Feathers, like our hair and nails, dry out and lose their luster as time goes by. For humans, when we see split ends or chipping nails we typically choose to get a trim. While it is a cosmetic option for us, a parrot relies on healthy feathering for their mobility, insulation and water repellency.
Because feathering plays a vital role in their well-being, parrots lose old, worn feathers often during the year to make room for the regrowth of new feathers. Every time a feather is dropped, a new one will emerge through the vacant follicle in their skin. The “pin feather” is the name given to the prickly beginnings of a new feather making its way out.
They first appear as a thin tube which is pink at the bottom and white towards the top. The pink area is a live blood supply that will nourish the feather while it is maturing and will eventually recede. The white part of the tube is a keratin casing which protects the forming feather.
At the beginning stages, when the shaft is still short, it can be very uncomfortable when they are touched or jarred. For the time being, let them be. If you are like me and love to help them preen their “pinnies”, you can tell the time is right when the white casing is longer and easily crumbles away without much pressure.
The whole production process takes only a few days. It is an astounding amount of growth when you consider that the feather being produced may be several inches long – especially when you compare it to our own rate of hair growth.
Because a quick turn around of new feathers is sometimes required for health and safety reasons for wild birds, it is a hurried process for the same reasons a chick can feather out and grow to adult size in just weeks; their survival requires it.
You can imagine the stress placed on their bodies in their rush to get the job done quickly. This results in some grumpy, temperamental behavior following molting season when many new feathers are being produced at once. Try to be compassionate during this time and your patience will be rewarded with a happier bird with shiny, flawless new feathers.
Helping your bird preen their pin feathers can be a great bonding experience for you and your bird. Jamie demonstrates how to do it properly in this video:
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.