Many new cockatiel owners become quite worried the first time they see their bird start dropping feathers.
Cockatiel molting is the term that describes this necessary and beneficial process.
However, while cockatiel molting is normal, it is important to be able to distinguish normal molting from abnormal molting or feather plucking or pulling.
In this article, learn what you need to know about cockatiel molting to help your bird stay healthy.
Cockatiel molting happens to help the bird shed out old feathers and grow new fresh feathers. This is a normal process that takes place all throughout a cockatiel’s life.
See Signs That Tell You Your Cockatiel Is Molting
This short YouTube video gives you a heads-up about what to expect when your cockatiel starts molting.
The owner talks you through the tell-tale signs like falling feathers that can seem so numerous they are like a snowfall!
What Are Cockatiel Feathers
As Cockatiel Cottage points out, adult cockatiels can have more than 3,000 feathers on their body at any given moment.
These feathers are responsible for the majority of your bird’s body weight and serve a number of essential functions, including flight, warmth, protection from the elements and even attracting potential mates.
Feathers are made of a protein called keratin. This protein is used to make all different shapes and sizes of feathers that have lots of different purposes and functions.
Cockatiels spend a great amount of time everyday grooming and maintaining their feathers. This is called preening. Your bird will use their beak and sometimes their feet to clean and smooth their feathers.
What Happens During Cockatiel Molting
VCA Animal Hospitals explains that molting is a normal occurrence in all birds.
Birds need to make sure their feathers are healthy and undamaged to do their job well. Simple daily life can cause the feathers to become worn out as the bird moves about, foraging for food, caring for the young, migrating, or competing for mates.
Feathers that have become old or damaged then need to be shed or molted out. After the old feather falls out, a new feather will grow in its place.
While cockatiels will tend to have two or three larger and more visible molts each year, the process of molting is ongoing throughout the year.
This is because cockatiels cannot afford to lose more than a certain percentage of their feathers at any given time. For example, a cockatiel will not normally molt out all flight feathers or all tail feathers during a single molt.
Once the old feather has fallen out, a new feather begins to grow in its place. These feathers look like sharp pins when they first poke out of the skin and begin to grow.
Each feather is covered with a protective layer of keratin. The bird will preen off this layer of keratin once the feather has completely grown in.
Depending on the type and size of the feather being molted out, it can take up to 10 weeks for a new feather to fully grown in to replace the one that was lost.
Normal Cockatiel Molting Is Typically Seasonal
The larger molts that cockatiels have throughout the year are typically triggered by seasonal changes in temperature or daylight.
However, for pet cockatiels living indoors, these normal seasonal changes can be harder for the bird to detect. This can lead to chronic or abnormal molting, as Greencross Vets points out.
As The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explains, these graduated molting periods ensure that every single feather on your cockatiel’s body will be replaced at least once per year.
How to Tell Your Cockatiel Is Molting
As you learned by watching the short YouTube video in an earlier section here, the most obvious sign that your cockatiel has started to molt is the sudden appearance of falling feathers.
While cockatiels will molt lightly all year round, the larger seasonally-triggered molts can produce enough feathers in very short periods of time to make you worry your bird will go bald!
For example, your bird may be just sitting on the porch and suddenly you see several feathers fall from its body.
As the molt continues and your cockatiel starts to preen the new pin feathers coming in you will also see keratin dust falling to the floor. This dust is generated when your cockatiel preens away the protective keratin covering on each new feather.
There are also other less obvious signs that your cockatiel has started to molt.
Bird Street Bistro explains that molting is a very stressful time for any bird. Your cockatiel is using up lots of energy-producing the new replacement feathers.
Growing in the new pin feathers can also be painful, especially when it comes to the larger, thicker flight feathers and tail feathers.
Cool Green Science highlights the types of changes you may see when your cockatiel begins molting.
Mood changes may include irritability and the tendency to peck more or resist being handled. Cockatiels may feel uncomfortable as the old feathers fall out and the new feathers start to grow in.
You may see your bird sleeping more and sitting fluffed up on the perch. While it is important to make sure your bird is not ill if all else seems normal and you see a lot of falling feathers, the most likely culprit is a molt.
How to Take Care of a Molting Cockatiel
When your cockatiel begins molting, your bird will need some extra care and consideration.
Windy City Parrot suggests making sure your cockatiel is allowed to sleep and rest as much as they want to while molting.
Offering a mist bath or shower can help to ease off the hard, dry keratin coverings on the new feathers, making them easier to preen and care for.
You will also want to add even more enriching foods like protein and fresh vegetables to give your bird extra replenishing nutrients. Providing some special treats like millet sprays can also encourage a molting cockatiel to keep eating well.
What Is Abnormal Cockatiel Molting
Abnormal cockatiel molting frequently occurs when a bird is sick, stressed, or seasonally confused.
Cockatiels are very prone to stress from improper handling and husbandry as well as illness and injury. Stress is one of the most common triggers for abnormal molting.
Feather pulling and plucking is another type of abnormal molting where the bird will pull out their own feathers, leaving sections of visible bare skin.
Cockatiels tend to be especially prone to night frights. When a molting cockatiel has a night fright, this can cause breakage of the blood feathers, leading to rapid blood loss and a potentially fatal situation.
It is especially important to create a safe, warm, quiet, and draft-free area where your molting cockatiel can stay during the day as needed and sleep at night. This will help minimize the chance of a dangerous night fright.
Sometimes a cockatiel may go into an abnormal molt when there is a metabolic imbalance. Endocrine system problems with major glands like the pituitary or thyroid can send instructions to the body to start molting at the wrong time.
Yet another type of abnormal molting is actually a failure to molt at all or a delay in the normal seasonal molting activity.
If you are not sure whether your cockatiel is molting normally, it is best to consult a qualified avian veterinarian.