Home » Cockatiels » Help! My Cockatiel Is Molting | What To Do?

Help! My Cockatiel Is Molting | What To Do?

Home » Cockatiels » Help! My Cockatiel Is Molting | What To Do?

Help! My Cockatiel Is Molting | What To Do?

Is your cockatiel looking slightly… scruffy? Are you finding feathers on the bottom of the cage, and does the bird seem a bit on the cranky side? Don’t worry, your ‘tiel doesn’t hate you all of a sudden: it’s just molting. This process is recurring and natural but means a few weeks of discomfort for your bird.

Learn all about what it means when your cockatiel is molting and what you can do to make it feel better.

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What is a molt?

Bird feathers are exposed to a lot on a daily basis and wild cockatiels are no exception. Dirt, preening and any damage that occurs would have them looking pretty ratty after a year or two if they didn’t replace their feathers on a regular basis.

That’s exactly what molting is for: a time during which part of your cockatiel’s (or other parrot’s) feathers are traded for fresh new ones.

The first molt on a cockatiel usually occurs when the bird is nearing a year old. In some cases, it can be as early as 6 months, especially if warm weather triggers an early molt. This is when they shed their baby feathers: before the initial molt, all wild type cockatiels are grey, whereas the males develop a yellow face once they become adults.

After this first molt, your cockatiel will continue to go through heavy shedding about twice a year (and very light molting throughout all months).

You’ll know when it happens: you’ll find lots of feathers and flakes everywhere and see the bird preening itself more often. And it definitely won’t look its best, since a feather that falls out isn’t immediately replaced with a new one.

What are pinfeathers?

White elongated bits sticking out of your cockatiel’s head all of a sudden? Don’t worry, they’re just pinfeathers. Here’s how that works:

Rather than a fresh new feather, your cockatiel’s body will produce a pinfeather first. This pinfeather is basically a developing feather, with a blood supply (a ‘blood feather’) covered by a waxy keratin coating. So, blood feather plus waxy coating = pinfeather!

The waxy sheath offers protection for the developing feather. This is handy given its direct connection to your cockatiel’s blood supply, which can cause serious bleeding if damaged. Once the feather is mature and no longer has an active blood supply, the waxy coating will become dry and start to flake off.

Once the new feather has fully developed, the sheath or ‘pin’ falls off. A cockatiel can look pretty disturbing during a heavy molt if it has lots of pinfeathers, since they look almost like worms, but it’s completely natural!

Did you know? Many birds molt during springtime. This way they can look fresh during the nesting months and attract a mate with their lush new feather coat. It can also get rid of heavy down that species in colder areas develop for the cold months.

Cockatiel feathers on blue background / Full guide to what to do when your cockatiel is molting

What happens to your cockatiel during molting?

A bird never molts all of its feathers at the same time. After all, that would render it unable to fly, which is the main defense mechanism for most species.

Still, molting time is not exactly the best moment to be a bird:

  • Feeling tired. Your cockatiel uses up a lot of nutrients and energy when its body is developing all those new feathers. It’ll probably want to sleep quite a bit more than normal and it might not feel energetic enough to sing or play as it normally would.
  • Feeling vulnerable. Although it will almost always still be able to fly, your cockatiel won’t feel the safest during its molt. Using up all that energy depletes its system and makes it feel like it won’t be able to escape dangers that might occur; at least not as well as it normally would.

    You’ll find the bird retreating to dark areas more often and possibly trying to keep you at a distance, even if it’s normally very affectionate.
  • Feeling uncomfortable. It’s not difficult to imagine that losing feathers and then being covered in keratin sheaths is not the best feeling. Pinfeathers make your bird incredibly itchy!

    You’ll probably see it preening, scratching itself or even rubbing its head on objects in an attempt to get rid of the pins. It might be in too much discomfort to want much to do with you. Don’t worry, though, as things will be back to normal soon.

Tip: Is your cockatiel always losing lots of feathers and looking bare? Or has it gone through more than two molts in less than a year? You might want to visit a vet just to make sure there’s nothing wrong.

Wild type cockatiel male after a bath.
Your cockatiel might love a bath during molting time. My bird Alfonso sure does!

