If you are a first-time cockatiel owner, you will probably have a lot of questions during your cockatiel’s first few years. One of the most frequently asked questions is about molting. The first time your cockatiel loses a large number of feathers at once may be shocking, but it is a completely normal process that cockatiels go through.
Continue reading to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about cockatiel molting.
As the feathers reach the end of their lifespan, they will loosen until they fall without damaging the feather follicle. Therefore, the molt often begins in the fall by equipping them with renewed feathers for the winter.
Usually, the cockatiel will molt their wing feathers first, body feathers, and finally, tail feathers.
What Time Of Year Do Cockatiels Molt? Cockatiels will molt their feathers 1-3 times a year in the fall and spring, or once during each season. However, molting can take anywhere from several days to months. If cockatiels molt too many times annually, it could be a sign that they have health issues or are being fed an inappropriate diet.
The first molts occur at about 6-12 months of age and then annually once a cockatiel is fully grown. It’s an uncomfortable experience, so some cockatiels become irritable during this time.
Domestic cockatiels are exposed to artificial light and temperature control, allowing them to molt at any time. A molt typically takes 2-3 weeks but can take up to 10 weeks if complications arise.
A molt is triggered by the cockatiel’s internal clock which is affected by the amount of food, sunlight, and warmth it receives.
What Season Do Cockatiels Molt?
Wild cockatiels typically molt in the spring or fall, depending on food availability.
Molting is a difficult process, so cockatiels require a lot of energy from healthy, nutritious foods. Food is more scarce in the autumn and winter months.
However, cockatiels can tell the seasons by how much sun they get. Sunlight becomes more intense and lasts longer in the spring. More sunlight signals to the cockatiel that food will be plentiful, warmer temperatures will arrive, and the mating season will begin soon.
The body of a cockatiel will instinctively know when it is time to molt. Because of artificial lighting, it may appear that it is always summer in your home, causing your cockatiel to molt all year.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict when or how frequently a pet cockatiel will molt its feathers.
Do Cockatiels Molt In Winter?
According to the Wilson Bulletin, cockatiels can molt at any time during the year.
While artificial light is a factor, food and warmth are the most important. Pet cockatiels unlike their wild counterparts, do not have to worry about a shortage of food or cold temperatures.
However, depending on food availability, migration patterns, and local weather, wild cockatiels may molt during the winter.
If a wild cockatiel is in a warm environment or has relocated to a warmer region for the winter, it may shed its feathers and grow new ones.
When Do Cockatiels Molt?
Most cockatiels molt after the breeding season. According to some studies, the cockatiels that haven’t reproduced will molt during this time. They will still experience hormonal shifts due to the changing seasons and the availability of solar energy. This indicates to the cockatiel body that it is time to renew its feathers. Of course, the days are longer in spring and summer and shorter in winter and fall. In the wild, the amount of exposure to sunlight and the light cycle triggers molting.
These cycles also may lead to breeding and migratory behavior. Captive cockatiels that receive enough sunlight and are kept to a consistent day-night process will usually molt in sync with the cockatiels in the wild. Molting is stressful for the body. So cockatiels molt after the breeding season because there is an abundance of food available. The molt and feather growth is an event that requires resources.
Make sure that your cockatiel gets proper nutrition during a molt. Not only will it be under stress from the molt, but its body will create hundreds of new feathers. Cockatiels that do not receive proper nutrition expect their new feathers to grow weak and even malformed.
At What Age Do Cockatiels Molt?
A cockatiel’s first molt occurs at 6-12 weeks of age. During this first molt, a cockatiel will gradually lose its baby feathers and replace them with adult plumage.
How Long Does Cockatiel Molting Last?
Once a molt starts, it can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months. It varies from cockatiel to cockatiel, and no two birds are the same.
