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Why do birds lose their feathers? Here’s when to worry

It can put you on high alert to discover your bird dropping a lot of feathers. One day her beautiful plumage looks shiny and pristine, and the next day her feathers may be piling up in the bottom of the cage. Don’t panic, though. There are plenty of normal reasons this can occur and you should look into those first. But dropping feathers can also indicate stress, disease, or other issues, so a call to the vet may become necessary. We’ll use the process of elimination to discover why birds lose their feathers and determine the most likely cause.

Blue bird stands elegantly against a blue background

Is it normal for birds to lose feathers?

Yes, in fact, many birds go through a molt at least once or twice per year (and sometimes even more frequently). On top of that, there will be the occasional feather lying around much of the time. After all, you wouldn’t be surprised to find your dog shedding or your own hair in the shower drain. Much the same way, birds lose their version of hair especially as feathers get old or break. However, unlike you and me, avians often drop many feathers all at once. This is to make sure their feathers stay in top shape in the wild, so you will often see birds complete the process right before migrating. In your home, birdie doesn’t have to worry about this so much, but may still go through a molt every so often to replenish her feathers. 

Why do birds suddenly lose feathers?

If it isn’t part of a normal molt, you’ll have to investigate the other factors that could bring about a sudden loss of feathers, which could include both physical and emotional issues. Look carefully to see if your bird is pulling at her feathers or if they seem to be falling out on their own. It seems like the difference shouldn’t mean anything, but it can help you to pinpoint the exact source. While pulling usually stems from a behavior problem, don’t rule something else out. Mites, for example, cause itching and can lead to birds grabbing at their feathers even if nothing else is going on. Feathers coming out by themselves can be caused by bacteria and viruses, some of which are very serious. It could also be from something more severe, like a kidney problem. 

Parakeet picks at his feathers

Can birds lose feathers from stress?

The short answer is definitely. Birds will pull out a substantial portion of their plumage if something really bothers them. However, it could wind up being something really mundane, like a change in your routine, a new pet or baby entering the household, or a shake-up in the environment. Loneliness or boredom can also induce feather plucking, so be sure to keep your bird engaged and happy so that she leaves her feathers alone. 

How do you treat feather loss?

If it’s a yearly molt and everything else looks OK, you don’t really have to do anything. She’ll work the feathers through on her own, though she may need a little assistance with her itchy skin. You should also consider providing a little extra protein — it takes a lot of energy and nutrients to replace all those feathers. 

Otherwise, you’ll want to dive deep into the underlying problem and figure out how to fix it. That might mean taking care of whatever has caused the stress or helping assuage a condition. This is when a call to your veterinarian is essential, as they will be able to help you to solve the problem. Some treatments will involve antibiotics or other medicines (topical or oral) that can rid your feathered friend of bacteria that could be causing the feathers to fall. 

Keep an eye on your bird

Anytime your bird starts to lose excessive feathers and you can’t be certain she’s molting, you should check in with your bird doc. They may choose to do a physical examination of her skin and feathers or may check for underlying conditions by taking blood. You can keep an eye on other signs of her health like food intake (and waste), eye brightness, and mood. Monitoring all of these things will lead you to the root of the problem (and hopefully a solution) quickly.

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