Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Curious Case of Shedding Feathers

The very next day after I brought this new Border home from the National in Kansas City mid-November, I found small feathers scattered all over the cage floor. Not just a couple but hundreds!

When finding small feathers on the cage floor, several possibilities need to be considered.

1. This time of year, hens lose their breast feathers making a bare brood patch so that their skin touches the eggs while the set on them.

When a bird experiences a change in diet, if the new diet is more stimulating, the birds will rapidly come into breeding condition. Usually this takes about two weeks. Since this was immediate, I ruled out coming into breeding condition. Furthermore, my impression is this is a cock and not a hen even though "he" was not singing!!

2. A second possibility is that the bird is in a soft molt. Exposure to inconsistent day length and warm temperatures may cause birds to get stuck losing small feathers. I have seen this with birds coming out of import and occasionally with birds coming home from a bird show.

Unlike a normal molt where first the birds drop long flight feathers about a month before losing small feathers, soft molting birds do not lose their long flight feathers.

Novice breeders sometimes get excited and fear their birds are in a soft molt when actually it is the normal process where hens lose their breast feathers.

Birds in a soft molt have loose feathers where birds in breeding condition have tight feathers. This bird has loose feathers and no singing so soft molt is more likely than coming into breeding condition.

3. The third possibility is the bird is stuck in a normal molt and that it lost its flight feathers about a month before I got it.

Birds that are in soft molt are in poor condition and the cocks especially lose their confirmation noted by loss of roundness in the back and hen, loss of confirmation also occurs when the cocks come into breeding condition but the difference is that breeding condition brings tight feather and breeding behaviors such as singing where either soft molt or normal molt often results in no singing and some degree of loose feathers and loss of confirmation.

This bird at the top of this post shows poor confirmation and loose feathers.


Being unsure of whether I was dealing with a soft molt or finishing a normal molt, I immediately, started the bird on liquid B vitamins. As excess B vitamins are excreted, I just pour some in the water till it is obvious and make that the only water available.

The very next day, no more small feathers were found on the floor. Usually in soft molt, it is necessary to also drop proteins and push high carb foods such as oatmeal. And typically the response would take a few days or longer.

It has been about six weeks now and look how the back is rising and head is rounding! The bird is coming into condition!! Even heard a little singing this morning!

Looking down on the head, it is totally full of pen feathers, typical of finishing a normal molt. Can't wait to see this birds head once it finishes its normal molt.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas and Wishing you the Best in 2012!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


That was a good article friend of mine was having the same problem.