If you have a bird, chances are you have already experienced a blood feather fiasco. Blood feathers are a natural part of bird molting and most of the time are no big deal. It is when these blood feathers are cracked or damaged that they become dangerous and a cause for concern. Understanding what they are is the first step to understanding how to fix a damage.
In reality, all feathers begin as blood feathers. When a feather is forming from a follicle, there is a central vein within it that brings nutrients to the growing feather. As the feather forms, the vein recedes and eventually leaves the feather. A feather with a vein has a dark purple look to the shaft, while a fully-formed feather will have a clear, almost straw-like shaft. If a normal feather is broken, it will simply fall off and cause no physical pain or damage. However, blood feathers can be very sensitive and sore to the touch. If the shaft of the blood feather is cracked or damaged from a fall or from the bird flapping its wings too vigorously against its cage bars/perch, then the vein is exposed and you risk dangerous blood loss.
What may not seem like much blood loss to us can be life
threatening to a bird. This is why is it important to stop the bleeding
as quickly as possible. For all blood feathers, the first step should be
clotting the blood. This can be done using simple cornstarch (if you
have it handy) or with products like Quick Stop Styptic Powder.
Cornstarch will work eventually, but the styptic powder works much faster and can reduce the trauma for both you and the bird. If the break is severe and the bird is losing a lot of blood, the feather will need to be pulled out from the base to cut off the blood supply to the vein. This is done by using a pair of needle-nosed pliers or hemostats to firmly grasp the feather at its base, close to the body, and swiftly tug it out in the direction the feather was already growing. This is a two person job, as one person should be holding the bird to restrain the bird and try to keep limit the amount of stress. The second person will be the one pulling the feather, and this person needs to have a steady, confident hand. If the feather is not grasped properly, the tugging may just cause extra pain without actually removing the feather. The key here is confidence. After the feather is pulled, styptic powder should be applied to the area where the feather was removed to stop any residual bleeding. In a perfect scenario, the entire process of identifying the blood feather and pulling it out can take just 30 seconds. If you are not confident in your ability to pull the blood feather, you should keep Quick Stop on hand at all times so that you may stop the bleeding enough to get to your veterinarian.
Broken blood feathers are a stressful scenario for everyone involved. If your bird seems especially shaken by the experience or has lost a significant amount of blood, give them a warm heat light for the day. The trauma can weaken their immune system and make them prone to catching cold, especially in the cooler months of the year. Extra food and treats such as millet are also recommended. Keep an eye on your bird for the next day or two or until normal activity levels are resumed.
*** This guide is a recommendation only, and should not replace the recommendation of your veterinarian. If you feel at any point like things
are not "going according to plan", please call your veterinarian. ***