Broken blood feathers in adult birds
The molt is the natural process of renewing the plumage. So while a bird is molting, the worn feathers drop out. Like human hair, fully grown feathers are not supplied with blood. Therefore no bleedings occur during the molt. In contrast, the situation is different for emerging feathers. If an old feather has dropped off, a new feather grows in its place. It evolves from a feather bud which is very well supplied with blood. It is located in the skin. When it grows, the first visible thing is a small, pen-shaped structure that pushes through the skin. At this stage, the young feathers are in compact sheaths and they push out from the bottom up, unfolding the soft components of the feather as time goes on. For the feather to grow, there are tiny blood vessels (one artery and one vein) at its base inside. The blood transports nutrients and other vital substances to the developing feather, which are needed by the body while building the horn substance that makes up the feathers.
This means that blood supply is essential for feather growth. So as long as a feather is not fully grown, it is supplied with blood. That’s why evolving feathers have a special name: They are referred to as blood feathers. When a feather is finally fully grown, its lower shaft is hollow and no longer filled with blood vessels. As soon as they are no longer needed for supplying the feather with nutrients, they regress.
Injuries may occur while feathers evolve, for example in case the blood feathers are exposed to mechanical strain. If a blood feather is damaged or torn out, the affected bird will bleed. The intensity of the bleeding will depend on the size of the blood feather. For example, injured blood feathers located on a bird’s wing bleed considerably more than small blood feathers on their head.
When several large blood feathers are injured at the same time, the blood loss can be quite high. But in general, this kind of bleeding is not fatal for a bird, but it does put a strain on the body. Therefore, you should treat molting birds with caution. To prevent blood feathers to break, the birds shouldn’t be chased or caught roughly with your hands.
But unfortunately, despite all caution, an injury of a blood feather can occur at any time since birds can cause these accidents themselves. As a bird owner, you have to act fast in many cases. If a blood feather breaks off and a part of the injured feather remains in the skin, it must be pulled out as soon as possible by an experienced person like an avian vet. This is because broken blood feathers tend to keep bleeding over and over, even if temporary crusts form in between. These crusts easily crack and the bleeding starts again. You can prevent this by pulling an injured blood feather or its fragment from the bird’s skin. If this is done in a controlled manner by an experienced person, there will be just a very small wound that will stop bleeding soon.
On the internet, several people claim that a blood feather can be drawn by the bird owner himself/herself easily. However, this should only be performed by experienced owners. Because if you make a mistake, complications may occur: If you pull the blood feather at a wrong angle, a large piece of skin can be torn off in the worst case, which in turn leads to heavy bleeding and a lot of pain. In addition, it is necessary to pull courageously in order not to damage the region in the skin where new feathers can form. If this happens, a feather will never grow back at this place. Blood feathers must therefore be pulled as straight as possible with a short, powerful jerk. Fingers are not suitable for pulling a blood feather. Disinfected tweezers or small universal pliers are more suitable.
If no avian vet is available who could pull an injured blood feather, and you do not dare to perform such a procedure yourself, you must at least stop the bleeding as quickly as possible to prevent the bird from being strained by the blood loss. This means the injured blood feather remains in the bird’s skin for the moment and it should be well monitored. At the slightest sign of new bleeding, it must be stopped again.
Please keep the following general rule in mind: The bleeding must be treated with pressure for about ten minutes using a sterile wound compress. This can be thought of as applying a pressure bandage in a human in a figurative sense. However, you must not press so hard that you break the adjacent bones of the affected bird. Therefore, sure instinct is required! In addition, it is quite stressful for most birds to be touched by your hands for minutes and to feel pressure on a part of their body. This should be considered in any case.
Unfortunately, conventional hemostatic agents are usually of little help in treating bleeding feather injuries. But it is still worth a try, perhaps the bleeding is not so severe after all and can be stopped. You should not try it for longer than two minutes and if it is still bleeding then you should try something else.
Some vets provide the following advice for the treatment of blood feather injuries: Liquid bandage should be applied on a cotton swab and then spread on the injured blood feather. This can often stop the bleeding in case you have to deal with a small injured feather. However, once the acute bleeding of a blood feather injury has stopped, one should contact an avian vet even after such treatment. Most likely the vet will pull out the injured blood feather later. In addition, care should be taken not to contaminate the bird’s feathers when using liquid bandages.
Blood feather injuries on the forehead
Quite often, adult birds show injured blood feathers on their forehead right above their nose (cere). Even though it might seem dangerous when their face is smeared with blood, in most cases the situation looks worse than it is. Those small feathers won’t bleed long in general. After a few minutes, the bleeding stops by itself and you don’t have to do anything. Don’t touch the bird’s face so that the small injury can heal. Only very rarely it is necessary to pull out the broken blood feather.
The following photos show unharmed blood feathers on the forehead of a budgie and a typical injury.
What you should do after an injured blood feather has been pulled out
In case a small blood feather had been injured and pulled out, the resulting wound is so small that in general no further actions are necessary. Large injured blood feathers that have been pulled out result in a small wound that should be looked after carefully. Please talk to your avian vet and ask him or her whether it is necessary to disinfect the injury or not.