Why is my cockatiel losing feathers?

If your cockatiel is losing feathers, this can have a couple of different reasons. The main reasons for a cockatiel to lose its feathers are molting, excessive preening, feather plucking or it can be a sign of illness. In this article, I will explain all four of these causes of feather loss.

It's molting season

Just like many other species of animals, cockatiels shed their coat twice a year to make room for new feathers. The process of replacing the old feathers with new ones is called molting. Molting happens about twice a year: once during the end of summer/early autumn, and once during the end of winter/early spring. Not all birds will molt simultaneously. If you have several cockatiels, you might notice that one is starting its molt a few weeks earlier than the other. This is nothing to worry about. How long a molt lasts also differs per bird, but it usually lasts several weeks. 

During molting, you might notice some loose feathers on your cockatiel

How do you know if your bird is molting?

If your bird is indeed molting, there are a few ways you can recognize this. First, you will start to see a lot of loose feathers in your birds’ cage and/or around your house. The molt usually starts with the shedding of the smaller, fluffier feathers and later the larger wing and tail feathers. Molted feathers will fall out naturally, and there should be no blood visible on the tips. While molting, your cockatiel should never have visible bald patches on them as new feathers grow in while the old ones shed. If you do notice bald spots on your bird, you should take them to the vet immediately as this can be an indication of a health issue.


A feather that fell out naturally should not have blood on the tip

You will likely see your cockatiel preen a lot more frequently as well. This is because your bird is trying to ‘open’ new feathers that have grown in. These new feathers look like small spikes that arise amongst the old feathers. Such new feathers are called ‘pin feathers’, as they look like pins growing out of your birds’ skin. A pin feather is essentially a rolled-up feather with a wax-like coating around it. Your cockatiel will try to break this coating by preening it so the new feather can unfold.

Things you can do to help your molting cockatiel

Molting is a very draining and itching process for your cockatiel. To help them maintain their energy level, you can add some hardboiled eggwhite to their regular diet. An alternative for this is to buy special egg food, which is a daily supplement that also can be added to their daily food.

In addition to upgrading their diet, you can also assist with preening. It’s important to make sure that your cockatiel is bathed frequently. This can be done by misting them with a spray bottle, taking them with you in the shower or supplying a dish with some water so they can bathe themselves. You can also physically help your bird with preening by gently scratching its head. Note, not all cockatiels will accept head scratches so please do not force it on them. If your bird does like head scratches, you can try to find a pin feather on its head and gently rub it between your fingertips. This makes the wax coating come off so the new feather can unfold. The last thing you can do to help your molting cockatiel is to just be patient with them. 

Molting often makes birds a bit more cranky than usual, so they might not be in the mood for cuddles or playtime like they usually are. Once the molt is (almost) over, your birds’ temper will return to normal.

A bath might help relieve some molting itchiness

Your cockatiel is preening excessively

Over-preening is usually a sign of dry skin or stress in your bird. Preening is a very relaxing experience for cockatiels and parrot species alike. They take pride in their plumage and want to keep their feathers as clean as possible. If your cockatiel is experiencing stress, they might resort to excessive preening to relieve some of this stress. If you notice your birds’ feathers are getting damaged from the amount of preening it does, it’s a good idea to check for any factors that can cause stress.

In addition, excessive preening can also be caused by your cockatiel having dry skin. Dry skin is very itchy, as you probably know if you’ve had dry skin yourself. To relieve some of the itchings your cockatiel might resort to scratching or preening excessively. The best thing you can do in this situation is to check the humidity levels in your house, especially in the room your bird spends most time in. If the humidity levels are indeed low, it might be a good idea to invest in an air humidifier.

Your cockatiel is plucking its feathers

Feather plucking is a very serious and sadly a common issue in cockatiels and other pet parrots. You can recognize feather plucking by seeing bald spots on your cockatiel, or by seeing blood on the tips of the plucked feathers. 

Feather plucking is often a sign of stress, anxiety and/or depression in your bird, so it’s important to find out the source of the stress, anxiety or depression. In most cases, these feelings are caused by boredom. If you think this might be the case for your cockatiel, try upgrading their cage with new toys, perches and preferably more space.

In some cases, the feathers can be plucked by a cage mate. If you notice your bird plucking out another birds’ feathers, it might be wise to separate them to protect the bird that’s getting plucked.

If your cockatiel looks like this, it's likely pluckng, getting plucked or sick

Your cockatiel is losing feathers because it's sick

Feathers falling out due to sickness is probably one of the biggest fears of someone who sees their bird losing its feathers. If your bird is indeed sick the loss of feathers will likely be paired with other symptoms like heavy breathing or being lethargic. If you even do so much as suspect your cockatiel is losing feathers due to sickness, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Parrots are very good at hiding sickness. In the wild, when a bird shows signs of illness, it becomes easy prey for its natural enemies. This survival instinct is still present in pet parrots, so once signs of sickness are obvious to you, your bird is likely sicker than it’s letting on and needs a vet immediately.

Hopefully this article has helped you gain some perspective on why your cockatiel might be losing its feathers. If you want to learn more about pet parrot care, one of the other articles on this website might interest you.

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