Birds are amazing and beautiful whether you see them in the wild or care for them in your home. Everything about a bird is unique including the fact that they are the only animals that have feathers.
Feathers are the soft, frilly plumes that cover a bird's body. They come in many forms. There are long and strong wing and tail feathers that help the bird to balance and control flight. Smaller feathers cover the torso keeping the bird warm and dry. Downy feathers provide added insulation and a soft barrier to keep the skin healthy.
Of course, each species of bird has a unique feathering pattern. Learn how to care for feathers for beautiful feather growth.
Every feather on your bird’s body is a finely tuned structure that serves an important role in your bird’s daily activities. For example, feathers allow your bird to fly, show off, blend in, stay warm, and stay dry. Some bird species have special airfoil feathers that are efficient for smooth flight, while others have feathers in extreme ornamental feathers. Simply put, birds are what they are because of their feathers.
To understand the functions of a feather it is helpful to know about individual feather structure. As you study the image below you'll see that each individual's feather is made up of numerous parts.
As the feather is growing it is actually alive. At this point the shaft has a vein inside of it that feeds the feather growth. We call these blood feathers and when they break it can be very painful.
In a mature feather, on the other hand, the vein recedes and the feather takes on characteristics similar to human hair. The feather actually has no feeling in it at that point except for where the shaft and the skin intercept.
Feathers provide many functions for a bird. Let's explore them one by one
Birds predominantly get around by flying. Flight is one of the primary purposes of feathers for the majority of bird species. The primary and secondary wing feathers of your bird allow it to fly great distances with ease. These feathers are aerodynamic for the most efficient flight. The wing and the tail feathers work together during flight and to give the bird balance.
The wing feathers, also called "remiges." These feathers, are long, stiff, and asymmetrically paired to aid in both lift and thrust.
There is a simple natural rule for flight. The heavier the bird, the longer the regime feathers need to be. The bird needs bigger, stronger feathers on the wings and tail for balance. Flighted birds have powerful chest muscles to achieve flight.
Feathers are crucial for the identity of birds. Feathers are what make each bird species different from the others and give them unique identities. Feathers give birds the glamour and the shine to appear magnificent.
Some birds have highly modified feathers that don’t look like feathers at all. Say, for example, the iridescent spiral of a King-of-Paradise tail appears and functions more as an exquisite adornment rather than a flight feather.
While there are 3 basic types of feathers, each species adorns them in a unique pattern. This is why all birds look so beautiful, yet so different. Healthy feathers are what give your parrot that beautiful sheen and coloration that we find so alluring.
When your bird's feathers look bad It's upsetting for both you and your bird.
A bird in its hormonal season has a strong desire to show off its beautiful plumage. Female birds often choose their mate on the basis of appearance. The more vibrant in coloration and iridescence that the feathers are, the healthier the male appears to be. After all, it takes a healthy, nutritionally sound bird to produce healthy feathers.
So, healthy vibrant feathers, like the Hawk Headed Parrot below, are a male bird's calling card. During the mating season birds flaunt their feathers in the hopes of attracting the perfect mate.
The fact is that parrots, which are pets of millions of people around the world, are coveted not just because they have the gift of flight, but also because of their dazzling, spectacular colorations.
Being animals of prey, birds need to blend in to stay safe. In most species the color of their feathers allow them to blend into their surroundings.
In essence, feathering serves the purpose of camouflaging the bird on some species. The bird can be camouflaged by the feather color or the markings that the feathers make.
Birds that roost in the daytime especially need camouflaging. Nesting females rely on the camouflaging protection of their feathers since they are hesitant to leave the nest and put their young at risk. Young juvenile birds not yet developed the skill pill identify a predator nor the strength to protect themselves also rely on camouflaging feathers. Finally, ground feeders I need the extra protection of camouflaging feathers to eat.
One of the most important purposes of a bird’s feathers is insulation and in some species, water-proofing. Birds, like most other animals, need to stay warm when it gets chilly. Feathers do the job well. Feathers act as great insulators and prevent birds from heat loss. Insulation is extremely important for the survival of birds.
To help you get an idea, our young parrots are usually hatched with no feathers. It may take a week or more for tiny down feathers to start to come in. Down feathers provide excellent insulation from the elements, which is why we make coats and bedspreads from them. Down feathers have barbs that branch off in every direction.
A bird with tattered or missing feathers is at risk of becoming chilled.
Feathers don't just keep a bird warm, they also help to keep many species dry. Birds that live in damp climates have special feathers that act like raincoats causing moisture to drip right off.
Some birds have a preening gland that produces a water-proofing oil. Others create an oily dust that coats the feathers so that moisture drips off.
This coating insulates the interlocking barbules in the feather. Since water can’t penetrate through the oil coating, the feather provides awaterproof barrier that keeps the bird from getting chilled.
Now that you know how many purposes feathers serve for your bird it only makes sense that feathers are a bird's most important asset. That is one reason that birds spend so much time grooming each and every feather on its body everyday.
If a bird's feather quality declines or the bird loses interest in maintaining its feathers that's a sign that something is wrong. Read on to learn what could be going on.
While healthy feathers are smooth and bright with a sheen, unhealthy feathers have a completely different look. I always recommend to my customers that they make it a weekly routine to examine their bird feather condition.
Declining feather condition, as I'd mentioned above, is a sign that something's wrong. While birds are inclined to hide illness and injuries at all costs, they can't hide the condition of their feathers.
So getting into the routine of examining your bird's feathers each week may help you avert problems before they have a chance to take hold.
Watch for the signs that something is going on with the health of your bird's feathers.
Dirty & Dull:
A physically and emotionally healthy bird has a drive to take care of its feathers everyday. These birds bathe frequently and preen appropriately to get the dirt off of their feathers. If you notice that your bird's feathers appear dirty or soiled, take heed. Try to discover why your bird is showing a disinterest in its feathers.
