Feathers, feathers, feathers…That’s right there are lots of feathers on cockatiels. I’ve never counted them, have you tried?
But it would be safe to say hundreds thats for sure.
There are a variety of feathers that cover your cockatiel, which leads to a question…
Why Do Cockatiels Need Feathers?
Apart from the obvious…flying, they are needed to control the temperature of their bodies, warn off predators, attract a mate, to help protect from the elements. Cockatiels remove feathers throughout the year and twice each year they will shed a large amount this is called moulting. It is an important aspect in the life and health of cockatiels and they will require extra care and a healthy diet during this period.
Cockatiels also clean and spread oil onto the feathers, this process is called ‘preening’ and all cockatiels do this. They take oil from a gland at the top of the tail at the bottom of the back and disperse this onto the feathers by pulling them through their beak. They rub their head into the oil gland and then ruffle between other feathers. A wonderful display it is to watch as they preen themselves and also groom each other.
Unfortunately in some cases cockatiels often over preen themselves or each other, mostly parents over preening their young. This can lead to health issues in the future. Also some cockatiels are a little bald on the head, this is quite common in Lutino’s and it can become hereditary. Sometimes feather picking is a sign that something is not right.
A visit to the vet is required, however there are many reasons to what can cause the picking of feathers. Bad diet, hormonal defects, hidden virus, poor cage environment, parasites, fungal problems, even suffering from a trauma caused by frights etc.
Keeping a close eye on your cockatiels behaviour you will be able to notice if something different is in its daily routine. For example if they are very active and then they tend to spend more and more time resting or sleeping, something could be wrong. A sure sign of a sick cockatiel is its lack of activity. A quieter than normal cockatiel could have an external parasite or internal problem. External parasites could actually be feather mites. These are more often found in outside aviary birds.
The Good & Bad
Often a slight change in diet can have an adverse affect on your cockatiels appearance. Keep a close eye and any change can then be noticed. Some observations that may occur are. Dry looking feather coat, this may be an indication of a poor diet and dry climate, allow your birds to bathe or even spray them regularly. Wrinkled looking edges can be a reflection of their cages size, too small or too many cockatiels in one space. Some cockatiels if they have had an injury may not be able to look after their feathers and therefor will display a scatty feather covering.
The feathers grow with a protein coating on which is used as a protection. As they grow they shed the ‘sheath’ which is called keratin and it looks like a plastic wrapper. Sometimes this is quite firm and cockatiels struggle to open it to allow the feather to display itself. This can be painful, a bit like an ingrown hair. It can also become infectious and cause a ‘cyst’. This will require veterinary attention. Baby cockatiels display clearly how feathers grow and you can see the pin feathers slowly open and shed the protective coating.
I know I have already touched on this but unfortunately it is a very sad yet common problem among cockatiels. This can lead to a very traumatic experience. What might start out as just normal preening can turn into excessive picking and the result being a very over plucked bird. The difference between normal preening and feather picking is that often around the neck and head area you will notice that the feathers are missing. It can be that a mate is over grooming the other in an affectionate way except with dire results. It can be a result of malnutrition or a parasite. Just be aware.
Types Of Feather
The Crest Feather
This is what really adds to the character of the cockatiel, along with their coloured checks. The thin feathers that cover the top of the head (the crest) are delicate and obvious. By studying the crest we can learn to understand exactly what mood your cockatiel is in. As you can see in the photograph not all are straight, some of the longer ones tend to curve as they get longer. Also they will vary in colour depending on the cockatiel mutation.
The Tail Feather
These are the longest feathers on a cockatiel. Generally the two middle tail feathers are the longest. Under these feathers are some smaller ones as well. The tail feathers are the last ones that begin to grow on the baby cockatiel. From memory I think the tail has 8 feathers. The markings of the female are sometimes clearly visible on the underside. I will write more about the male and female differences in another post.
The Wing Feathers
These are probably the most important to the cockatiel as without them they can’t fly. Damaged wing feathers can become a problem for them and often lead to erratic flying. Sometimes they will pull out wing feathers making room for the new ones, just like on the tail, these will already be growing and soon be full size. Also on the underside of the wing feathers you might be able to see markings which will be displayed by the female. Sometimes spots or bar marks will be visible.
Both the wing and tail feathers have blood feathers amongst them which are allowing blood to flow. These do not stand out until they become damaged and then require immediate attention. It is important to remove the broken blood feather and in doing so stop the flow of blood. Cockatiels only have a small amount of blood and can not afford to lose even small amounts. They will always be present, without them they would die. If you have a bleeding bird then please get tot the vet asap especially if you can’t stop the bleeding. You will need to remove the broken blood feather with a small pair of pliers or very strong pincers.
Inside Down Feather
The inside or down feather are the cuddly soft ones that keep them warm. They are generally close to the body and are very fluffy. The closer they are to the skin the less structure of a feather they have and are basically fluff. When they are moulting they will shed lots of these feathers along with the dandruff like white coating of the larger feathers.
Always remember to feed your cockatiels a very healthy and varied diet and keep the water clean. During the moulting period they may require some extra vitamins which you can supplement in the water.
As you can gather, feathers are more than just a means for flight, and keeping a watchful eye on the behaviour of your birds is the best way to notice if anything is not as it should be with your darlings.