Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Your Cockatiel's Molting Process: Out with the old feathers and in with the new.

Molting is the shedding of your cockatiel's old feathers to make room for new feathers growing in.

Your cockatiel's feathers are not only beautiful, they also serve many important functions including:
  • Insulating your bird's body to keep her temperature normal.
  • Protecting your bird's skin from water.
  • Used to attract a mate.
  • Used as a defense mechanism against predators.

This is why the process of molting is so important to your cockatiel's well-being.

A cockatiel's first molt usually happens between 6 to 12 months of age. Interestingly, cockatiels are actually in a continuous state of molting all year long; however, heavy molting will occur two times a year.

Heavy molting consists of losing a large portion of feathers, including the tail and wing feathers.

You will easily know when your cockatiel is molting; there will be feathers everywhere at the bottom of your bird's cage and throughout your house.

Feathers are made of a protein called keratin. When your cockatiel goes through molting her feathers will be covered in a sheath of keratin for protection. This keratin will be most noticeable on your bird's small, pin feathers. I call them little stunts, because they look like stumpy, little, white-covered feathers.

Your cockatiel will preen more during a heavy molt and the keratin sheaths will come off resembling flakes of dandruff.

Loki often enjoys a good head and neck scratch (pin feathers are located in these areas) to remove the keratin covering from the feathers she cannot easily reach. This is a great way to bond with your bird. For instance, I help Loki preen and then she often tries to groom me by picking through my hair like she does with her tail feathers. It is definitely a bonding experience and will make your cockatiel feel safe because of her flock mentality.

There are some things to be mindful of when your cockatiel is molting. Firstly, remember that it takes about nine weeks after a molt for a new blood feather to become mature. During this time pay close attention to keeping your tiel's wings trimmed and try to prevent night frights and bumping into toys, furniture, or the cage.

Also, remember molting is a time of stress for your cockatiel.

Your cockatiel:
  • Will be less active
  • Will nap more
  • Will be cranky because pin and blood feathers are uncomfortable for your bird.
  • It will be easier for your tiel to get sick.

During a molt:

  • Give your cockatiel foods high in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes and carrots.
  • Add more calcium to your cockatiel's diet by adding kale, parsley, and broccoli.
  • Serve your tiel unsalted scrambled eggs for additional protein.

Molting is a normal process; however, if your cockatiel goes through a heavy molt all year or if your tiel has delayed molting and does not molt at least once a year contact your avian vet immediately.

Heavy molting more than three times a year and delayed molting can be an indication of medical problems, poor nutrition, or stress.

Molting can be a taxing process. To help ease the stress molting can cause provide your bird with additional love, take part in preening, and supply additional food for adequate nutrition.


  1. Hi there! Thanks so much for this informative post. I have two main questions I hope you can answer.
    1. My cockatiel eats its droppings. It never used to, but started a month ago and its really discusting because his beak becomes green and gross. Is it normal?
    2. My cockatiel itches like crazy and little white flakes are everywhere. But his feathers are not shedding. Does this still mean he is molting and loosing keratin sheath or does he have some sort of problem..?
    Thanks! :D

  2. Your welcome. I am glad you found the information useful. Ok, my cockatiel was eating her droppings as well. I asked my vet about this and she said it is due to boredom. I gave Loki some new toys and mixed things up a bit. She stopped doing it after that. Those white flakes are just keratin sheath; your bird is just molting...no problem to worry about.

  3. Can my cockatiel feel weak and breath through his mouth when it's molting? My cockatiel is 13 years old and Im worried about her since we do not have any avian vets here in Puerto Rico :(

    1. I am not an avian vet and I cannot diagnose your cockatiel, but that does not sound like normal molting behavior to me. This really sounds like a respiratory infection since he is breathing through his mouth. Remember, birds hide their illnesses as a defense mechanism against predators in the wild. There are no avian vets in Puerto Rico!?! Hmm, the next best thing I can suggest is consulting with a regular vet or contacting someone at a local zoo who specializes in exotic birds. I hope your little guy is ok. Keep me updated!

  4. My 6 month old has become real cranky and trying to bite lately. Is she molting. We take her out of the cage daily and handle her, but this behavior has just started. I have noticed the fluffy feather from the front of the bird around the house and a few small ones from her tail. Is this molting?

  5. my 7 yr old female is in a heavy molt she is sleeping to much lacks apatite and her wings are relaxed her nose is clean eyes are brite, her droppings aare normal should I worry?

  6. My cockatiel is only 3 and a half months old. he was recently tackled by my dog and lost tail feathers but is otherwise ok. he has become more agitated but wants lots of attention and he is losing little feathers is this an early molt and is it normal

  7. Hello, I just bought a beautiful, pied, hand-fed (supposedly) cockatiel from our local Petco. The little thing won't come out of the corner o its birdcage and threatens to bite me when I come near. Also, it has not eaten since I brought it home. Is this normal behavior for a hand-fed baby. If so, should I leave him/her alone or continue trying to touch/hold him/her. Please help!

    1. He/she is stressed and frightened and its first new environment. Just talk to him and let him observe you until he gets used to you. Keep a soft, soothing voice around him. He'll be very good in a while.

  8. Also, my little bird is quite small. Is that an indicator of age? I owned a cockatiel previously for eight years; however, I have not had one for over ten years. I think I just need a refresher course....

    1. Cockatiels grow to full size pretty young and can be anywhere from about 75-100 grams.

  9. I have an albino cockatiel. How do tell the sex of him/her?

    1. Probably only by behavior or blood test. If the bird sings and whistles, it's a male. If the bird is pretty quiet, its a female.

  10. Hello Ashley,
    I am a first time bird owner. I've been doing a lot of reading on cockatiels what to do what not to do and what not. I really need some help though. My cockatiel adapted very well to my home because she already knew and trusted me because i visited her a lot in the pet store until i knew we were perfect for each other. well... since she started molting she will be very sweet one second rubbing faces with me and she she will hiss and bite my ear really hard. i don't punish her. i just put her on her cage and walk away from the situation. We haven't quite gotten to the petting part she doesn't really like to be touched unless with with your cheek. I need help! i don't know what to do to help her! she wont let me up her! please help i want us both to be happy because i love her so much.
    Thank you
    Please contact me by email if you would i wont spam you miranda.carter3894@gmail.com

  11. Dear Ashley
    I have buy a one year old cockatiel mail that is moulting and it dose not eat the think you recommend or drink the moultone moulting tonic, he is new to us and panics and injures his self, please can you help and advice us what to do?
    Thank you
    Salim Patel.

  12. Is it okay to have 2 cockatiels in one cage when 1 of them is melting?

  13. I think you have bigger issues if your bird is melting lol

  14. I think you have bigger issues if your bird is melting lol