What should you do when your cockatiel is molting?

As mentioned above, your cockatiel might not want much to do with you when it’s molting. You should respect that, as it’s understandable to wish to be left alone if you’re tired, itchy and feeling unsafe!

However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do for your cockatiel while it’s replacing its feathers.

  • Diet. First and foremost, you should keep the nutrition on point. Plenty of food and water should be available along with a calcium block, since feather production uses up a lot of this.

    Give fresh veg and fruits as well as high-quality pellets and seeds. Some parrot owners like to feed some egg whites for protein and calcium, though this is not a must.
  • Head scratches. Your cockatiel is great at taking care of its own feather coat and the emerging pinfeathers, with one exception: its head and neck. It can’t reach those with its beak and all it can do is scratch them with its feet.

    If the bird allows it, you can help out by offering soft neck scratches. This eases the itch and helps loosen the keratin sheaths.
  • Baths. Even if your cockatiel normally absolutely refuses to bathe, molting time might be an exception. Offer baths daily in the form of a dish filled with water or a gently misting with a spray spray bottle.
  • Shelter. Although hiding huts and nests can cause unwanted nesting behavior in your cockatiel, you can still increase its feelings of safety and reduce stress during molting. Try covering a corner of the cage with a towel and avoid bright light shining onto the cage.
  • Warmth. Although there’s no need to crank up the heating or place a heat lamp over the bird cage, it’s a good idea to avoid cold. Your bird simply doesn’t have all its feathers and it still needs to maintain its high body temperature! Move the cage away from drafty windows or blasting A/C units.

Did you know? The lifespan of a cockatiel is 20-25 years in captivity. This means your ‘tiel might molt more than 50 times during its life!

Close-up of male cockatiel parrot with yellow face.
This male cockatiel has a few pinfeathers in his crest.

In conclusion, it’s normal to have to deal with a cranky and disheveled-looking cockatiel for at least a few weeks every year. Just try to make the process as comfortable as possible. Don’t stress: your bird will be back to its friendly self soon.

If you have any more questions about cockatiel molting or if you want to share your own experiences with these delightful Australian parrots, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

  • Marijke Puts

    Marijke is a full-time niche blogger and pop science writer, founder of Psittacology, and overly enthusiastic bird mom. Originally from The Netherlands but living in sunny Spain, she spends her time wrangling cockatiels, writing about parrots, cooking, diving and hiking. About me | Contact me

  • Dr Daisy A. May, Veterinary Surgeon

    Psittacology's resident fact-checking vet, Daisy has always had a keen interest in all things avian, and grew up with conures, Indian ringnecks, and kakarikis. Determined to pursue a career helping furry and feathered beings, she qualified with distinction from the University of Liverpool vet school in 2019. About me

23 thoughts on “Help! My Cockatiel Is Molting | What To Do?”

  1. I have a 2 year old tiel and he’s going through a heavy molt right now. He’s been taking a lot of little naps throughout the day, which is new for him.
    It’s been about 4 weeks and he still has pin feathers on his head. How long should I expect the cranky and sleepy behavior to continue? (Also this is my first time owning a cockatiel)

    • Poor thing! Since molting is a gradual thing there’s no telling how long it will last, so all you can do is try to keep him comfortable. You could try feeding some boiled egg, and make sure he has a calcium block available in case he needs to supplement. Some parrot owners also feed a higher fat pellet, like Harrisons High Potency, while their bird is molting. Baths will also be much appreciated in most cases 🙂

      Hope it passes soon. If it’s already been 4 weeks then fingers crossed it won’t be too much longer.

  2. my bird is no longer losing feathers but is still looking quite scruffy and messy when will they start cleaning themselves up and making themselves look buetuiful again?

    • Are you not seeing your bird preening much at all? They generally do so quite a bit during and after molting. How long has it been? As long as the bird is otherwise healthy and fed a nutritious diet, I would give it some more time and not worry too much. If you see other worrisome behavior, that might be indicative of an issue besides just molting.

      And give plenty of head scratches!

