How special are birds? Very! They are the only creatures with feathers!
Feathers allow the miracle of flight, and protect and insulate. In many species, feathers attract the opposite sex, and something about feathers might attract particular humans to a particular bird as well. For hundreds upon hundreds of years, the beauty of feathers have so appealed to humans, they have used them on clothing, hats, in their hair, dangled them from their ears, as well as used them for ceremonial purposes.
Down and semi plumes are the closest to your Quaker's body. They insulate the body and provide a cushion for the contour feathers, which is why they are so fluffy.
Bristle feathers are very stiff. Insect eating birds have bristle feathers around their mouths, which act as funnels for the meal. Our Quakers have bristle feathers around their eyes, which work very much like teeny, tiny eyelashes. Bristle feathers are also found around the nares and on the head.
Contour feathers are the feathers we all are most familar with visually. Contour feathers cover the wings, the body, and tail. They are also referred to as coverts, (covering the wings, head and body), remiges, (primary and secondary flight feathers), and retrices, ( tail flight feathers).
Above left, we have a simple contour feather in which we can see the outter visible parts of a feather. Let's take a peek at the not so obvious. What are all those barbs, and barbules, and barbicels? If you look at the illustration at the right and locate a barb, you'll see it has lots of hook-like branches. These are the barbules, and the barbules are what hold the feather together. If your Quaker is preening correctly, the feather will function correctly, look attractive, and remain strong.
When your Quaker preens, he or she is "zipping" the barbules into their proper place. If you listen closely, you can actually hear the "zipping" sound.
You are new Quaker owner. You uncover your bird's cage. You say, "Good Morning!" and then..... you stand back, agast! There are feathers all over the cage! What has happened to your baby?
Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Your Quaker is molting.
Molting is a natural and necessary occurrence for birds to replace old, and/or damaged feathers with new ones. That's it! Nothing scary! A little messy perhaps, but perfectly normal. Generally, birds molt once ot twice a year at about the same time each year. Quakers generally begin their very first molt at around 9 to 10 months of age.
Birds are equipped with feathers for flight. Parrots will only molt out several feathers at a time so that flight is not inhibited, whether we trim our Quaker's wings or not. Because birds will only molt several fethers at a time, the molting process can last for several months. Not every feather will be replaced in each molt, but molting will occur in regular patterns over a bird's body.
The easiest way to know if your bird is molting, is to check for the appearance of pin feathers. Pin feathers, also called blood feathers, will emerge encased in a sheath called a quill. The quill is whitish in color, with a plastic-like appearance. The quill will contain a blood vein. As the feather grows inside of the quill, the blood vein retracts, the quill flakes off and disintegrates. To learn more about pin and blood feathers and how to identify them, visit BLOOD FEATHERS in the QUICK PICK MENU.
If you have a pair of Quakers, or, your Quaker has another bird "friend", they will preen each other to remove the old sheaths. Owners can preen the new feathers in the places that their Quaker can't reach, such as their head and neck area. Before you preen your bird's new pin feathers, check for blood feathers. Blood feathers are sensitive and your bird will let you know if you accidently try to preen one of them! When helping your Quaker preen those hard to reach feathers, gently roll the quill between your fingers to remove the sheath. The sheath should fall off easily, and your feathered friend will thank you!
You may notice your bird scratching more often while molting. While birds are molting, they benefit from extra moisture to prevent feather sheaths from becoming dry and hard. Bathe or spray your Quaker daily with plain warm water. This will also help relieve itchiness he/she may experience during a molt.
Feathers are comprised primarily of protein. The addition of protein before and during a molt may be beneficial in promoting new healthy plumage. Check with your avian vet about your Quaker's diet and if the addition of extra protein or other supplements may be needed during a molt. Never self medicate or suppliment. Too much protein or over the counter supplements can be as harmful as too little. A well balanced formualted avian diet may contain all your Quaker's needs
THINGS TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHEN YOUR QUAKER IS MOLTING
While moltng is natural, it is not natural for a bird to have bare or bald spots during a molting Bald or bare spots should be examined by an avian vet, to rule out any underlying skin ailments, or plucking.