The length of a molt is determined by the following factors:
- Sunlight (natural and artificial light)
- Food and its nutritional value
- Stress levels
The cockatiel’s molt should take about 2-3 weeks. Some cockatiels can finish the process in as little as 1-2 weeks, while others can take up to 10 weeks.
The longer intervals are normally reserved for cockatiels who aren’t molting naturally. For example, if a cockatiel loses its feathers as a result of stress or illness.
What Does A Molting Cockatiel Look Like?
A cockatiel that is molting does not become bald or featherless. Molting is a slow process in which old feathers shed and is quickly replaced by new ones.
These new feathers begin as little white stubs. Pin feathers will press up and out of a cockatiel’s skin before emerging from its plumage.
While the new feathers are growing in, a cockatiel may appear more fluffy. This is most noticeable around the head, where the small feathers can resemble spikes.
Cockatiel Molting Process
The process looks the same, whether it’s a juvenile cockatiel’s first molt or an older cockatiel’s annual molt.
A normal and healthy cockatiel molt has three stages:
A cockatiel will gradually lose batches of feathers. They will fall out in a constant pattern, such as on both wings at the same time or on the cockatiel’s mirroring sides.
This allows the cockatiel to fly, move and interact normally without being off-center or unbalanced. More feathers will fall out over the next few days.
Pin Feather Growth
You will notice tiny white stubs forming on your cockatiel’s skin as it loses more of its old feathers.
These are called pin feathers, and they eventually grow into complete feathers. Because the remaining plumage generally conceals the pin feathers, you may not notice them until they’ve outgrown the others.
Because pin feathers might be irritating, you may feel a little personality shift.
New Feather Growth
Small pin feathers will develop from the white keratin shafts and become new feathers. These will gradually grow to cover the entire body of a cockatiel.
When a cockatiel has grown its new fluffy, vibrant feathers, the molting process is complete. Its personality will return to normal, and its energy levels should return.
Why Is My Cockatiel Molting So Much?
Some cockatiels molt 2-3 times a year, but you shouldn’t find your cockatiel constantly molting.
Constant molting can be caused by the following factors:
For cockatiels, molting is a restorative process. When a cockatiel is stressed, its body may not molt again to restart the process, but this is rarely effective.
Cockatiels require a strong and healthy system to successfully finish a molt. The stress might cause a molt and cause difficulties during the molt.
Parasites and Pests
Fleas, mites, and other parasites feed on feathers and irritate the skin. As a result, a cockatiel’s feathers may shed to remove parasites and any damaged feathers.
Parasites, unfortunately, return or switch to new feathers as soon as they grow in.
The most prevalent culprits are feather lice, which appear as small spots that attach to the webbing of the feathers. These parasites cause a variety of problems during molting and must be eliminated.
A cockatiel may be too unwell to maintain its feathers, causing them to deteriorate sooner.
This can cause a molt and the growth of new feathers. Similarly, if a cockatiel’s system is attempting to protect itself, it may initiate a molt as a fresh start, just as it would with the stress of parasites.
Illness is often caused by insufficient nutrition, but it can also trigger a molt.
If a cockatiel is hungry, it may be unable to finish the molting process. As the molt concludes, it requires a lot of resources to grow new feathers and repair the skin.
Polyomavirus (French Molt)
A Polyomavirus (French Molt) will cause a random molt with unexpected effects. It has an impact on the flight and tail feathers, causing them to fall out and not be replaced. A cockatiel can lose its ability to fly.
There is no medication or therapy that can alleviate the symptoms of this sickness. The good news is that French molt only impacts cockatiel plumage growth and the ability to fly.
Cockatiel Molting Behavior
Molting is not a comfortable experience at all, so the behavior of your cockatiel is likely to change in some ways.
- Cockatiels may be less active and vocal.
- It may shy from your touch or warn you away from touching it.
- Your sweet-natured cockatiel may become grumpy and irritable.
