Blood Feathers in Birds

Feathers on a bird are equivalent or analogous to hair on a mammal. Each feather arises from a feather follicle in the skin. These areas are arranged over the body in specific patterns or tracts; these are called pterylae. There are also areas of the bird's body that do not have feathers; these are called apterylae.

What is a blood or pin feather?

When a feather is pulled out or falls out during a normal moult (a normal loss of feathers), a new feather is stimulated to start growing right away. As the new feather, also called a pin or blood feather, emerges from the skin’s feather follicle, it looks like a spike, quill or much like the feather shaft itself. This new feather has a blood supply flowing through it and is encased by a keratin (type of protein) coating or feather sheath. The base, where the feather is developing and being nourished by blood, is a dark blue color. On smaller feathers such as those around the head, the base may be a red or pink color. Some pin feathers may be sensitive, and birds may not enjoy being handled while moulting.

"Some birds love to have a "preening buddy"...help remove the sheath from the mature part of the feather."

As the feather continues to grow, the tip will mature first as the blood recedes back down into the follicle. The bird will gradually preen off the keratin feather sheath from the maturing feather tip and the newly formed feather will emerge. Some birds love to have a "preening buddy" (perhaps you or another bird) gently roll the tip of the feather as it matures, to help remove the sheath from the mature part of the feather. Once a feather is fully-grown, the blood supply is lost and the feather is simply a dead unit in the skin.

What do I do if a pin feather gets damaged or bleeds?

If a pin feather is damaged, a bird may bleed heavily. The bleeding may stop on its own, but if there is a constant drip of fresh blood, contact an avian veterinarian ASAP. Since a large amount of blood can potentially be lost over a short period of time, immediate action is necessary. To help stop the bleeding, you can apply styptic powder, corn starch or flour to the damaged end of the feather. If the bleeding does not stop within 3-5 minutes seek help from an avian veterinarian. It is not recommended to pull the blood feather at home. The veterinarian may select to pull the damaged or broken blood feather, but this is usually done as a last resort. Pulling a blood feather is a painful process and the feather follicle may incur permanent damage during the process. Pain medications are recommended if the blood feather has to be pulled. Intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary if a substantial amount of blood has been lost.

"To help stop the bleeding, you can apply styptic powder, corn starch or flour to the damaged end of the feather."

Once a feather is pulled or removed, a new blood feather will form and the new feather maturation process will take 4-6 weeks.

To find an avian veterinarian in your area, go to www.aav.org and select Find a Vet at the top of the page.

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