Some birds may exhibit a few behavioral changes during a molt. Sensitive, new feathers can be painful to the touch. Itchiness caused from the flaking feather sheaths, may make your quaker a little uncomfortable or moody.
Always examine your bird's new feathers during molting. Looking for any signs of abnormal feathers. Abnormal feathering can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. If you suspect abnormal feathing, you'll want them examined by your avian vet.
After a molt, check your Quaker's flight feathers to see if a wing clipping is needed. Wing clipping should be performed after the completion of the molt, if needed. To learn more about wing clipping, please visit WINGS
If you are a member of the Quaker Parakeet Discussion List, you know that wing trimming is always a "hot topic" of discussion. Some Quaker owners prefer never to clip trim their Quaker's wings, keeping their bird "free flighted", while others prefer to trim. Whether you decide to trim your Quaker's wings or not, many aviculturists prefer that young birds learn to fly prior to their first wing clip.
Weaning birds should develop takeoff and landing skills. This helps them develop balance, grace, agility, and confidence. Once weaned, the Quaker owner must decide if wing trimming is an appropriate action to take for them, and for their bird.
THE PROS AND CONS
The decision to trim your bird's flight feathers must be a completely thought out and responsible one.
For safety reasons, not all households are appropriately set up to accomodate a free flighted bird. Cooking areas, heating units, windows, tops of doors, (often a favorite perching spot for a flighted bird), open toilet seats, filled sinks, and homes where there are people frequently coming and going, can prove dangerous to your bird, and, can result in the loss of your bird.
Birds with trimmed wings should be exercised frequently as an alternatate excersise to flying. Quakers are proving to be prone to diseases of the liver. Excercise, along with appropriate diet can help ward off many of the liver diseases.
The bird with trimmed wings must rely on the owner as a means of transport. Handling is, in many cases, made easier when wings are trimmed.
Even trimmed birds retain limited flying ability. When taking your bird out of cage and particularly, out of doors, the same precautions should be taken to secure your bird from predators, sudden breezes, and sudden frights, which might cause the bird to become airborne.
SOME TRIMMING TIPS
Just as with nail trimming, wing trimming should be preformed by a professional, such as an experienced avian vet or experienced avian groomer. Your avian vet or experienced groomer may be willing to teach you how to preform an appropriate wing trim. It does take practice, confidence, understanding of the make up of the avian wing, and requires the appropriate tools.
When a wing trim is properly performed, a bird should not be able to be able to gain altitutide, but should be able to glide gracefully to the ground. The wing should still be aesthetically pleasing in appearance.
While wing clipping is meant only to eliminate the possibility of upward flight, a trimmed bird may still retain some ability to fly horizontally, and may even gain lift in the wind. Again, it is advised that birds should not be taken outside unless confined to a carrier or cage.
After the four primaries are cut on each wing, the bird should be tested indoors, over a carpeted area, to see if more feathers should be removed. Additional trimming should be based on the bird's ability to gain lift or fly horizontally. It is best to clip conservatively and remove additional feathers as needed. Ask the professional to show you how a bird should land after a wing clip.
Clippers, not scissors, are the tool recommended to use when trimming feathers. If a bird flaps its wings while the feathers are being trimmed, scissor points can puncture or lacerate skin. It is also more difficult to accurately snip the feather at the correct location using scissors, as scissors can slide up and down the feather shaft. Note the notch in the clippers pictured at left. The feather fits into the notch, allowing each feather to be isolated, secured and trimmed accurately, without causing damage to the feathers on either side of the one being clipped.
After the four primaries are cut on each wing, the bird should be tested indoors, over a carpeted area, to see if more feathers should be removed. Additional trimming should be based on the bird's ability to gain lift or fly horizontally. It is best to clip conservatively and remove additional feathers as needed. The owner can be shown how a bird should land after a wing clip. The individual bird's ability to fly will vary.
Most avian veterinarians and aviculturists agree that both wings should be symmetrically trimmed. An asymmetrically clipped bird will spiral and lose its balance.
