Budgie molting is a biological process. If you have been taking care of birds for a long time, it is easy to tell when they are starting to molt. You can even help your feathered companion during its molting stage.
However, first-time bird caretakers may find it challenging to differentiate molting from other causes of feather loss. For this reason, it is essential to know what molting is and what its signs are.
This article will discuss the following:
- What budgie molting is
- Why, when, and how long do budgies molt
- What a budgie feels when it is molting
- How to help a molting budgie
- Common bird health issues that may cause feather loss
Molting is a process of replacing old feathers with new ones. The process occurs once or twice a year, usually in the spring or fall for wild budgies. Domesticated budgies may molt any time of the year as artificial light, and the environment confuses them.
Molting is a delicate process. For this reason, it is crucial to learn what you can do to make this process bearable and quick for your feathered companion.
How Do You Know If Your Budgie Is Molting?
Have you noticed your budgie slowly losing its feathers? If it is your first time seeing such a scenario, you may feel panicked and think something is wrong with your pet’s health. But on the contrary, the gradual loss of feathers, or molting, in your pet budgie is a sign of good health.
Molting is an annual cycle that a healthy budgie must go through. But if you are a new budgie caretaker, you must know the signs of molting in these birds. The reason is that some bird infections and ailments also have feather loss as their symptom.
So, what are the signs of budgie molting?
Tell-Tale Signs Of Budgie Molting
There are two signs that your budgie is molting:
- physical signs
- behavioral signs
During the molting process, budgies will lose their feathers at a gradual rate. You will notice a few feathers at the bottom of its cage.
However, the loss of feathers should not be too fast that there are bald patches on its body. Your pet’s feathers are its defense mechanism against the cold. So, if it has bald patches, it will have difficulty regulating its temperature, thus making it susceptible to cold.
In addition, losing feathers too fast will inhibit a budgie from flying. It can also be a sign of an illness, so you must observe how quickly your budgie is losing its plumage.
As your budgie’s feathers slowly molt, new feathers would quickly grow from the parts where the old feathers dropped. These new feather growth will start as pin feathers encased in hard keratin shells as they pop out of your budgie’s skin. These keratin shells connect to the bird’s blood supply and protect the new feathers from potential damage.
Your feathered companion will use its beak to remove the keratin shells and free its new, soft feathers. However, this task can be challenging when the new feathers grow in hard-to-reach areas. If your pet is used to being handled, you can help remove these hard shells by gently massaging them between your fingers.
This way, the shells will fall off, allowing the new feathers to emerge.
According to veterinarians Laurie Hess and Rick Axelson, molting causes the buildup of too many feathers in birds, making their plumage heavy. As a result, they become:
- extremely stressed
Birds, like budgies, also become susceptible to health problems as they molt.
While molting, you may notice your budgie flapping its wings a few times. Your pet does this movement to dislodge the molting feathers and make its plumage feel lighter.
When budgies are molting, they will need more nutrients to support the process. According to a research article published in the HAYATI Journal Of Biosciences, molting is a biological process that takes up a lot of energy from the bird. For this reason, it is ideal to provide them with iron-rich and high-calcium food.
According to avian expert Susan E. Orosz, Ph.D., DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), ECAMS, 28 percent of a budgie’s total budgie protein is taken by its feathers. For this reason, you need to provide your pet with a high-protein diet while it is molting.
During budgie molting, your feathered friend will seek less affection from you. If it does not want to be held, leave it alone in its cage, as it needs a lot of time to rest and recover from the stress caused by molting.
Why Do Budgies Molt?
Similar to fur in mammals, a budgie’s feathers have many vital functions. Feathers keep this bird insulated and safe from cold temperatures. They also prevent too much moisture from leaving the budgie’s skin and causing various health conditions.
In addition, a budgie’s feathers indicate its sex, camouflage, and courtship. For this reason, your feathered friend needs to keep its plumage in excellent condition, thus making molting crucial.
Budgie molting is the act of replacing old feathers with new ones. As your budgie grows, its feathers acquire damage from preening, playing, and some feather-related diseases. Since the bird’s feathers are crucial for many things like flying and protection, it needs to molt and replace the old and damaged feathers with fresh, functional ones.
Apart from renewing old feathers, budgies also molt when experiencing various conditions, such as:
- environmental change
- seasonal change
- health issue
It is vital to observe a molting budgie to ensure that it is not showing signs of any health problems.
How Often Do Budgies Molt?
The majority of budgies molt at least once a year. However, some still molt up to three times a year, depending on the season and environment. The first budgie molting process will occur when the bird reaches 10 to 12 weeks of age.
In the wild, budgies will molt either during spring or fall. This way, they can discard and replace the old feathers they used for winter insulation.
