Molting is a natural, cyclical process that occurs in all bird species. During this phase, birds gradually shed their old and worn-out feathers and replace them with a set of new ones without appearing bald during the process. However, penguins are an exception as they lose all of their feathers at once during molting. Additionally and exceptionally, some pet birds, such as Lady Gouldian finches and parrot finches, may shed feathers heavily, resulting in bald spots on certain areas of the body.
When does my pet bird start its molting cycle?
All birds molt without exception whether domesticated or wild, but the timing, duration, and frequency of molt vary depending on the species of bird and whether they are juveniles or adults.
Most birds undergo their annual molt after the breeding season ends. However, some birds like zebra finches and budgies can molt while breeding, which is called a concurrent molt. And some birds, like certain species of doves, may start molting towards the end of the breeding cycle while still caring for their last brood.
The American goldfinch is one of the few bird species that undergoes two complete molts each year, whereas most birds molt only once a year. African grey parrots are known for their slow molting process, which can take up to two years to complete a full molt. This is quite a long time compared to most other bird species.
On the other hand, Budgies in the wild typically take up to 8 months to complete their molting cycle, and it’s not uncommon for this process to coincide with their reproductive period. Similarly, adult zebra finches in the wild shed feathers throughout the year, and molting can overlap with their reproductive period as well. As opportunistic breeders, budgies and zebra finches will breed as long as breeding conditions, mainly food supplies, are maintained, and the relationship between breeding and molting can be complex and varies based on the individual bird and its environment.
When it comes to canary birds, Juvenile canaries typically have their first molt around 8 weeks of age, during which they replace all of their feathers except for the wings and tail. This molt usually lasts for about 4 to 6 weeks. Adult canaries, on the other hand, typically replace all of their feathers within a period of 6 to 8 weeks.
The timing of molting in canaries can vary depending on several factors, including their age, health, environment, and location. In temperate climates, the molt usually occurs in the late summer or early fall, typically around July, August, or September. This is because the changes in daylight hours trigger the molting process in many bird species, including canaries and European Goldfinches. The exact timing of molting can vary based on individual differences and environmental factors.
How can I tell if my pet bird is molting?
One way to determine if your pet bird is molting is by observing changes in their behavior and physical appearance. For example:
- Your bird may be less active, energetic, and noisy than usual and may stop singing.
- Your bird may preen and clean its feathers more often than usual.
- You may notice feathers in the cage or aviary.
- Pin feathers may appear on your bird’s body, especially in the head area.
What to do when my pet bird molts?
When your pet bird is molting, there are several steps you should take to help them through the process:
- Adjust their diet to ensure they are getting the proper nutrients to support feather growth (details in the next section).
- Place the bird in a quiet and stress-free environment to help reduce anxiety.
- Provide daily baths if possible to help soothe their skin and remove any loose feathers.
- Expose the bird to sunlight, which can help promote healthy feather growth and overall well-being (Always leave a shaded area).
What to feed my bird during molt?
During molting, it’s important to adjust your bird’s diet to ensure that it’s getting the necessary minerals, vitamins, fats, and proteins. A well-balanced diet promotes healthy feather growth and ensures that molting is completed within normal parameters. Inadequate nutrition can result in problems with feather growth and quality, such as brittle and pale feathers.
For example, protein is also critical for feather growth, as feathers consist mainly of protein. A diet deficient in protein can result in poor feather quality, slow feather growth, or a condition called “molt stasis,” where the bird becomes stuck in the molting process. Vitamin A is also essential for healthy feather growth and helps to maintain the integrity of the skin and feathers. A lack of vitamin A can result in feather deformities and breakage.
Iodine is another important nutrient that plays a role in feather development. An iodine deficiency can cause abnormal feather growth and can result in baldness or patchy feathering. Additionally, a lack of other essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, can lead to weak and brittle feathers.
To provide your bird with the necessary nutrients, offer a variety of safe and nutritious fruits and vegetables, such as berries, broccoli, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark leafy greens. Germinated seeds and hard-boiled eggs are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and protein. If it’s difficult to provide a naturally selected diet, consider investing in high-quality commercial supplements.
- Robert G. Black (1980), Problems with Finches, Copple House Print, page 41
- Maria A. Echeverry-Galvis, Michaela Hau (2012), Molt–breeding overlap alters molt dynamics and behavior in zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata castanotis, Journal of Experimental Biology, retrieved July 2020 from https://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/11/1957
- Penguins and Molt, National Aviary, retrieved July 2020 from https://www.aviary.org/penguins-learn-about-molt
- Steve N. G. Howell (2010), Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, page 166
- Avian molt (2018), birdbud.com