I just received an email requesting me to write an essay on blood feathers since many birds are molting right now and this individual had to pluck one on their grey. Then I received a call from a customer asking whether I could clip the one new feather that had grown in on each wing of her cockatiel, enabling him to fly. She was unfamiliar with blood feathers and might have easily sliced into one if we hadn’t spoken. So it seems wise and opportune to start learning some fundamental anatomy!
First, what exactly is a blood feather? Simply said, it’s a fresh, developing feather with a living blood supply. Because the blood is still feeding the feather, the shaft of the quill will seem dark – maroon or almost blackish – rather than the normal white or transparent appearance of a completely fledged feather. When the feather has fully developed, the blood vessels shrivel and dry up since they are no longer required by the fully formed feather. Blood feathers are often seen on the wings and tails of birds such as cockatoos, as well as on their crests.
Blood feathers are quite natural; the trouble arises when they are damaged or shattered. That’s one of the reasons I recommend having wing (and nail) trims done by a professional groomer. Cutting a blood feather on a wing may result in severe bleeding that may be hard to stop, necessitating the removal of the feather so the bird does not bleed to death! That’s what the forceps or hemostats indicated in my recent First Aid post in the first aid kit were for! In a pinch, needle nose pliers will suffice.
NEVER use styptic powder to stop bleeding on soft tissue; nevertheless, if the cut is tiny and light, corn starch may occasionally coagulate it adequately.
Some birds, notably lutino mutations of several species, particularly cockatiels and ringnecks, are simply prone to breaking blood feathers. Blood feathers are more likely to break in agitated birds that thrash about a lot. Another reason to offer a spacious cage for your bird – one that is too tiny or congested makes it simpler for a bird to break a feather. Knowing your bird’s routines and quirks might help you avoid difficulties. Remember to carefully examine all birds on a regular basis; even a fast once over in the morning and evening may help you spot an issue early. Feather pluckers often nibble through blood feathers, however they normally congeal and cease bleeding on their own in my experience. Even so, seeing blood drips on the cage sheets in the morning might be disturbing!
Regarding wing cutting, leave a feather on either side of a blood feather on the long side to support it to preserve incoming blood feathers. Also, never clip up into the wing coverts or blood feathers will be exposed and more likely to break.
Locate the break, then hold the feather with hemostats just above the break and pull firmly and swiftly in the direction of growth. Naturally, the bird must be confined, ideally with a towel. The bleeding should cease after the feather is removed. If not, a part of the shaft may still be present. If this occurs and it is broken below the skin’s level, you will most likely need to see a veterinarian. Because a lot of blood might be lost before going to the vet’s clinic, apply pressure and corn starch.
Pulling a blood feather is very painful for a bird, therefore do not do it unless absolutely essential. It’s also something you should go into with confidence. If you are unsure, consult a specialist. Leaving a massively leaking feather alone in the hope that it would stop bleeding on its own will kill your bird!
So, as new feathers appear, keep a close eye on your bird. Provide a nightlight for cockatiels and other birds that are susceptible to “night frights.” Use a reputable professional groomer. Keep the cage from becoming overcrowded. Keep your first-aid kit and the phone number for the veterinarian on hand just in case!
P.S. The ONLY feathers that should ever be plucked are broken blood feathers. Pulling feathers to encourage new growth or for aesthetic reasons is something I strongly oppose – anybody who proposes it should be challenged!
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