Here is an overview of molting and how to help your Eclectus during a molt.
AGE OF FIRST MOLT
Eclectus usually start their first molt around the age of seven months, but perfectly normal birds of this species begin their first molt both earlier and later. If a bird is healthy, the age at which the first molt begins is nothing to worry about.
ECLECTUS MOLTING PATTERNS
Generally speaking, Eclectus lose and re-grow new feathers continually throughout the year. The smaller feathers of the head, neck and body are molted earlier, but the large flight feathers of the wings and tail are not molted until the age of twelve to eighteen months. Thereafter, the large tail and wing feathers are molted symmetrically over a period of months during two heavier seasonal molts. Unless they are accidentally lost, each wing and tail feather is replaced only once yearly. We might see some variation in molting times and patterns as the molting cycle appears to be influenced by environmental factors, particularly light.
Birds are programmed by nature never to lose so many feathers at the same time that their ability to fly is compromised. Flight capability can mean the difference in life and death for Eclectus in the wild. A primary feather lost on one wing will be matched by the loss of the same feather on the other wing within a few days. This keeps their wings aerodynamically sound. Often birds molt almost imperceptibly -- dropping feathers gradually until one day, you suddenly notice that the bird looks brand new.
Post-molt feathers are stronger than the original baby feathers, perhaps because the baby feathers must be flexible to accommodate conditions in the nest. Also, young birds are clumsy and as they learn to climb and fly, the feathers take quite a beating. Because neonatal feathers are soft and flexible, they don't break as often as one might expect.
It is normal for the feathers of a molting bird to show several different shades of color since the bird has old dull feathers, new bright feathers, and gray down feathers showing through all at the same time. You will be able to see lots of pin feathers when the molting bird is wet, and once all of them have grown in and opened, the bird will be evenly colored again.
THE "MOJO" MOLT
There is a little-known molting pattern that we call the "Mojo molt", named for Lynn Oliver's male Eclectus, Mojo, who was the first Eclectus that we observed with facial and neck balding during the molt. In this pattern, Eclectus experience varying degrees of baldness of the face, head and neck area when molting. The majority of Eclectus molts do not include balding, but new owners need to be aware of this pattern to prevent worry. We have compared dietary information of birds that occasionally molt in this pattern and found no correlation between diet and the Mojo molt.
DIET FOR MOLTING BIRDS
Since molting can be stressful and uncomfortable, some birds experience a decrease in appetite. However, an increase in metabolism to accommodate the production of several thousand new feathers can cause an increase in appetite. Whether they lose their appetite or eat more during the molt probably depends on their comfort level. Molting birds benefit from more quality protein in the diet which can be provided in the form of well done eggs, well cooked meats and seafood, as well as cooked beans and rice, which together form a complete protein. Nuts provide additional protein and the good fats needed to create strong and lustrous feathers. This is a good time to grind and sprinkle flax seeds over the birds' food. Hemp seeds also provide beneficial oils and the essential fatty acids (EFAs) necessary to produce quality feathers.
BATHING DURING THE MOLT
Bathing is especially important during molting when birds sometimes feel itchy and uncomfortable as the new pin feathers break through the skin. Keeping the skin and feathers hydrated is helpful and Aloe Vera spray from distilled aloe without additives helps to hydrate skin and feathers and prevent itching. A daily soaking bath is helpful along with spritzes of water or aloe spray between baths. It is easier to see new pin feathers emerging if you first wet down the feathers so check for new feather growth is after a soaking bath.
REST AND SLEEP
Make sure that molting birds get lots of rest. Cover the cage for ten to twelve hours at night and if the cage is in a noisy area, provide a smaller sleeping cage in a quiet room. Molting birds sometimes are uncomfortable while being handled because of multiple pin feathers breaking through the skin, so handle with care.
THE OVERDUE MOLT
Parrots in the wild experience seasonal fluctuations in temperature and light which signals the onset of molts. In captivity, we have relatively constant light levels, photo periods (hours of light), and temperature. One of the main reason for the delayed molt of indoor birds is the low level of light which actually describes most indoor lighting. To encourage an overdue molt, increase the level of light and the length of the photo-period. Increase the temperature, provide daily baths, enrich the diet and minimize stress.