Stress bars are lines that run across the width of the feather affecting barb and barbule formation. They often appear dark in color.
Stress bars occur when, during feather growth, the bird undergoes a stressful event, causing the body to divert nutrients to vital organs rather than feather growth. Baby birds are prone to stress bars.
Stressful events that cause stress bars could be a poor, inadequate diet, a stressful event, or an illness that occurs while the feather is actively growing.
Stress bars can show up in baby birds as well as in adults. Feathers that contain stress bars are weakened and prone to breakage. While a stress feather here and there is normal, large quantities of stress bars on feathers Is a symptom that needs to be taken seriously. In this situation I would suggest that you make a wellness exam appointment with your avian vet.
Stress bars are damaged lines that run across the width of the feather affecting barb and barbule formation. They often appear dark in color. Stress bars occur when, during feather growth, the bird undergoes a stressful event, causing the body to divert nutrients to vital organs. Baby birds are prone to stress bars.
Stress bars may be a sign of an inadequate diet, a highly stressful event, or an illness present during the formation of the feather. Stress bars can show in baby birds as well as in adults. But, in the case of adult birds, they need to be taken seriously. They are a sign that something serious is affecting your bird.
Birds need vitamins for feather growth. Nutritional problems can result in discoloration of a bird's feathers. A common example of this would be a red female Eclectus with yellow bands and its feathers. Discoloration is often coupled with compromised feather structure. This is another feather condition that requires further exploration.
Skin disorders: A number of skin disorders can result in curly feathers, bald patches, and more. If the feather follicle becomes inflamed or misshapen it can result in an unusual feather growth. Plan to get in touch with your avian vet if you noticed unusual feather growth.
When our pet’s feather condition starts to go south, it is a cause for concern. Tattered feathers on a bird can be caused by a variety of reasons:
All birds go through a normal molt they shed old, worn feathers and grow new feathers. This is a normal process that occurs once or twice a year and many of our pet bird species. And, it is important to know that molting is very nutritionally intensive.
Even though molting is a normal and expected process your bird needs special care to ensure that it has more nutritional reserves and the strength required to grow lush, beautiful feathers.You can learn more about bird molting here
Growing healthy feathers is nutritionally taxing for a bird. Plan on offering vitamins for birds feather growth. Not only does your bird need optimum nutrition year round, but it needs a full range of important nutrients during feather growth so as not to deplete essential organs from nutrition.
You can learn more about the essential vitamins needed for healthy feather growth here. However, just so you understand, a bird needs appropriate doses of vitamins A, B - complex vitamins, D, and E. It needs increased protein for healthy feather production, essential fatty acids, and amino acids.
According to the Facebook Avian Raw Food Group and avian nutritional specialists likeKarmen Budai, your bird's diet should consist of 40 - 50% bird pellets and the other 50 - 60% of its diet should be a rich, uncooked, plant-based diet. The goal is to make sure that your bird gets proper vitamins for feather growth.
Your bird is not going to get these essential nutrients from a seed diet or even from simply feeding it a pelleted diet. If your bird does not eat a significant amount of healthy, plant-based foods on a routine basis, you'll need to support it with a high qualityfeather growth / molting supplementinstead.
This is a great segway to all of the considerations that a bird needs to grow beautiful plumage. Now that you know how taxing feather growth is on the bird's body, you'll want to keep your bird in excellent condition year round. This includes providing optimum nutrition, bathing and grooming, increasing humidity, providing appropriate sleep, important in enrichment, and routine exercise.
Don't get overwhelmed! It's not as hard as you think. Watch this video to set yourself up for parrot wellness success. In my twenty-five years of bird care I've learned to establish a routine that helped me properly care for my birds.
Behavioral training is another important part of ensuring that your bird has optimum feather condition. You don't want to learn the important skill of positive reinforcement when it comes to teaching your parrot self care skills.
Think about it for just a minute! In the wild, Mom and Dad teach their young how to care for feathers. They teach their young to bathe, how to preen, what to eat to get vitamins for feather growth and everything that they need to know for bird feather care.
Since your hand fed bird or rescue bird didn't have the luxury of Mom and Dad teaching it how to care for feathers, you’ll have to teach it. Use positive reinforcement to teach your bird how to care for feathers.t It's not all that time consuming. You’ll probably spend 5 to 10 minutes a day teaching and reinforcing these bird feather care skills:
A great starting point is Clicker Training For Birds. You'll learn all about positive reinforcement to teach your bird how to care for feathers.
Finally, there are a number of medical reasons why a bird may have poor feather condition. It is really way too much to go into in a blog post like this. But, I'd like to encourage you to develop a strong relationship with an avian vet and to keep up with annual wellness exams.
Routine wellness checkups will go a long way toward ensuring that your bird is happy and healthy enough for grow strong beautiful feather growth.
You clearly care about your bird's health and feathers. Otherwise you wouldn't have made it this far and this blog post. Right?
So, let's talk about what you can do to improve your bird's feather health.
Don't spin your wheels with analysis paralysis. Don't waste your time putting yourself through a guilt trip. Instead, get to the root of the problem.
First, schedule a wellness check with your avian vet as a springboard toward improving parrot wellness.
Second, watch and re-watch this video on improving parrot wellness.
And, third, put positive reinforcement to work for you and start teaching your bird important skills such as:
The good news is that in most cases, poor feathers caused by environmental conditions can be dealt with. Your bird’s feathers can look great again at its very next molt.
http://www.melbournebirdvet.com/birds-of-a-different-feather/ Birds of a different feather.By Dr.Colin Walker BSc, BVSc, MRCVS, MACVSc(Avian health)
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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