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Understanding budgie moulting: A guide to recognising and supporting your budgie

Budgies, like other birds, undergo a natural process called moulting, (in US is often spelled "molting"), during which they shed old feathers and grow new ones. Moulting is a crucial part of a budgie's life cycle, and understanding this process can help you provide the necessary care and support for your feathered friend. In this article, we will explore what budgie moulting looks like, how long it typically lasts, how to recognise it, and how you can assist your budgie during this important phase.

What does budgie moulting look like? Moulting in budgies involves the shedding and replacement of feathers. During the moulting process, you may notice an increase in feather loss, which can be more seen around the head, neck, and body. Feathers may appear dull, frayed, or tattered as they are being replaced. New feathers will gradually emerge, revealing vibrant and fresh plumage.

How long does budgie moulting last? The duration of moulting can vary among individual budgies, but it typically lasts for 2-3 weeks. The moulting process is cyclical and can occur multiple times throughout the year. Budgies tend to moult more frequently during their first year of life and then experience seasonal moults as they mature.

Recognising budgie moulting: To recognise moulting in your budgie, look for the following signs:

  1. Increased feather loss: You may notice an increased number of feathers in the cage or scattered around your budgie's environment, around the cage, on/between cage bars etc.

  2. Dull or ragged appearance: The remaining feathers may appear dull, frayed, or damaged as they prepare to shed and be replaced.

  3. Pin feathers: New feather shafts, known as pin feathers, will start to emerge. These are initially covered in a protective sheath and appear as small, pointed structures, looking like needles. They are also known as blood feathers. When a budgie moults, pin feathers emerge from the bird's skin. Pin feathers are called so because they are covered in a protective sheath that resembles a pin. These sheaths contain a blood supply that provides nutrients for the growing feather. As the feather matures, the blood supply recedes, and the sheath dries up, allowing the feather to unfurl and take on its final form. On a budgie's head, pin feathers can be quite prominent. They appear as small, pointed projections that are usually darker in color compared to the surrounding feathers. As the new feathers grow, they push the old feathers out, and the bird will preen and remove the sheaths from the pin feathers. It's important to handle budgies with care when they have pin feathers, as they can be sensitive and painful if touched or damaged. It's best to avoid excessive handling or rough play during this time to prevent any discomfort or injury to the bird.

Above - pin feathers on budgie's head

Supporting your budgie during moulting:

  1. Nutrition: A healthy diet plays a crucial role in supporting your budgie's moult. Ensure they have a well-balanced and nutritious diet, including a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, and quality seeds. (More about budgie diet you can find HERE)

  2. Hydration: Provide fresh and clean water daily. Hydration is essential for feather growth and overall well-being.

  3. Bathing opportunities: Budgies enjoy bathing, especially during moulting. Offer them shallow dishes of lukewarm water for splashing and preening. Alternatively, use a gentle misting spray to simulate rainfall.

  4. Gentle handling: Be mindful of your budgie's sensitivity during molting. Avoid excessive handling or pulling on pin feathers, as they can be tender and delicate.

  5. Enrichment and comfort: Offer your budgie stimulating toys, perches of varying textures, and comfortable resting spots to alleviate any discomfort during moulting. This can distract them from excessive preening and plucking. Budgie like scratching their heads against the toys or perches, so make sure they have enough.

Below are some examples of how your budgie may look like whilst moulting. They may look like their feathers are thinner and a bit messy, sometimes you may worry they get bald, but don't worry - it's all part of a natural process.

Having said moulting is completely natural and normal process, we need to mention when moulting is NOT normal. There is a condition called French Moult also referred to as feather dystrophy and it's a health condition that affects budgies and other birds. French moult is not a type of moult but a condition caused by various factors, including viral infections (such as the polyomavirus) or genetic predisposition. It is characterized by the abnormal loss of feathers, particularly flight feathers (primary and secondary feathers). During normal molting, feathers are lost and replaced gradually, ensuring a continuous and symmetrical process. In French moult, feather loss is often abrupt and irregular. Birds affected by French moult may experience partial or complete loss of flight feathers, resulting in impaired flight and difficulty in maintaining body temperature. Birds affected by French moult may exhibit additional symptoms like stunted growth, abnormal beak or feather development, or compromised immune function. If you suspect your budgie may be affected by French moult or any other health condition, it is important to consult with an avian veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Below some examples of birds affected by French Moult:

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