Budgies know when a season has ended and begun by observing sunlight. These birds are intelligent, so they know when daylight lasts longer and becomes more intense. So, once it notices that the temperature is warmer and there is more sunlight, it will instinctively start molting to prepare for a new season.
However, tame budgies live in different environments from the wild, such as controlled temperatures and artificial light. So, according to a study conducted at Kansas State College, they can molt any time of the year due to exposure to artificial light.
Here are the first signs of budgie molting:
- aggressive behavior and biting tendencies
- your budgie spends most of its time sleeping
- excessive preening
- sudden loss of appetite
How Long Does Budgie Molting Last?
Budgie molting is an annual cycle that happens at a slow rate. As this bird should not lose its plumage fast, the molting cycle would typically last for two to three weeks. If your feathered friend has some complications during the process, molting can last up to a month.
The first molting stage will cause your pet to lose its tail and primary feathers. As a result, it will feel uncomfortable to fly around, causing it to stay quiet on its perch. As mentioned, the pin feathers will grow in the areas where the old feathers fell off, making your budgie look spiky and thin.
Do Budgies Feel Uncomfortable When Molting?
Molting feels very uncomfortable for budgies for two reasons:
- the shedding process drains a lot of their energy
- pin feathers feel itchy as they grow
As the new feathers growing can irritate your budgie’s skin, you may notice it repeatedly rubbing its head and body on rough surfaces, such as its perches. It will also scratch its skin by preening the parts it can reach.
In addition, the discomfort during budgie molting can temporarily cause your feathered companion to change its behavior. If your pet is usually cuddly, it may tolerate human touch and interaction less. It will also become short-tempered and cranky.
As mentioned, you may help your budgie to remove the keratin shells of its pin feathers. But if you notice that it does not like you holding it, the best thing to do is to leave it on its own. Holding your feathered friend when it does not want to can cause stress, thus prolonging the molting cycle.
How To Help A Molting Budgie
Molting can last for weeks, so your budgie must bear the discomfort. There isn’t anything you can do to shorten the budgie molting cycle. However, there are things you can do to alleviate the discomfort and irritability of your feathered companion, thus making the process more bearable.
Provide your budgie with its favorite toys.
Giving your pet its favorite toys can relieve its aggressiveness. The reason is that these toys may distract it from the irritation caused by the molting process.
Once the toys distract your budgie, you can try helping it remove the keratin coating on its new feathers. The toys will prevent your pet from biting you, as it will turn its aggressiveness into chewing its toys.
Moreover, budgie molting requires your pet to sleep a lot. For this reason, encouraging it to move around when it wakes up is essential. Giving your feathered companion fun toys to play with gives it a reason to do some movements and exercise.
Give your budgie a bath.
Pinfeathers are hard, so it can be difficult for your pet to break them apart. To make the budgie molting process more manageable, you can soften the pin feathers by giving your pet a nice bath.
When bathing a budgie, you only need to give it a shallow water bowl. Your feathered friend will soak itself in the water, alleviating its skin’s itch and softening the keratin cover of its new feathers.
However, some budgies will not even have the energy to bathe when it is molting. Do not try to hold your pet and put it in the water, as it can shock or threaten it. Instead, get a spray bottle, fill it with water, and mist your pet from time to time.
Give your budgie scratches.
If your feathered friend is extra patient even during the molting stage, it will still allow you to touch it. In this case, you can scratch the bird’s neck and head to ease its itchiness.
However, it is essential to note that your pet may try to bite you if it suddenly feels irritated by your touch. Rubbing the bird’s pinfeather the wrong way may also cause pain, so you must be extremely careful and gentle when giving your pet scratches.
When giving your budgie scratches, use your finger to provide it with gentle and slow rubs and observe how it will react. If your feathered friend likes your actions, it will let you know by rubbing its head against your finger.
Make your pet’s environment comfortable.
Ensuring comfort means a lot to a molting budgie. Noise can irritate your feathered companion, so keeping its cage quiet can help. It is also ideal you keep its environment’s temperature stable. Your budgie may feel cold as it loses its feathers, so setting the temperature a bit warmer than usual can make it feel at ease.
If you notice something that stresses your bird, try to keep that stressor out of sight.
Help your budgie have a nutritious diet.
As mentioned, budgie molting requires extra nutrients. For this reason, it is crucial to provide your pet with lots of nutritious food. High-quality pellets are ideal as they contain most of the nutrients your budgie needs while it is molting.
Fruits and vegetables will also support your feathered companion’s health. According to Budgies: Molting Basics, giving a molting budgie plenty of calcium, iodine, mineral blocks, and cuttlebone will support its molting process. It is also crucial to provide your budgie with sources of protein. Such foods include:
- cooked potatoes
According to a study conducted at the Waltham Center For Pet Nutrition, the following seeds can provide the protein requirement your budgie needs while it molts:
- white and red millet
Give your budgie supplements.
