All birds eventually molt (shed
and replace their feathers).
With The Old, In With The New
This is pretty much an
annual process. Canaries molt in the autumn, triggered by the
decreasing hours of daylight. Parrots molt a feather here and there
throughout the year, but then have a "big molt" where they replace
a large number of feathers. This "big molt" can last quite a
while - the rule of thumb is pretty much this: the larger the bird, the
longer the molting period. This
"big molt" time normally happens at the end of the breeding cycle
(that's true for all parrots, I believe).
the "big molt" you'll see a
lot of down feathers shed in a short period of time (in addition to wing
and tail feathers) and lots and lots of dander. But there won't
be a point at which you'll look at your bird and notice things are missing.
He'll never look bald or have noticeable, obvious gaps in his
One interesting thing
you'll notice is that the feathers tend to drop symmetrically.
That means that if the 3rd flight feather on the left drops today,
the 3rd flight feather on the right will drop soon, too.
It's nature's way of keeping the bird's flights balanced so that he
doesn't have trouble flying because one side has more lift than the other.
All feathers are eventually
molted and replaced. Wing, tail,
tummy, legs, neck, even the little black pin feathers on his cheeks.
You'll swear you've got enough feathers to make a whole new bird!
Itchy, Cranky, PMS
As the new feathers grow in they are covered with a thin hard membrane which
protects the feather as it grows. After
a while this membrane dries out and falls away (or the bird picks it
off). The membrane is itchy - and your bird will really appreciate
a nice head scritch (because he can't reach those feathers himself).
You can gently (GENTLY!!) press the membranes and if they're
dry and ready to come away, they'll crumble with the pressure of your
fingertips. But don't force it,
and don't be tempted to mess with the membranes on tail/wing feathers - they
are too tender AND the feather can be damaged if you pull the membrane off
prematurely. Let your bird
decide when to remove the membranes on tail/wing/back/tummy and any other
place he can reach for himself.
Some macaws get a little cranky during the "big molt".
Extra bath time can be helpful (helps the shafts to dry out,
washes away the itchy dander).
I've noticed that tail
feathers seem to be especially tender. One day I was holding Jesse (my
first large macaw) on my lap. She's normally a pretty gentle bird
- but suddenly she started to scream and thrash wildly. It was,
honestly, a slightly scary moment - I didn't know what was wrong and was
fearful for a few seconds that she might bite me really hard. But then
I noticed a tail feather fall to the floor - and she calmed down
immediately. I hadn't been touching her tail and was a bit surprised
that having a feather just fall out would cause her discomfort, but it
clearly had. Since that time I experienced that with her several times
- and Laka (my B&G) has the same reaction when she drops a tail
feather. I've not heard of this happening from any other macaw owners,
but have seen it in mine if I happen to be there when the tail feather
The experts seem to agree
that molting season is a good time to increase protein in your bird's
diet. I'm sure Laka would just love a nice juicy steak, but that's a
bit out of my budget. Instead, she gets regular serves of cooked beans
(legumes) mixed with veggies and fruit. The beans ensure a regular
supply of protein. Steve Hartman of Hartman Aviary has an excellent regimen
which he calls "The
Circus Diet". It includes a recipe for a bean mix that you
can make in a crockpot/slow cooker. I cook up big batches (2-3 week's
worth) of this and freeze it in 2-3 day portions. It looks complicated
but if you try it you'll find it's actually pretty easy. Just do be
very careful to refrigerate or freeze the beans (legumes are lovely,
nutritious food but are notoriously quick to grow mold and bacteria if left
at room temperature).