Parrot molting is a natural process. As feathers reach the end of their life, they will loosen until they fall free without damaging the feather follicle. It begins in fall for most species, equipping them with the renewed feathers they’ll need during winter. Typically, the parrot will molt on its wings first, then body feathers, and then tail feathers. This allows the parrot to remain capable of flight during a molt, which is essential in the wild.
Depending on the species, parrots will molt between 1-2 times a year in the fall and spring. Some of the largest parrot species may only molt once every 2 years, as their molts take longer. For most parrots, molting can take anywhere from a few days to months. Parrots that molt too many times per year are likely to have an underlying health issue or are being fed an inappropriate diet. Those that try to speed up the molt through plucking have behavioral issues.
Molting is a symmetrical process that occurs in stages. The molt itself is not a comfortable time, and you may see your parrot withdraw or act out of character. Feathers pulled too early are painful and can result in inflammation and bleeding. Pin feathers are also sensitive and should not be disturbed. These structures are full of blood and, when broken or damaged, will continue bleeding until a vet intervenes.
How Often Do Parrots Molt?
Molting a natural process in which parrots shed old, worn-out feathers to make way for new, healthy feathers. Since feathers cannot be repaired, they have to be maintained through grooming and preening. Eventually, they will wear out. Because of this, parrots molt regularly.
In the wild, replacing these feathers with new ones increases the parrot’s chances for survival. Aside from achieving flight, feathers are critical for insulation against the elements and some parasites. Healthy feathers are also important for attracting mates during the breeding season.
Although pet parrots are not exposed to the same elements as their wild cousins, their feathers will still deteriorate after time. This makes it important for a pet parrot to have a safe, secure, comfortable place to lose and regrow its feathers. This will happen 1-2 times a year, or once every 2 years, depending on the species.
Young parrots will also go through a special molt. Here, they completely shed the soft, fluffy down feathers and grow the ones necessary for a mature adult. This type of molt will only happen once in the parrot’s life.
The Molting Cycle
Parrots don’t molt all of their feathers at the same time. In the wild, this would spell death, as the bird would be unable to fly. That would make it impossible to find water or food, flee from predators, or interact with its flock. For this reason, molting happens in stages.
Generally, a parrot will molt its wing feathers, then the body feathers, and finally the tail feathers. Such a cycle prevents the parrot from being completely flightless and exposed to the elements.
What Month Do Parrots Molt?
The month your parrot molts will depend on where you live in the world, as parrots molt in fall. For those in the U.S., this means September, October, and November are prime months for your parrot to shed its feathers.
Parrots that molt more than once a year will usually see their second molt during spring. This is also when food sources are abundant.
A few parrot species, like cockatiels, will molt up to 3 times a year. Some larger parrots are known to only molt once every 2 years. That’s because the molting period is long, and it only begins in the fall.
When Do Parrots Molt?
Most parrots molt after the breeding season. However, according to the Journal of Comparative Physiology, even parrots that haven’t reproduced will molt during this time. They will still experience hormonal shifts because of the changing seasons and sunlight availability. This tells the parrot’s body that it’s time to renew the feathers.
Of course, days are longer in spring and summer and shorter in winter and fall. In wild parrots, it is the amount of exposure to UVB and light cycles that trigger a molt.
These cycles also trigger breeding and migratory behavior. Captive parrots that get plenty of UVB and are kept to a consistent day-night cycle will usually molt in sync with their wild counterparts.
Molting is stressful and taxing on the body. Because of this, parrots molt after breeding season because there is an abundance of food available. As stated by Oxford University Press, molting and feather growth is a resource-demanding event.
It is important to ensure that a parrot is getting proper nutrition during a molt. Not only will it be under stress from the molt. Its body will be building dozens, if not hundreds, of new feathers. Parrots that don’t receive adequate nutrition will see their new feathers grow weak, and possibly malformed.
How Long Do Parrots Molt?
The length of a molt differs between species. A full molt can take anywhere between days, to weeks, to months. For all birds, the longest known molting period belongs to pelicans and large parrots. They can take up to 2 years to progress through a full molting cycle.
Although not a hard-and-fast rule, smaller parrots will complete a molting cycle faster than larger parrots. For example, a cockatiel will start and finish a full molt well before a macaw.
What Does Parrot Molting Look Like?
Natural molting is a symmetrical process for all but a few large bird species, as stated in Avian Physiology. This means feathers will be shed and regrown in the same spot on either side of the body. For example, the underside of each wing will molt at the same time.
The symmetrical nature of molting is a trait that evolved to safeguard parrots. Like the molting cycle itself, this ensures that the parrot is still capable of balanced flight. Missing even just a couple of flight feathers on one wing can throw off a parrot’s balance.
