Broken blood feathers in juvenile birds

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Very young birds have dozens of blood feathers at once and should therefore be handled with caution.
Very young birds have dozens of blood feathers at once and should therefore be handled with caution.

Blood feather injuries pose a hazard to birds of all ages and affect both young and adult individuals. However, they are often particularly risky for young animals, as adolescent birds are more prone to this type of injury than adult birds at a certain stage in their life. The reason for this is easy to explain.

Young birds – often referred to as chicks – grow to the size of adult birds within a few days or weeks (depending on the species); at least in terms of their body length which is measured from the beak to their vent and which does not take the tail feathers into account. At first, young birds of many species are naked and after a few days, all feathers start developing almost simultaneously. This means that there are many blood feathers at once within this period of the chick’s life. Any kind of accident in which the young bird is being hit hard could injure more than one blood feather at the same time. In the worst case, the resulting bleeding can be so severe that the young bird suffers a fatal shock.

Even if the young ones have just fledged (left the nest), some of them are still more prone to accidents and injuries than adult adults. The plumage of some recently fledged birds is still growing for at least some days or even weeks. In some cases, even some large feathers on the wings or tail are not yet fully grown. This affects their ability to fly and they’re prone to crashing into obstacles. During such accidents, they can break their remaining blood feathers.

A while later, young birds pass their so-called post-juvenile moult. While they’re moulting, several blood feathers can be injured. The reason for this is that regarding their ability to fly, many juvenile birds are not as experienced as older ones and therefore they’re still prone to accidents.

A case study

A bird owner who wanted to remain anonymous and who at the time cared for two budgies who were still very young experienced a case in early 2004 that is exemplary of blood feather injuries in young animals. This is how she experienced the situation:

I noticed that both budgies were very calm. Then I spotted small dark spots in the sand on the bottom of their cage. I took a closer look at the two of them and saw that Galadriel’s tail feathers were stained with dried blood. It didn’t look like an injury and I feared internal bleeding. Whatever it was, it seemed to have already stopped and so all I did was keep them calm and immobile until I could take them to the vet the next day.

The vet softly blew the plumage and a circular wound could be spotted. It looked like the puncture of a very wide hypodermic needle. Luckily there was no further damage, so the wound healed nicely. After I had clarified the cause, i.e. a regrowing tail feather that had injured blood vessels, I later carefully searched the floor of the cage at home and soon found a tail feather which keel was filled with blood.

The following should also be mentioned: Since I had immediately thought it extremely unlikely that Bilbo had injured his girlfriend, I had left the two of them together in their cage. The vet confirmed to me that, as long as the birds get along well, this is not harmful in the event of a blood feather injury.

Fortunately, nothing else happened later and the blood residues sticking to the feathers slowly came off due to regular showering. A veterinarian’s advice on this: If necessary, carefully clean the surface of the bird’s plumage close to the injury, but do not wash the whole bird.

First aid

In this young budgie, the large tail and wing feathers are just growing. They are still supported with blood.
In this young budgie, the large tail and wing feathers are just growing. They are still supported with blood.

Sometimes it happens that bird owners witness the moment when a blood feather injury in a young bird is caused by an accident. If multiple feathers are affected, massive bleeding can occur, which can be a major physical burden for the bird. If just one feather is injured or has broken off, the bleeding sometimes stops on its own. Nevertheless, first aid should also be provided in such a case. But be careful: The bleeding often starts again later when the blood crust breaks open. Certain measures are therefore required.

What should you do if you notice bleeding from a blood feather? In contrast to skin bruises, there is usually no hemostatic agent that can be applied selectively with a cotton swab, for example (apart from liquid bandage in case of small injured feathers). It makes more sense to stop the bleeding of large feathers by applying pressure for a few minutes with a clean cloth – however, you should not press so hard that you break the bones of the affected bird. And of course, you can use a hemostatic agent in addition. How to stop bleeding with such agents is described in detail in the corresponding chapter (coming soon).

To be on the safe side, contact an experienced avian vet since many broken blood feathers have to be pulled. If they remain in the skin, bleeding can occur again and again later when the blood crusts tear open. The repeated loss of blood would severely affect the bird.

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