Regrowing feathers is a natural process for all bird species. Birds ordinarily replace old and tattered feathers on a regular basis, just like we do with our hair. Most bird species experience one or two molts a year in which they shed old feathers in a symmetrical manner over the course of a month or so, and regrow fresh, new feathers. Seeing your first molt can be shocking. Even a bird that has plucked itself bald can grow feathers back if the conditions are right.
Feather plucking is when a bird intentionally pulls feathers out for one reason or another. Sometimes when birds are caged together, the dominant cage mate plucks the others feathers out. This is generally believed to be due to aggression. When birds pluck themselves, rooting out the cause can be much more complicated. This behavior can be medical but it is usually chalked up to boredom, stress or anxiety. It can also be due to allergies, skin disorders or a metabolic problem. Some deadly avian virus' cause birds to lose their feathers. It's important to seek veterinary attention from an experienced avian vet if your parrot has any unusual feather loss.
We often get asked how long it takes for a bird to regrow its feathers, once it has plucked them out. The standard answer is that regrowing feathers takes around 12 months or until the next molt That's a standard answer and not true in every case, though. When the bird goes through a molt, old tattered feathers fall out and are replaced by fresh, new ones. If your bird doesn't have the proper nutrition to grow healthy feathers, the new growth may appear dull, tatters, or have stress marks. Each bird species has specific nutritional requirements to maintain its health, including feather health, but all birds who are molting or recovering.
The best thing that you can do for a bird with plucked feathers is to really make sure you’re getting the bird’s diet right. Make sure that the bird is getting everything it needs to grow strong healthy feathers. It helps to supplement the diet with feather growth vitamins, like FeatherUp! or Feather Fast. You can also help your bird by offering up frequent bathing opportunities, full spectrum lighting and proper sleep. It might take a few molts for your bird to fully recover. The worse the damage is – the longer it will take.
Feathers grow from follicles all over your bird's skin. Birds are able to move each and every feather voluntarily with muscles and ligaments attached to vanes underneath the skin. When a feather is damaged and doesn't lay right, it is down right uncomfortable to the bird. Healthy feathers lay in a specific pattern but tattered and jagged feathers just don't lay properly causing irritation. Likewise, Newly growing feathers are stiff, rod-like and covered in a hard sheath, similar to your fingernails.
New feathers are called pin feathers because the sheath is rather pointy and resembles a pin. These "baby" feathers are actually live tissue. They contain blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the growing tissue. If your bird breaks a blood feather, it will bleed profusely and you may need to apply some styptic powder or cornstarch on the wound to stop the bleeding. Most birds will remove broken blood feathers on their own. The worst case is that you will have to pluck the remaining feather to prevent dangerous loss of blood. When the feathers mature, the blood vessels atrophy and die.
Not all parrots grow plucked feathers back. If the bird caused follicle damage due to harsh or repetitive plucking, that the skin can't support feather growth. The feather shaft is attached to living tissue, and pulling a feather out before its ready to fall out may cause tissue damage. This happens When the tissue that is attached to the follicle rips or tears, or the follicle clots or becomes infected, permanent baldness may result.
You can help your parrot through the process of regrowing feathers with a bird collar, to act as a barrier that protects new growth, an optimum diet, plenty of sleep and baths. You may need to make some environmental changes and try behavior modification, too.
There are many reasons a bird might pluck and sometimes it is hard to get to the root of the problem. If your bird is plucking, it doesn’t mean that you are a ‘bad owner’. The fact is that you're a good owner for trying to correct the problem! Don't let the guilt that comes with having a plucked bird stop you from reaching out, getting help and trying bonafide solutions.