It should never be necessary to cut into the secondary feathers (those past the bend of the wing). In addition to cutting too many feathers, resulting in a bird that can no longer glide gently to the ground, this type of trim will predictably leave the sharp cut feather shafts, which can prove pointy and irritating to the bird. Birds that have been clipped in this fashion will often chew on the sharp, stiff cut shaft, in an attempt to soften the irratating point. If the cut shaft has been chewed on, it will have a a star-like appearance, looking as if the cut tip has "exploded." This indicates that the bird is being bothered by the trim. With an appropriate trim, nothing should be sticking out to cause aggravation to the bird.
A bird should be retrimmed when two feathers have grown back in where they have been clipped, or when an owner notices that a bird can glide horizontally for some distance.
TOWELING & FLIPPING
Have you toweled you bird, or "flipped" your bird today? No? Well, today is a good day to start! Practiced toweling and flipping your Quaker over so that he/she can lie securely and comfortably in your hand during grooming and/ or vet visits relieves much of the stress associated with vet vistits and grooming.
Current avian vet practice is leaning toward not pulling wing feathers. Wing feathers must be removed at the right angle, in line with the direction of growth. Even if removed correctly, there is danger of the new feather becoming incysted as it tries to emerge from beneath the skin. Sometimes, the follicle can become damaged, and a new feather cannot grow as a result.
Pulling tail feathers is not as difficult, but current thought is not to pull a bleeding tail feather unless it doesn't stop bleeding.
When you see the words "blood feathers" for the first time, they can be a little scary. Blood feathers are simply developing feathers that still have a blood supply to the shaft. You can spot them by the dark, bluish/purple quill, shaped like a thick tube, as opposed to the white or clear shaft of a mature feather. Usually, they will be shorter than surrounding feathers and won't look as mature. Blood feathers contain an artery and a vein with a circulating supply of blood running through the quill. As a feather grows, the blood recedes.
Blood feathers are located on different areas of a bird's body, depending on what molting stage the bird is in. Baby birds growing their first set of feathers have all their blood feathers at one time, and they will look like little pin cushions.
When you clip your bird's wings, or have a professional avian groomer or avian vet clip your birdï¿½s wings, make sure each quill is examined to identify each shaft as not being a blood feather before clipping is begun. This way, the chance of accidentally clipping a broken blood feather is minimized.
Blood feathers are usually tender and sore. Birds with blood feathers should be handled gently. If a blood feather is broken, bent or accidentally cut, it allows the blood to flow through the open shaft, and can it bleed profusely, causing the blood feathers to become dangerous. Pulling the broken blood feather is the only permanent way to stop bleeding caused by the broken blood feather, but, avian vets are curently leaning toward not pulling blood feathers.
As a rule, QPS advises Quaker owners to consult or visit their avian vet in all cases of emergency, a yearly well bird check up, and for grooming. When a blood feather has been damaged, the amount of visible blood can be alarming to the owner. It may be necessary for an owner to remove a damaged and bleeding blood feather themselves.
If it is necessary for an owner to pull a blood feather, it is easier if you have another person to assist you; one person to hold the bird in a towel and one to pull the blood feather out. Use needle nose pliers or a hemostat. Tweezers will not work.
Gently extend the wing and support it so no damage is done to delicate bones. Grasp the feather at the base, closest to the skin. One firm, smooth pull is all that is needed. Yanking willing hurt the bird and cause more damage than good. If pulled smoothly, the feather should come out of the follicle easily.
After the feather has been removed, apply a coagulant sparingly. Your thumb and index finger can be used to add pressure to the area for a few minutes to help stop follicle bleeding. The area will be sore. If you have Clotisol supplied from your vet, it can be applied. Cornstarch is recommended as well. Both will sting less than septic powders.
Quaker owners should examine their birds daily for things like blood feathers and any signs of feather change, or anything that might indicate a change in health. It is important to accustom your bird to being comfortable with a physical examination, not just for immediate examination, put to eliminate some of the stress that occurs in an emergency situation.
Blood feathers are completely normal. While not the primary cause of blood feather breakage, improper wing clipping can be a contributing cause of frequent blood feather damage. QPS does advise that you have your Quakers wings trimmed professionally with a conservative clip so that blood feathers may be protected adequately, be aware of any blood feathers your bird might have, and ensure that the cage your bird is housed in is roomy enough not to contribute to blood feather breakage.