Supplements can also support budgie molting. Not only do they provide your bird with nutrients, but they also speed up the shedding process. However, you must consult an avian expert before supplementing your budgie.
This way, you can ensure that the supplements you will give your feathered companion will not cause any adverse side effects. Some supplements a veterinarian may prescribe to a molting budgie are:
- calcium supplements
- vitamin B12
- fish oil
Common Budgie Problems That Cause Them To Lose Feathers
Molting is the only usual reason why your budgie may lose its feathers. If your feathered friend is molting more than two times a year, chances are it has a health issue that causes it to lose its feathers.
Stress is one of the most common reasons a domesticated budgie loses its feathers. However, unlike budgie molting, the feathers of a stressed budgie will not fall out on their own. Instead, the stress will cause your bird to become destructive, leading it to pluck its plumage.
Your feathered companion may experience stress for various reasons. If it is living with a companion bird, chances are the dominant bird is threatening and intimidating it. As budgies love sticking to a regular schedule, changing their routine and environment may also bring them stress.
Moreover, your budgie will regrow its plumage no matter how stressed. But, according to the Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, a budgie experiencing stress while regrowing its feathers may experience fault bars. This condition causes deformities in new bird feathers.
If your feathered companion is stressed, the best thing you can do is to identify its stressors and resolve them.
A budgie’s immune system is not the only thing viruses and bacteria can attack. There are also feather-related infections, which cause your pet to lose its plumage. For instance, wild cockatoos commonly experience circovirus, a disease that damages the feathers on their head.
In addition, skin infections can cause bald patches on your pet.
When your budgie has a skin infection or feather-related disease, you will commonly notice flaky and scaly skin on the parts where it lost its plumage.
The worst thing that could happen to an infected budgie that lost its feathers is follicle damage. If this problem happens, your feathered companion cannot regrow its feathers, which may affect its flying and insulation abilities.
For this reason, you must contact a veterinarian when you notice feather-related problems that differ from budgie molting. Catching and treating an infection early on will prevent severe plumage damage to your cockatoo, allowing it to continue enjoying its feathers’ benefits.
Difference Between Molting And Budgerigar Fledging Disease
Budgerigar fledgling disease, commonly known as French molt, is an illness common in young budgies. The abnormal growth of feathers characterizes it. However, as French molt looks similar to young budgie molting, caretakers often mistake the disease as a normal biological process.
For this reason, it is essential to know the differences between normal molting and French molt.
As mentioned, molting happens when a young budgie reaches 10 to 12 weeks old. On the other hand, the symptoms of French molt appear in more immature birds. If your budgie had its first molt as early as five to six weeks of age, having it checked by an avian expert is ideal.
While normal molting causes a budgie to lose its feathers gradually, French molt happens fast. In some cases, a budgie may even lose its plumage entirely. A budgie with French molt may also experience wing and tail feather breakage shortly after they grow.
Pattern Of Feather Loss
Budgie molting often begins at your feathered friend’s head and tail. Then, as its pin feathers grow, the other parts of its body will start to shed slowly.
Meanwhile, budgies experiencing the fledgling budgerigar disease will first lose their flight feathers. Both wings will shed symmetrically, usually leaving only the outermost flight feathers intact. Then, the budgie will shed all its developing feathers quickly.
You may even see blood spots where the feathers dropped.
The pin feathers of a healthy budgie molting are hard and difficult to break apart. On the other hand, a bird experiencing French molt will grow brittle and poorly developed pin feathers.
As mentioned, pin feathers connect to the budgie’s blood vessels. So a budgie experiencing French molt may also have bleeding at the roots of its pin feathers. The pin feathers’ growth rate is also slower in French molt than in budgie molt.
Unfortunately, science is still to find out what causes the fledgling budgerigar diseases. The diseases spontaneously appear in young budgies, so a caretaker can do nothing to prevent it.
Budgie Molting: Final Thoughts
It is usual for budgies to undergo molting as soon as they reach ten weeks. This biological process may happen once or twice a year. It will cause behavioral and physical changes to your feathered companion.
The tell-tale signs that your budgie is molting are gradual feather loss, irritability, and inactivity. Suppose you notice feathers dropped at the bottom of your budgie’s case. In that case, it may be molting, so you must provide a comfortable environment and a nutritious diet.
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- Earle, Kay E., and Nigel R. Clarke. “The nutrition of the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus).” The Journal of nutrition 121, no. suppl_11 (1991). https://www.marionzoological.com/docs/TheNutritionoftheBudgerigar.pdf. Accessed February 13, 2023.
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