As feathers reach the end of their lifespan, they’ll loosen until they fall free without damaging the feather follicle. This begins in the fall for most species, equipping them with renewed feathers for the winter. Usually, the parrot will molt feathers on its wings first, then the body feathers, and finally the tail feathers.
Parrots will molt between 1-2 times a year in the fall and spring. The largest species may only molt once every 2 years, as their molts take longer. Molting can take anywhere from a few days to months. Parrots that molt too many times annually may have a health issue or are being fed an inappropriate diet. Parrots that attempt to speed up the molt through plucking have behavioral issues.
Molting is a symmetrical process that occurs in stages. The molt is an uncomfortable time, and you may see your parrot withdraw or act out of character. Feathers pulled out too early can lead to bleeding and inflammation. Pin feathers are sensitive and shouldn’t be disturbed. These structures will bleed when broken or damaged.
How Often Do Parrots Molt?
Molting is a natural process where 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’ll wear out. For this reason, parrots molt regularly.
In the wild, replacing old feathers with new feathers increases the parrot’s chances of survival. Aside from achieving flight, feathers are critical for insulation against the elements and some parasites. Healthy feathers are also used for attracting mates during the breeding season.
Although domesticated parrots aren’t exposed to the same elements as wild parrots, their feathers will still deteriorate over time. So, a pet parrot needs to have a safe and comfortable place to molt and regrow 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 only happens once in the parrot’s lifetime.
Parrots don’t molt all of their feathers at the same time. In the wild, this would result in death, as the parrot would be unable to fly. That would make it impossible to find water or food, flee from predators, or interact with its flock.
As stated, a parrot will molt its wing feathers, then its body feathers, and finally its tail feathers. This molting 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 during the fall. For those in the U.S., this means that September, October, and November are prime months for your parrot to shed its feathers.
Parrots that molt more than once a year will usually experience their second molt during the spring. This is also when food sources are most abundant.
Some species, such as cockatiels, will molt up to 3 times per year. Some larger parrots 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. According to the Journal of Comparative Physiology, even parrots that haven’t reproduced will molt during this time. They’ll still experience hormonal shifts due to the changing seasons and sunlight availability. This instructs the parrot’s body that it’s time to renew its feathers.
Of course, days are longer in spring and summer and shorter in winter and fall. In wild parrots, the amount of exposure to UVB and light cycles triggers molting.
These cycles also lead to breeding and migratory behavior. Captive parrots that get ample UVB and are kept to consistent day-night cycles will usually molt in sync with wild parrots.
Molting is stressful for the body. So, 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.
Ensure that your parrot is getting proper nutrition during a molt. Not only will it be under stress from the molt, but its body will be creating hundreds of new feathers. Parrots that don’t receive adequate nutrition will find that their new feathers grow weak and even malformed.
How Long Do Parrots Molt?
The length of a molt differs between species. A full molt can take days to months. The longest molting period is for pelicans and large parrots. It 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?
According to Avian Physiology, natural molting is a symmetrical process for all but a few large bird species. The 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 parrots remain capable of balanced flight. Missing even a couple of flight feathers on one wing can alter the equilibrium of a parrot.
Identifying a molt can be difficult, depending on what stage of the cycle it’s experiencing. Body feathers are overlapped, and neighboring feathers can disguise bare patches.
- Depending on the amount of feathers shed, a parrot may look scruffy or as if it’s not grooming.
- If a parrot has patterns on its feathers, they may appear indistinct or incomplete.
- Primary and tail feathers that are molting will be obvious because they leave a larger gap once they’ve been 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 be somewhat frayed or bent.
- New feathers will be whole, bright, and glossy.
If there are isolated patches of feather loss that are not symmetrical, this isn’t molting. It’s possibly due to parasites, infection, injury, or plucking. Of course, a sign of molting is an excess of shed feathers found below the perch.
Parrot Molting Behavior
Molting is not a comfortable experience, so your parrot’s behavior will likely change in certain ways:
- Your sweet-natured parrot may become grumpy and irritable.
- It may shy from your touch or warn you away from touching it.
- Parrots may be less active and vocal.
Upsetting as it can be to have your parrot’s personality change so dramatically, it will return to normal over time. Monitor your parrot’s molt to ensure that everything is moving along smoothly.
At times, the pins and feather follicles can become infected or inflamed, which causes problems. A parrot can pull a feather too soon or bump an immature pin feather, causing it to bleed.
Pin feathers that are broken will bleed, and the bleeding won’t stop until a vet intervenes. A parrot can even bleed out and die from a damaged pin feather. Listen out for any cries of pain and check for blood on the parrot or its cage.
Is Molting Painful For Parrots?
A natural molt isn’t painful. As mentioned, it’s uncomfortable, 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’s eventually shed.
Feathers pulled out 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.
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 contain blood and are sensitive. Even a gentle pat will cause discomfort. Once the waxy, keratin sheath has fallen away and released the barbs, you can pet your parrot again.
Solo parrots may struggle to remove this sheath from pin feathers on the back of their head and neck. Once the feather has formed, the pin sheaths will soften and begin to flake. You can now roll your fingers along the parrot’s head and neck to loosen and remove the sheaths.
To ease any discomfort, itchiness and prevent the skin from drying out, you can mist the parrot every other day. You can 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 each day.
- Ensure that the parrot gets enough sunlight.
- Give the parrot fresh water to bathe in to free the new feathers from the keratin pin.
- Clean away any shed feathers and keep the cage tidy.
Is My Parrot Molting or Plucking?
Unlike molting, plucking happens when the parrot over-preens and forcefully removes its feathers. In the beginning, it’s easy to mistake one for the other. 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 being lost and replaced at once.
Molting In Parrots
Parrots naturally molt their feathers 1-2 times a year. However, certain breeds molt 3 times a year or just once every 2 years. Usually, a molt will begin during the fall or spring. Molting can be uncomfortable and stressful.
Help your parrot through this time by ensuring that it gets additional rest, vitamins (A, B, C, and D), minerals, nutrients, and sunshine. Although it’ll need your company, keep any petting to a minimum until the molt has concluded.