As disturbing as it may be that the personality of your cockatiel changes so dramatically, it will return to normal over time. Monitor the molt of your cockatiel to make sure everything is moving along smoothly. Sometimes the pins and feather follicles can become inflamed or infected, which causes problems. For example, the cockatiel may pull a feather prematurely or bump an immature pin feather, causing it to bleed.
Pin feathers that are broken will bleed, and the bleeding will not stop until a veterinarian intervenes. A cockatiel can even bleed and die from a damaged pin feather. Listen out for any cries of pain, and see if there is blood on the cockatiel or in its cage.
Is Molting Painful For Cockatiels?
Natural molt is not painful. As we mentioned, it is an uncomfortable process, but when the feathers are naturally allowed to fall out, it should not hurt. As the feather ages, the quill loosens in the shaft until it eventually sheds.
The feathers which are pulled out prematurely will hurt, especially if they are primary feathers. This can even cause a wound or inflammation, which can impede the growth of the replacement feather. Never pull out a feather, even if it is broken or awkwardly hanging. Let it shed naturally.
Avoid petting your cockatiel when its new pin feathers are growing. These are new feathers that have yet to develop fully. As such, they contain blood and are very sensitive. Even a gentle pet can cause discomfort. However, once the waxy keratin sheath has fallen off and the barbs have been released, you can put your cockatiel again.
Cockatiels may be struggling to remove this sheath from pin feathers on the back of their head and neck. Once the feather is formed, the pin sheaths will soften and begin to flake. To reduce the discomfort and prevent the skin from drying out, you can mist the cockatiel every other day. In addition, you can offer frequent bathing opportunities. Regular fogs during molting will soften the keratin, waxy sheath that covers the new pin feathers.
What To Do When Cockatiel Is Molting?
As we said a molt isn’t painful for cockatiels, but it’s uncomfortable.
The following factors will make a cockatiel feel better during a molt:
Because feather loss makes it more difficult for a cockatiel to insulate itself, it can become cold. Maintain a temperature of roughly 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the room. Provide a warming lamp or even cover its cage at night if necessary.
Molting cockatiels are typically less energetic, more temperamental, and easier to upset. Separating the cockatiel from the others can help alleviate some of the stress.
It may be within the other cockatiels’ sight and hearing range. However, this provides a cockatiel with the necessary space and privacy it needs to molt peacefully.
Also, create a calm, and dark space within the cage for your cockatiel to rest.
New feathers appear as little projecting stubs on the skin at first. These pin feathers can be itchy and uncomfortable for cockatiels.
Roll the shafts between your fingers gently to separate the keratin shell that coats them and release the softer feathers.
This will be useful in difficult-to-reach areas, such as around the cockatiel’s head or the back of its neck.
Caring For A Cockatiel In Molt
To make the molting process more accessible, there are a few steps you can take to make your cockatiel more comfortable, and these are:
- First, make sure that the cockatiel gets enough sunlight.
- Then, give the cockatiel fresh water to bathe to free the new feathers from the keratin pin.
- Next, clean away any shed feathers and keep the cage tidy.
- Finally, supplement your cockatiel’s diet with a slice of cucumber each day.
If you like to learn more check out this blog: How To Help A Molting Cockatiel
Is My Cockatiel Molting or Plucking?
Unlike molting, plucking occurs when the cockatiel over-preens and forcibly removes its feathers. In the beginning, these two processes are easy to confuse each other. Plucking results in:
- Over-preening interrupts eating or other activities.
- Bare patches of skin, possibly irritated or bleeding.
- Broken, damaged, or stripped feathers.
- Excessive feather loss.
Molting is a gradual process that usually results in losing and replacing no more than 12 feathers at once.
Molting is a perfectly normal and necessary part of your cockatiel’s development. In most circumstances, there is nothing to be concerned about, but if you have any questions, please contact your avian veterinarian. A sudden loss of feathers can sometimes indicate a more serious problem, so it’s always a good idea to have your veterinarian on speed dial just in case.