Revised April 24, 2022
We love our birds for a couple of reasons. One thing we appreciate about them is their gorgeous feathers. Healthy feathers are shiny, vivid and at times almost iridescent. But, you may notice your bird having dark, unsightly lines across the width of their feathers and wonder whats going on. In this post, I'll tell you all about bird stress bars.
Our exotic pet birds have the most unusual coat. Feathers.
Birds have specialized feather follicles, which help control how their feathers lay at any point in time. In most birds, these follicles are hidden away beneath the feathers. The muscles in these follicles can force the feathers to stand out at any angle and change in that angle very quickly.
The ability to move each and every feather at will gives birds lots of flexibility with their feathers, which not only support flight and serve as a form of communication, but also attract a mate. Actually, the brighter and bolder the color, the more likely a potential mate will take notice.
When you think about feathers, imagine them as being almost a super power. They act as a raincoat, sunblock, a winter jacket, armor from harm, and as a fashion statement all in one.
You may be starting to see feathers as the ultimate in protection, beauty and sexual ornamental quality. Feathers are a defense against the harshness of the weather, thorns, and insects. They're liquid-repelling, camouflaging, and help attractive, flashy-plumed birds attract mates.
Birds replace worn out and damaged feathers frequently. This process is called molting. Most of our pet birds molt in a symmetrical, staggered manner. Molts typically occur once a year, but some species molt more often. Growing new feathers requires optimal nutrition and environmental wellness.
Molting and new feather growth is stressful enough. But, what if your bird has other physical or emotional stressors? That can really add stress to your pet's molting process. You might notice a crack-like line forming at the base of each barb on the single feather.
As part of their feather-growing process, if your bird experiences stress, its body will naturally draw nutrients from new feather growth to “feed” other vital body organs. When this happens, different parts of the feather structure, and most importantly, the barbules, don't develop. That is exactly where the bird’s stress bar appears.
The entire feather is now markedly degraded by this point. First, moisture can now chill the bird and the feather begins to lose its insulation properties. Second, the feather is in a very real danger of snapping apart.
Broken, tattered feathers tells potential mates that this particular bird is sick. They don't appear healthy.
Poor feather condition is often the first sign that something is wrong with your bird.
When you notice stress bars on your birds feathers, it's a sign something is amiss and you need to get to the bottom of it. Without the appropriate care, stress bars can make a bird feel insecure and it can also lead to skin damage and feather plucking behavior.
Stress bars can be caused by many things: a lack of nutritious food while growing feathers, stress from the environment, or even a lack of proper bird care. Identify whether your bird is experiencing any of these things by taking a close look at the 6 Dimensions of Avian Wellness. Learn more about The 6 Dimensions Of Bird Wellness.
Once the damage to the new feather is done, it can't be undone. The unsightly feather will be there until the next molt. It would be inhumane to pull or otherwise remove the feather and that would just add to your birds stress.
Your feathered friend needs to be in top shape all year long to grow beautiful feathers!
If the damage is limited to one or two feathers, you shouldn’t be too overly concerned. But, if the damage is moderate to extensive and multiple feathers are being damaged, you may want to have your vet check out your pet. You want to get to the root of the problem.
The most important investment you can make for your bird is to keep them happy and healthy. Avian and Exotic Veterinarians have about 10 years of highly-specialized health care training to detect and treat various medical disorders.
Remember. Birds need to be treated like birds.
But our sensitive birds can get stressed out from lack of attention to their wellness needs. Remember, birds need to be treated like birds. They are not mammals or children. They are exotic pets with very unique care needs. Keep in mind that studying up on and implementing avian wellness needs will do no harm to your bird and will pave the way for prevention of things getting worse.
So, all in all, if you're seeing bird stress bars, take action.
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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