Share bird photographs or fascinating facts.

An Amazingly Detailed Explanation of Molting in Birds

Molting in Birds Explained
Molting is a phase where birds shed their feathers at a specific time of the year. This BirdEden post explains molting, and the behavior of birds during this phase in detail.
Malvika Kulur
Last Updated: Jul 16, 2017
Did You Know?
Forced molting occurs in birds when they do not get all the nutrients they require from their food.
The molting process of eagles is quite a fascinating and inspiring story, and those that survive the molting process are said to grow stronger than what they were in their youth. The reason why eagles molt late in their life is because, over time, their wings become heavy with dirt and oil, beaks and talons start to break, and their eyesight becomes weak. For these graceful predators, molting is a way of rejuvenating all their appendages so that they can lead a longer life.

When eagles become old, their feathers, beak, and claws start withering. They need to transform themselves so that they can live longer. Therefore, they undergo molting, and to be safe from predators, they choose a secure valley to start this process. They pluck out their wings, break off their beak by smashing it on a rock, and rub off their talons so that they are completely removed from their claws. Now, the main question is how does the eagle survive this process? Many eagles die during molting, due to the pain. As eagles cannot hunt during this time, they are dependent on their brothers and sisters, for food. Researchers believe that the eagles that survive this gruesome transformation, emerge stronger, fitter, and sharper than before. Eagles are not the only birds that molt; in fact, penguins, chicken, shrikes, etc., also molt. Explained in this BirdEden article is the cycle and behavior of birds during molting.
Molting Process
Cardinal with molting head
Molting is a natural process for all birds. During this process, they shed their plumage partially or completely, to grow back a new set. As we know, feathers are like human nails and hair, but with birds, they are dead appendages, that do not grow, once they reach their full size, and cannot be repaired when damaged. Therefore, feathers have to be completely replaced. Birds go through molting when they are ill, stressed, experiencing hormonal changes, getting ready for mating, going through seasonal changes, and even during the transition to maturity.
Molting pelicans
During the molting process, the feathers are either plucked out by the bird, or they fall off naturally from the feather follicle. In the wild, birds shed their feathers so as to acclimatize to change in temperature, and also to prepare themselves for the breeding season. Most birds shed their feathers gradually, but some species like pelicans, auks, ducks, swans, and grebes, shed their plumage completely, before growing new feathers. Primarily, there are two types of molting; complete and partial. In complete molting, all the feathers are replaced, while in partial molting, only some are replaced. The amount of feathers that are shed always varies.
Apart from seasonal molting and breeding-related molting, birds undergo this process even when they are unwell, lack nutrition, live in an environment that is not suitable for them, etc. In pet birds, the most common cause for irregular or too much molting is humidity, uneven sunlight, and PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease). If feathers are loose and falling out even after the molting process is over, taking the bird to the veterinary doctor is advisable.
Molting Chicken
The molting patterns and behavior are different for birds in captivity and in the wild. For example, mature chickens molt once a year, but this is completely dependent on the laying pattern of the bird. The molting process usually ends before the egg production starts. Other birds just shed some feathers to get newer, brighter ones just before mating season.
Other Symptoms During Molting
There are different molting cycles experienced by birds. Some birds experience one complete molt per year, some experience two complete molts, while others experience a pre-nuptial partial molt once a year. Some of the symptoms that can be noticed when a bird is going through the molting process are as follows:
Pet Birds
Molting Parrot
Parrot - Pet Bird
◆ Weight loss
◆ Inactivity
◆ Mood swings and grouchiness
◆ Bleeding in pin feathers if pulled by the bird
◆ Ruffled look
Wild Birds
Molting Peacock
Peacock - Wild Bird
◆ Settlement in a secluded area
◆ Dependence on other birds for food
◆ Uneven appearance
Shedding is a natural process, and all birds go through it. If you have a pet bird that is undergoing molting, remember to feed it a nutritious meal, rich in proteins and minerals. Do not attempt to pull out its feathers, as it might damage the feather follicle.