Many bird keepers report problems with molting birds. Birds get “stuck in the molt,” molt slowly or produce poor quality feathers. Research carried out at the Institute of Animal Nutrition at the Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine shed some light on the nutritional requirements of molting cage birds.
How Long Does Molting Last?
The molt usually starts in early summer and may last 12 weeks. During the molt, offer more protein and avoid unnecessary stress. The molt is hard on their system as they will begin to replace some 1,000 feathers!
For a more detailed explanation of the molt and what to look for, please read “Common Canary Breeding Problems, Concerns and Care“.
Bird Molting Symptoms
Once a year, usually in the hot summer, all canaries will begin to lose their feathers. Not only will they not feel up to singing, but they will act sleepy and tired during this very taxing process. The soft molt can occur at any time during the year. The bird will shed body feathers, not wing or tail feathers.
Research on Bird Molting (Canaries)
The researchers compared the molting performance of canaries by dividing them into three groups and feeding them differently.
- Group 1 was fed on An un-supplemented seed diet
- Group 2 was fed on Seed plus a molting supplement high in calcium and sodium
- Group 3 was fed on Seed plus a molting supplement high in calcium, sodium, zinc, and sulfur-containing amino acids.
The supplements used were ones that were already on the market in Germany. So that they could get as full a picture as possible of any effect these diets may have on molting, the researchers looked at three different features of the molt:
- The time from individual feather loss to the first appearance of the new
feather (turnover time).
- The growth rate of the new feather.
- The time from the onset of the molt (shedding feathers) to the completion of the molt.
Interestingly the results did not find that the supplements made any difference to either of the first two features – the turnover time or the feather growth rate. But the birds on no supplement or on the second diet with a mineral only supplement were much more reluctant to start the molt, and they took longer to go through the molt as they shed fewer feathers at any one time. It seems that the birds fed the sulfur-containing amino acid supplement were far quicker to go into the molt. They dropped more feathers more quickly, and so we’re able to go through the molt faster.
There is a simple explanation for this. Feathers are mostly made of protein, and the proteins in feathers contain larger quantities of sulfur-containing amino acids than the protein in other parts of the body.
Seed-based diets are particularly low in these critical amino acids. Since mineral only supplements do not compensate for this shortage, they did not prove adequate to promote a fast, successful molt.
As far as buying suitable products, Amazon stocks a line of specialized molting supplement called Feather Fast. Not surprisingly it contains sulfur-containing amino acids along with a well-balanced total protein source, vitamins and macro, and trace minerals which provide a broad spectrum of nutrients necessary to produce vibrant, brightly colored, healthy feathers in all birds. Feather-Fast should be used in conjunction with Zoo Med Avian Calcium to ensure adequate supplies of a highly available form of calcium.
The following photos are of a Blue Lady Gouldian cock that I obtained, he was in desperate need of attention I obtained him in April of 2016 and that is when the first photo was taken, the second photo was taken the first week of July 2016. Notice the difference after 3 months on Feather-Fast and the complete diet of Gold Label Feast and Volkman Avian Science Super Canary Bird Seed