Juliet has owned parrots for over 20 years. She currently has two cockatiels—Rascal and Coconut—who both have big personalities.
How to Identify a Blood Feather (Pin Feather)
When birds are growing new feathers, blood runs through the shaft of the feather. The shaft of the feather is like a tube, and when the feather is growing, blood runs through that tube all the way down the length of the shaft, providing nutrients that nourish the feather and help it grow. They're quite easy to identify because you'll actually be able to see the blood in the shaft of the feather. Blood feathers are also known as pin feathers, and all birds have them.
When the feather is fully grown and mature, blood no longer goes through it and the follicle closes. So then it's okay if the feather breaks or falls out or whatnot because it's not going to bleed, it's not going to be an issue. But when the feather is a new feather, a baby feather, it's growing and needs that nourishment, which is what the blood provides as it flows through the shaft of the feather.
What Causes Broken Blood Feathers?
Broken blood feathers quite often occur in the tail of the bird and the wing of the bird due to trauma—maybe the bird fell, bumped his wing too hard, or hit his wing somehow when he was flying. That can cause the feather to break and start to bleed.
What to Do If a Parrot Is Bleeding
Before rushing your bird to the vet, make sure you try to clot and reduce the bleeding as much as possible at home so that you're not wasting time and the bird is not bleeding as you're driving to the vet.
Put cornstarch, septic powder, or septic gel onto a square of sterile gauze and just put pressure on the bleeding area for several seconds. That should help it clot and hopefully subside the bleeding a bit. And then you can take the bird to the vet, and the vet can remove the broken blood feather or deal with it.
Don't Try to Remove a Broken Blood Feather at Home
The reason why you do not want to try and remove a blood feather yourself—unless you're very experienced—is because some blood feathers are actually growing from bone. There have been well-intended people who accidentally broke their bird's wing by removing the blood feather; since it was attached to the bone, pulling it out improperly actually broke the wing.
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Attempting to remove a blood feather at home can also cause it to break, and then the whole feather cannot be removed. That means the skin follicle is not going to close and that teeny bit of the shaft still stuck in there is going to bleed like a faucet, which is really dangerous for the bird.
How Do Vets Remove Broken Blood Feathers?
The vet would first secure the bird in a towel and then use tweezers if it's a small bird or needle-nosed pliers or a hemostat for larger birds. The vet is going to then take the tweezers, apply very firm pressure on the wing (securing the joint), get as close as possible to the skin follicle, and then pull firmly and quickly to really remove the feather.
Immediately after removing the feather, the vet is going to take a sterile gauze with cornstarch, septic powder, or septic gel and apply pressure to help seal the follicle so it stops bleeding.
Removing broken blood feathers is always best done with two people so that one person can hold the bird in a towel and secure it and then the other person is able to remove the feather.
Do Broken Blood Feathers Hurt?
Yes, if you aren't careful. The reason the vet pulls the feather out very quickly is that pulling very slowly can cause the bird a lot of unnecessary pain if the feather is inside the bone.
What Does a Broken Blood Feather Look Like?
The one good thing about blood feathers is that broken ones are quite easy to identify because you'll be able to see the blood in the shaft of the feather, and you'll see blood actually coming out of it. So it'll be quite obvious if your bird has a broken blood feather.
So that's one good thing about broken blood feathers—they're easy to identify, and then you can rectify the problem as quickly as possible because broken blood feathers are a true emergency and they must be dealt with as such. You don't want to delay treatment, you want to get to it as quickly as possible. Your bird can really lose a lot of blood through a broken blood feather.
Will a Broken Blood Feather Heal on Its Own?
So what happens when you're at home and you notice a broken blood feather too late (i.e., when the bleeding has already stopped)? Can you just leave it be? No.
Leaving that broken feather as is means it is now far more prone to start bleeding again if the bird bumps himself or hits himself the wrong way. So it's always better to err on the side of caution and take your bird to the vet. The vet can better assess if it's at the point where it's safe to leave the feather in there, or if it's better to just remove it. It's better to be safe than sorry.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Juliet Csaky