Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
The molting process in parrots is triggered by the sun’s rays or artificial UV lighting.
A parrot molts feathers symmetrically on the wings, followed by the body and tail. This gradual feather molting sequence allows parrots to maintain their balance and aerodynamics during flight.
Sometimes, parrots molt partially, only replacing worn-out and damaged feathers in readiness for the spring. This gives parrots healthy plumage for courtship at the start of the breeding season.
Most psittacines molt 1-2 times a year in the fall and spring, which takes 6-8 weeks. Small birds (like budgies) complete their molts in 2-3 weeks, while the largest species take up to 6 months.
Smaller birds molt more regularly than larger birds because it’s less resource-intensive. African grays and macaws molt every 12-24 months, while cockatiels molt up to 3 times a year.
The molt is an itchy and uncomfortable time, so parrots often grow withdrawn or act out of character.
What Parrot Molting Looks Like
According to Avian Physiology, molting is a symmetrical process, meaning any feathers shed on one side of the body will do so in the same place on the other side.
The symmetrical nature of molting evolved to improve parrots’ chances of survival.
This ensures birds are capable of balanced flight. Missing just 1-2 flight feathers on one wing can adversely affect the equilibrium of parrots when airborne.
Depending on the stage reached in the molting cycle, identifying a molt can be difficult. Body feathers are overlapped, and neighboring feathers may disguise bare patches of skin.
A close inspection enables an owner to discern new feathers from old ones:
- As feathers age, they become duller in color and lose their natural vitality.
- The tips and edges of feathers may become frayed or bent.
If isolated patches of feather loss aren’t symmetrical, feathers found at the bottom of the cage likely have an alternative explanation, such as parasites, infection, injury, or feather-destructive behavior (FDB).
Parrot Molting vs. Plucking
Barbering happens when a parrot forcefully removes its feathers to self-soothe and cope with boredom or emotional distress. At the outset, it’s easy to mistake feather molting and plucking in parrots.
You can tell feather picking and molting apart based on these signs:
- Non-symmetrical feather loss, often from one targeted area (like the left wing or top of the chest).
- Barbered feathers will be broken, damaged, or stripped. Barbering can damage the follicles, meaning that feathers will never regrow in that area. Usually, spiky pin feathers will grow through.
- Bald patches of skin are accompanied by irritation, redness, and bleeding.
It’s a red flag if a parrot sheds feathers outside the molting season. However, UV light-blocking windows and artificial light can disturb the normal molting process of pet birds.
Feather Molting Behavior
Molting is an uncomfortable experience, so a parrot’s behavior may change:
- It’s itchier than usual, often rubbing itself against things.
- Moody and irritable.
- Defensive, perhaps lunging and nipping.
- Less active physically and makes fewer vocalizations.
A parrot’s behavior should normalize once the molting process has concluded. However, giving a pet parrot more alone time is advised duringt this stressful and draining time.
A molt is 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, resulting in inflammation and bleeding. Unfortunately, this can interfere with the growth of replacement feathers due to damaged feather follicles.
Never attempt to assist a parrot by pulling out a feather, even if it is broken or hanging awkwardly.
Avoid petting when new pin feathers are growing because they’re sensitive. Once the waxy keratin sheath has been removed, releasing the barbs, you can start petting the 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 flake off.
Roll your fingers along the parrot’s head and neck to loosen and remove the sheaths. You can also mist the parrot with a spray bottle to ease itchiness and moisturize the skin.
Frequent misting during molting softens the waxy keratin sheath that covers the new pin feathers.
Month Parrots Molt
Most parrots molt in the fall, following the end of the breeding season. For U.S. citizens, September, October, and November are when parrots shed their feathers.
As stated by Oxford University Press, feather growth is resource-intensive. Parrots that molt twice annually do so in the spring when light levels increase and food is abundant.
Most parrots molt after the breeding season has ended. According to the Journal of Comparative Physiology, even parrots that haven’t reproduced will usually molt at this time.
Their bodies still experience hormonal shifts due to the changing seasons and light availability. These shifts instruct the parrot’s body that it’s time to renew dull and damaged feathers.
Pet parrots that get artificial UV light and consistent day-night cycles molt in sync with wild parrots. However, windows block UV rays, which can interfere with the time of year parrots molt.
How Long Parrots Molt
The length of a molt is species-specific, but a complete molt for small and medium-sized parrots usually takes about 6-8 weeks. Large parrot species, like macaws, can take up to 6 months to complete a molt.
How Often Parrots Molt
Molting is a natural process where parrots shed old, worn-out feathers to make way for new, healthy ones. Since feathers can’t be repaired, they’ll eventually wear out, so parrots molt.
Replacing old feathers with new feathers increases the parrot’s chances of survival in the wild.
Aside from being essential for flight, feathers provide insulation from the elements and ward against parasites. Healthy feathers are also used for attracting mates during the breeding season.
Although parrots aren’t exposed to the same perils as wild parrots, their feathers still deteriorate. A pet parrot must have a safe and comfortable place to molt and regrow feathers.
Juvenile parrots will go through a special molt. Here, they shed the soft, fluffy down feathers and grow the feathers necessary to thrive as an adult. This molt only happens once in their lifetime.
Most parrots naturally molt their feathers 1-2 times a year. However, some psittacine species molt up to 3 times annually or once every 18-24 months.
Ensure parrots get more protein (for keratin) because the feathers account for up to 6% of a bird’s weight. Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E and minerals (zinc, iron, manganese, copper, and selenium) are also essential.