  3. Hi my 6-7 month old female cockatiel is molting. There is feather everywhere and she is napping too much. Everything else seems fine but she is being too vocal and making sounds that she never made before. She is also being agressive towards anything like her tree and toys is it normal? She is eating regular I am giving her a favourite food and she is playful also.

    • It does sound more or less normal. How long has this been going on? If it’s only been a short time, I’d definitely chalk it up to the molting and you might want to give her a little more time to recover. The earlier molts are quite intense for them as well.

      Sorry I can’t tell you anything more specific, it’s a bit difficult to give definite advice over the internet! Hope she goes back to her normal self soon.

  4. Is there any home electrical device that I can buy that will absorb all the feathers that are all over the house? Maybe at Walmart or a Pet shop?

    • My off-brand Roomba is quite good for the feathers, although I’ll buy a more powerful one next time as it’s not very good at sucking up bigger bits like loose dried poops and seed hulls. 🙂

    • Yep! Walmart does carry the modern day “ vacuum cleaner “ 😀 cheers! Good luck keeping up with all them fluffy‘s

  5. Hi. My cockatiel has been molting for a while now and I think its an early molt (he is 7-8 months old) He cleaned other feathers but on his head he has pin feathers. He lets me clean the little ones but when i try to clean long ones, it hurts him. Should i let it stay for a while or just clean it even if it hurts?

    • Hey! You don’t HAVE to remove the pinfeathers yourself, it’s just that for a solo bird it can help them. If he won’t let you, just leave the pins alone or try again when they’ve loosened a little more. As long as he has some kind of rough surface to rub his head on (like natural wood items) he can get by. Good luck!

  6. Hi I have a cockatiel who’s a little bit over a year now, my boyfriend says he’s molting but I’m worried it might be something else, is it normal for him to ruffle up sometimes followed along with head twitching?

    • Hey! Is it like in this video? Because that’s normal. If he’s molting, you’ll see pinfeathers on some parts of the body like in the last image in this article (on the top of the head and on the right below the cheek patch). They’ll be on the head especially.

      I hope that helps you figure it out!

  7. Hi, my approximately 6~7 month old ‘Tiel is going through it’s first molt and I was wondering if it’s normal molting or general behavior for them to chew on their neck feathers. When he’s sitting idle, he dips his beak into his neck feathers and chews on them, which ends up looking slightly scruffy. He’s otherwise active, happy and healthy.

    • Hey! Does he let you give him neck scratches? The neck is one area where loads of pinfeathers can pop up and I bet it itches like crazy. It’s not necessarily a worrisome behavior unless he’s really damagign his feathers, but if you can help him loosen the pins, that may prove helpful. Hope he finishes molting soon!

      • Hi Mari,

        He’s still a bit hand shy so scratches is still out of the question but it’s something to keep in mind.
        Thanks for the answers.

        • That’s too bad! I hope it all grows out soon. Maybe he’ll find rubbing against perches and other rough objects helpful.

  8. Hey, it’s a bit out of subject but I got a cockatiel from a messy breeder his chest feathers were dirty and hard because he dropped formula all over them, and I see the chick trying to clean them but ot just keeps pulling it hard and I’m scared it’s gonna hurt itself, is there anything I can do for it? Also he’s always biting on his feathers and scratching himself on surfaces I don’t know the age but he’s still not able to eat by itself.

    • Ohh that is so annoying isn’t it! The formula really dries like cement. Have you tried cleaning it with a cloth soaked in warm water? It may take a while for it to soften, but it’s pretty much the best option. You may have to repeat. Gently dry the bird after so he doesn’t get cold. If that really doesn’t do it, you can wrap him in a cloth, take a bowl of lukewarm water and do a more intense cleaning, but he may not like it. Good luck!

  9. my cockatiel is around 5 years old and for the past 2 weeks hes been quite tame and sleeps for over 16-18 hours mostly napping he eats well but doesnt sing at all and he barely flies around if we do let him fly he will find closest ground and start waddling instead i see a lot of mixed answers on what is wrong with him

    • Hey! I’m afraid no one can diagnose this but an avian veterinarian. Do you have any near you? It might be a molting issue, but there could also be something more serious going on, like an infection. If there’s any way you can get him to a vet, you should definitely consider doing so. Good luck!


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