do birds lose their feathers

One of the most defining features of a bird is its plumage. But as complex and capable as feathers are, they dont last forever: They begin to break down after some time, forcing its owner to replace them. As a result, a bird’s appearance may radically change through the molting period—or just look odd and patchy. That, in turn, adds another layer of difficulty to species IDs.

My advice to birders who are agonizing over these transitions: Embrace the molt. Its a fascinating behavior, just like migration and breeding, and its one of the vital parts of a bird’s life; plus, it can add some interesting context to your next birding outing.

Yes, though more so in larger species and in longer feathers on the wings and the tail. When birds are molting, you can usually spot the missing primary flight feathers by looking for a gap in the outline of the wing. The molt typically starts with the inner-most primary feather and works out; similarly, the central tail feathers tend to be shed first. At the same time, the plumage on the body is also being swapped. In black or darkly colored birds, the new feathers are noticable as they contrast with the faded old ones.

Losing Feathers Through Stress

Feather destructive behavior, wherein the bird plucks feathers that may or may not be ready to moult, can be caused by stress. A bird may become stressed in a number of situations, such as when a dominant bird is intimidating a cagemate, when their regular routine or household has changed, when their needs for mental and physical stimulation are not being met, or when their environment and food are not suitable. When his owner moved in with a new boyfriend, an African Grey Parrot brought him into the clinic and within 24 hours, the bird pulled out all of his feathers. The bird took some time to acclimate to the new situation before they grew back in.

The best course of action is to identify the source of the stress and modify the surrounding conditions to reduce it. This can be challenging. Feather plucking can frequently be caused by stress in the relationship between the owner and the bird. Particularly parrots can form strong pair bonds with their owners and get upset when their supposed partner refuses to mate, build a nest, or lay eggs. Usually, these birds will pluck feathers across their chest, but it can happen anywhere. It is advisable to refrain from petting your parrot on its back as this may cause the release of sex hormones and worsen the condition. Remember, ‘best friend, not mate’.

Sometimes, parent birds will overfeed their young, especially if they are eager to lay another clutch of eggs. These infants will have exposed areas of skin on their neck and back that are easily accessible to their parents. Moreover, birds have been known to overpreen their partners, usually on the neck or back of the head. The birds can be separated, which will solve the issue. Alternatively, you could try providing the birds with more mental stimulation in the form of toys and activities to help divert their attention and stop this behavior. Get 24/7 WebVet Advice.

Losing Feathers Through Moulting

Generally speaking, all normal birds undergo a moult once a year, though this can vary, particularly for those housed indoors with variable daylight hours. Feathers can fall out suddenly, leaving bare patches before new feathers have a chance to grow in, if the bird is scared or stressed and the feathers are almost ready to moult. In these situations, the feather loss may be resolved with just patience and making sure your bird is receiving enough nutrition and vitamins.

Theres a small, but important difference between the two terms. Wear is the mechanical degradation brought on by flapping and external factors that makes the tips of the feathers fray. Paler plumes typically fade faster because they don’t contain melanin, a pigment that fortifies and shields cells from harm. Conversely, fading is a result of a photochemical reaction in which the structure of feathers is broken down by UV radiation from the sun. Lice and bacteria also contribute to feather loss.

To birdwatchers suffering through these changes, I say embrace the molt. Like breeding and migration, it’s an amazing behavior and an essential aspect of a bird’s life. Moreover, it can provide some fascinating background information for your next birdwatching excursion.

An important characteristic of a bird is its plumage. Feathers are incredibly sophisticated and useful, but they don’t last forever. Eventually, they start to degrade and need to be replaced by their owner. Because of this, a bird’s appearance can drastically alter during the molting process, or it can just appear strange and patchy. This consequently makes species identifications even more challenging.

The juvenile stage refers to the period right after a fledgling leaves the nest. For some species it lasts just a few days; for others it can take up to a year. This is also the only time in a bird’s life when all of its feathers grow in at the same time, giving it a particularly uniform appearance. Take the young Western Sandpiper, for example: Its crisp and clean-looking, almost like a recently detailed and upholstered car.

After learning the basics here, the next step is to get familiar with the habits, schedules, and variations of specific groups of birds. The Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds is a great all-encompassing resource and field guide. You can also practice at home by noting the different plumages in the birds that come to your feeder. Look for darker and fresher feathers and contrast them with the paler ones.


Is it normal for birds to lose their feathers?

Birds lose feathers for a variety of reasons, including moulting season where they need to replace old feathers that have broken down after some time of wear and tear, as a result of bacteria or an infection or sometimes stress.

How often do birds shed their feathers?

Most birds will molt once or twice a year, and each molt is classified as a partial molt or complete molt. Partial molt means that only some of the feathers are replaced in that cycle, and the others will be replaced in the next cycle that year or the following year.

Can a bird’s feathers grow back?

Damage to feathers is permanent until the body replaces them according to a predetermined timetable (molting) which can be as long as a year. Feathers that are molted are regrown right away, but feathers that are broken are not replaced until the broken feather is molted.

How long do bird feathers last?

In the wild and under optimum conditions, every feather is replaced with a new one on a yearly basis.