patches, that the vet should be consulted.
The most important thing for you to do as a conscientious bird owner is not to fret prematurely. The seasonal molting period is a very stressful time for your feathery buddy, and he or she does not need you adding tension into the mix.
Your birdie might not be in the mood to sing, play or cuddle with you during this time. The only thing you can really do is leave them alone and allow them to shed or grow their feathers in peace.
So, let’s dive right in and take a look at the three main reasons why your cockatiel is losing a lot of feathers. Again, it might be due to the time of year or the temperature in your home.
For this reason, we are going to start with the natural side of things because molting is not necessarily a bad thing.
Reason number 1: Natural and healthy feather loss
As we already mentioned, the main reason for your cockatiel to lose feathers or molt is seasonal or to replace damaged feathers. In the wild, other factors like migration, the reproductive cycle or the nutritional status are also considered.
Moreover, molting allows for your birdie to regulate its body temperature.
Whatever the reason for your bird’s natural feather loss, it’s essential that you do everything in your power to help your plumed friend get through the process.
As we previously suggested, it is a very trying time for your ‘tiel, as it uses up extra energy to produce new feathers.
On that note, you, as the owner and your plumed mate’s best friend, need to consider the food you feed. Some pet shops sell specialized molting nourishment.
Whatever you do, you should increase the amount of food you give by about 25 percent to cover the bird’s increased energy utilization. Also, you can add cereals, fresh fruit, and vegetables to your cockatiel’s diet.
Just remember, your avian chum will also feel more defensive during this period. It’s a bit like us when we take our clothes off in front of a new partner or a communal shower for the first time.
So, be sensitive and cover up a part of the cage, so that your ’tiel can shed feathers in peace.
A fact on the side: Cockatiels in the wild will seek out a quiet spot, like a cave, to molt. The main reason for this is defensive purposes as the bird uses up a lot of its surplus energy.
However, the other side of the coin is that the cockatiel really just prefers some peace and quiet.
Natural and healthy feather loss in your birdie can also be the result of the artificial environment in which he or she lives. Remember, no matter how cute and lovable your feathered housemate, he or she is still, to a certain extent, a wild ‘animal’ for lack of a better word.
So, it should come as no surprise that your sweet cockatiel will start plucking out its feathers in the winter when the heating is on full blast – it’s a natural reaction because of the overly dry air.
To counter this, make sure that your pet ‘tiel has a birdbath. Also, try to mist him or her on a daily with a spray-bottle – it goes without saying that no prison hose-down is accepted here – be gentle.
Most Cockatiels actually enjoy being sprayed with water very much! If you want to know how to do that properly and what alternatives there are in case your Cockatiel hates it, we recommend reading our article on spraying your Cockatiel with water!
Reason number 2: Feather plucking
You come home from work one day and take a really good look at your cockatiel’s cage and think, ‘Hello, what are all of those feathers doing on the floor.
In such a situation, you have just answered your question. Your feathery chum is bored or lonely – you have not been paying enough attention to him or her.
In the wild, cockatiels live in so-called large swarms of birds, meaning they are incredibly social creatures. Leaving your bird all alone can cause severe psychological problems and emotional distress.
As a result, they vent their frustration by plucking at their feathers. In some cases, so much so that large bald patches appear on their plumage.
It’s probably safe to say that you got your pet cockatiel with the intention of spending time with him or her. Then, do so. Open the cage and let your avian chum interact with you and, if you have one, the family living with you.
They are highly intelligent, so you will soon notice a very alert and fun friend. In addition, being out of the cage allows the bird to get some much-needed exercise.
Other reasons for feather plucking:
Organ or skin-related issues
The plumage of a bird is anchored in the skin. For example, if a bird suffers from severe itchy eczema or other skin alterations, it may happen that an affected bird will try to relieve itself by plucking out the plumage in this area.
Overweightness and liver diseases…
…cause the self-destructive plucking of feathers – But why is that?
If you feed your bird overly fatty foods, or if they generally receive too much nourishment and do not get enough exercise, your resident in the cage will naturally get fatter. Inside the cockatiel’s body, fattening of the liver takes place.
Over time, the organ suffers and can no longer fully fulfill its essential functions.
If you do not sufficiently place your feathery friend under a detox regimen, he or she will suffer from serious health problems, and not infrequently there will be itching or burning skin diseases, which in turn, can trigger plucking.
Furthermore, the skin can stretch and feel uncomfortable, again, a possible cause of plucking.
…is another potential trigger for feather plucking. A veterinarian can verify this by examining a blood sample of the affected bird. If such poisoning is detected, your vet must consider whether a detoxification therapy is necessary.
Too little sleep and rest…
…can put your bird’s mental health to the test. In some cases, your ‘tiel might respond to lack of sleep by becoming nervous, acting aggressively or even self-destructively plucking feathers.
Besides, you mustn’t forget that your pet birdie also needs his or her peace and quiet – remember your cockatiel is a living creature and not some entertainment app on your phone.