Identifying a molt can be tricky, depending on what stage of the cycle the bird is experiencing. Body feathers have a great deal of overlap, and bare patches can be disguised by neighboring feathers.
- Depending on the amount of feathers shed, the parrot may look scruffy or as if it is not grooming.
- If it has patterns on its feathers, they may appear indistinct or incomplete.
- Primary and tail feathers that are molting will be obvious. That’s purely because they are larger feathers, and thus leave a larger gap once shed.
A close inspection may allow you to discern new feathers from old ones.
- As feathers age, they can dull in color and lose part of their healthy gloss.
- The tips and edges may also be somewhat frayed or bent.
- Comparatively, new feathers will be whole, bright, and glossy.
If there are isolated patches of feather loss that are not symmetrical, this isn’t molting. Instead, it’s possibly the result of parasites, infection, injury, or plucking. Of course, a big sign of molting is an excess of shed feathers found in the cage or below the parrot’s perch.
Parrot Molting Behavior
Molting is not a comfortable experience. Your parrot’s behavior will likely change during this time.
- Your sweet parrot may turn grumpy and irritable.
- It may shy from your touch, or even warn you away from touching it
- Parrots may be less active and vocal during this stressful time
Upsetting as it can be to have your parrot’s personality take a 180-degree turn, it will return to normal over time. It’s also important to monitor your parrot’s molt to ensure everything is trucking along smoothly.
At times, the pins and feather follicles can become infected or inflamed, which causes problems. A parrot can also pull a feather too soon or bump an immature pin feather, causing it to bleed.
Pin feathers that are broken will bleed and they won’t stop until a vet intervenes. A parrot can even bleed out and die from a damaged pin feather. Listen for cries of pain or any blood on the parrot or its cage.
Is Molting Painful For Parrots?
A natural molt isn’t painful. It’s uncomfortable, as mentioned, but when feathers are naturally allowed to fall out, it shouldn’t hurt. As the feather ages, the quill loosens in the shaft until it is shed. Molting and feather production is an exhausting, stressful process, but it shouldn’t result in genuine pain.
Feathers pulled prematurely will hurt, especially if they’re primary feathers. This may even cause inflammation or a wound, which can interfere with the growth of the replacement feather. Never pull out a feather, even if it is broken or hanging awkwardly. Allow it to shed naturally.
It is also best to avoid petting a parrot when its new pin feathers are growing in. These are new feathers that have yet to fully develop. As such, they’re full of blood and hyper-sensitive. Even a gentle pat will cause discomfort and pain. Once the waxy, keratin sheath has fallen away and released the barbs, you can pet your bird again.
Solo parrots may struggle to remove this sheath from pin feathers on the back of their head and neck. It is up to you to help. Toward the end of the parrot’s molt, and once the feather has formed, the pin sheaths will soften and begin to flake. You can now gently roll your fingers along the parrot’s head and neck to loosen and remove the sheaths.
To ease discomfort, itching, and the skin from drying out, you can mist the parrot every other day. You can also offer frequent bathing opportunities. Frequent mists during molting will soften the waxy, keratin sheath that encompasses the new pin feathers.
Caring For A Parrot In Molt
To ease the molting process, there are steps you can take to make the parrot more comfortable:
- Supplement your parrot’s diet with a slice of cucumber per day. When matched with hard-boiled egg yolks, that’s even better. This can give the bird additional nutrients and protein.
- Ensure that the bird gets plenty of sunlight or UVB. This is essential for promoting strong and healthy feathers.
- Give the parrot fresh water to bathe in daily. This makes it easier for the parrot to free the new feathers from the keratin pin.
Aside from that, clean away shed feathers and keep the cage tidy during a molt. A stressed parrot is more vulnerable to illness and infection. Keeping its home clean will limit its exposure to any parasites or bacteria.
Is My Parrot Molting Or Plucking?
Plucking is a typical issue in captive parrots. Unlike molting, plucking happens when the bird over-preens and forcefully removes its feathers.
In the beginning, it is easy to mistake one for the other. Getting on top of plucking early on is critical, as you will need to train the parrot out of the habit. Plucking results in:
- Bare patches of skin, possibly irritated or bleeding
- Over-preening that interrupts eating or other activities
- Broken, damaged, or stripped feathers
- Damaged quills
- Excessive feather loss
Molting is a gradual process that often results in no more than 12 feathers lost-replaced at once. If you are ever concerned that your parrot may be plucking, consult an avian vet for advice.
Molting In Parrots
Parrots naturally molt their feathers between 1-2 times a year, with a few breeds molting 3 times a year or only once every 2 years. Usually, a molt will begin in fall or spring. Molting isn’t painful, but it can be uncomfortable and stressful.
Help your parrot get through this time by providing it with plenty of rest, extra nutrients, and access to sunshine. Although it’ll need your company and affection, keep petting to a minimum until the molt has ended.