Birds without a mate or partner…
…tend to pluck their feathers more. Or if your ‘tiel is heavily focused on you, it can happen that he or she will suffer if you do not pay them enough attention.
So, for example, if you’re out of the house every day for hours on end and leave your bird alone, it can be enough to catapult your plumed buddy into a mental crisis, turning him or her into a serial-plucker.
If boredom is added into the mix, because the bird feels lonely or because there are no toys, it can get even worse, resulting in swathes of feather loss.
The friendly feather plucker in the cage
Sometimes you might discover a bald spot on your cockatiel in a virtually impossible spot. You know that the male bird in the cage could not have done it to himself. So, the blame falls onto his lady friend whose eyes twinkle at you innocently.
It is natural for cockatiels to pluck each other’s feathers. Mainly, the females do it when they are ready to mate.
You will also find that that the picking at feathers might involve you when your feathery friend pulls on your hair or ears. It’s just their way of saying ‘I love or like you.’
Cockatiels are just very friendly creatures! Here are 7 further facts that show you how friendly Cockatiels are!
Other reasons for feather loss through plucking:
- New feed
- Change in environment
- Abuse or neglect
- Hormone shifts
If you notice that your Cockatiel might be sick, we recommend reading our Cockatiel Poop Guide here. A Cockatiel’s droppings can tell you a lot about what might be wrong with the bird!
Reason number 3: Illness and malnourishment
As we have seen, feather loss due to illness and malnourishment often causes feather plucking. However, cockatiels can also drop their plumage quickly without any intervention on their part.
Some tumors or lipomas can cause the bird’s skin to stretch taut, change, and leave the bird feeling uncomfortable.
To counter this sensation, the cockatiel might rip off chunks of plumage. However, in many cases, the bird loses its feathers without any tearing at all because the skin is so stretched that the feathers lose their hold.
Also, a bald spot on the head, including a serious reduction of the crest, can point to lutino cockatiel syndrome, which comes with a host of other symptoms such as lack of coordination, hemophilia, falling off the perch and other abnormal signs.
Another critical thing to look out for is the cage.
We say this because cockatiels love to chew and peck at the bars. Your birdie might do this for various reasons, for example, mere entertainment but also navigate his or her way along the cage front.
Now, you may think that there is nothing wrong with this and there isn’t if the bars are not zinc coated. Like metallic poisoning, zinc poisoning leads to lethargy, watery droppings, depression, feather loss and an overall appearance of sickness.
On that note, choose the right cage. Nowadays, there is a trend for the stainless steel option – there is no paint or any other covering for your feathery friend to peck off.
And finally, you may just be feeding your ‘tiel wrong. Yes, it sounds harsh – you had the best of intentions, but as we mentioned, feeding your bird is a fine art if you want to avoid a fatty liver and feather loss.
Not only that, if your cockatiel does not receive adequate protein, minerals, and vitamins, he or she can become lethargic or even aggressive. So, make sure to give nourishment containing enough vitamin A, a lack thereof is one of the most common disease causes.
Besides, your vet might recommend specialized pellets that contain everything your birdie requires. However, if vitamins are the issue, you can bolster your pet bird’s diet with the following healthy treats:
- Veggies: spinach, chicory, dried tomato, Bok Choy, grated carrots, kale, yams, sweet potatoes and pumpkin (the latter three preferably cooked).
- Fruit: Cantaloupe melon, nectarines, apricots, bananas, grapes, and apple. Just watch out for fruit seeds because the cherry pip, for example, may contain trace amounts of cyanide.
- Even protein is good in the form of yogurt, cooked eggs, cottage cheese, and peanuts.
Of course we know that you might just want to give your Cockatiel a little treat from time to time. Maybe even from your own hooman food? We totally understand, but we still want you to stay on the safe side when sharing some tasty foods with your Cockatiel.
That’s why we recommend to read or to bookmark the following articles:
What can you do if your plumed buddy is losing too many feathers?
Once a bird has started the self-mutilation process, you will mainly need a lot of empathy and patience to help your feathered friend to stop. Unfortunately, it is often not possible to persuade the cockatiel to stop plucking feathers altogether.
In any case, you should consult a vet, who will clarify whether the cause is organ-based or chronic.
If neither of the two is the case, you should attempt to uncover the reason for the behavioral problem with the help of a specialized cockatoo psychologist or behavioral consultant.
In order to stimulate feather growth and, if necessary, to care for the skin, a veterinarian may prescribe different supplements (for example biotin, Korvimin, AviConcept or Avix Bird Builder). The most important thing is that you keep the skin moist.
You should always be aware of the fact that cockatiels have sharp talons and pointy beaks that can do a lot of damage during plucking. In some cases, it may lead to irreversible feather follicle damage.
Other than that, prevention is the best defense, and that should not be difficult if you are genuinely engaged with your cockatiel. The moment you notice abnormal feather loss, seek advice from your vet.
And in no time, your pal with the plumage will be his or her old beautiful self again.