Broken Blood Feathers

By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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 A blood feather is a new, normal feather that is growing from a follicle in a bird's skin. All birds have blood feathers growing in and there is one growing in for each and every single feather that is molted out. The large photo above, shows several new blood feathers growing in Lemon Crème's tail. (He lost his tail feathers during a night fright.) Blood feathers contain an artery and a vein with a circulating supply of blood running through the quill. The quill is the part of the feather shaft closest to the body. Blood feathers are often called pin feather because when they first emerge, they look like pins or spikes. On a cockatiel, the differences between blood feathers and mature feathers are very obvious. A blood feather has a dark bluish/purple quill which is shaped like a thick tube. The dark color is blood. Mature feathers have a thin, opaque quill because as the feather grows, blood recedes. Blood feathers are tender and sore. Handling a cockatiel, roughly, moving feathers, or bumping into a toy or cage bars can be very painful for the bird. When a blood feather is broken, a bird can bleed profusely and die. Because of this, the broken feather needs to be pulled out from the skin to stop the bleeding. Once the feather is pulled, the follicle in the skin closes, bleeding stops and a new feather begins to grow. Some chose to treat broken blood feathers conservatively if there's little or no bleeding, by applying flour, cornstarch or Kwik Stop. Whenever a feather is pulled, there may be permanent damage to the follicle. Also, according to Dr. Warren Briggs, "Birds are poor blood clotters, compared to mammals. They are similar to borderline hemophiliacs." If the bleeding feather is not pulled, the bird must be closely monitored because bumping into an object can cause the bleeding to start over again. The only permanent way to stop a broken blood feather from bleeding is to pull it out.

How to Pull a Broken Blood Feather that is Bleeding

Dr. Margaret Wissman,in an article written for the Humane Society, USA, described the proper way to remove a broken blood feather. She advises that it's easier for 2 people to remove the feather, one to hold the bird in a towel, and one to pull the feather out. Use needle nose pliers or a hemostat. Avoid using tweezers because they will not work. To avoid breaking delicate bones, the bird's wing should be gently extended and supported. Grasp the feather at the base of the quill, (the part closest to the skin), and give it one firm, smooth pull in the direction of feather growth. This should remove the feather from the follicle. Dr. Briggs, demonstrated the amount of force needed to remove a blood feather, by slowly pulling a bird cage across a table  with the use of one finger. This is a photo Mama's blood feather taken by Dr. Briggs.

After the blood feather has been removed, apply flour, cornstarch or Kwik Stop  as a pro-coagulant to help stop bleeding. Kwik Stop, which is available in pet shops and from avian vets, will usually stop bleeding much faster and it's less messy than flour and cornstarch, Although some bird owners are reluctant to use Kwik Stop, a styptic product, because they feel it will sting when applied, Kwik Stop contains a topical anesthetic, benzocaine, to stop pain. According to Dr. Briggs, "When a bird is hemorrhaging, you have a much bigger problem than stinging on your hands." Avoid packing which ever product you use into the follicle. Apply direct and moderate pressure to the follicle with a sterile gauze pad for at least 1 minute. Once a clot forms, be careful not to dislodge it. If bleeding does not stop within a few minutes, continue to apply pressure with a sterile gauze pad and take your bird to an avian vet. Click Here to find an avian vet.

Broadview Animal and Bird Hospital added the following. The entire feather shaft must be pulled from the follicle in your bird's skin when pulling a blood feather or it will not stop bleeding. Before pulling a blood feather, find the exact spot where the feather goes into the skin on your bird's wing. You will feel a bumpy spot in the skin. This is where the follicle ends inside the bird's body. To ensure that the entire feather shaft is removed, apply pressure by pinching the wing, right above the bumpy spot. The finger you use to pinch with should move forward in a sliding motion, at the same time you are pulling out the feather with the pliers. This will force the shaft all the way out of the follicle. You will know for sure that you got the entire feather out if there is a round bulb at the tip of the feather. You can see the rounded bulb in this photo.

Dr. Wissman  cautions that birds with infections, liver or bleeding disorders, may lack the ability to clot blood. These birds may die from bleeding after feather removal.

If you are afraid to pull a broken blood feather, take your bird to an avian vet immediately. If it's very late at night, a weekend or you too far away from a vet,  spread your bird's wings and apply Kwik Stop, cornstarch or flour with a Q-Tip dipped in water. Apply sterile gauze using pressure until the bleeding stops. This should stop the bleeding until you can get to an avian vet to have the feather pulled out properly. If you don't have an avian vet and live in the USA or Canada, you should be able to find one CLICK HERE NOTE: Kwik-Stop is a styptic powder for using on pets and it contains Benzocaine, an anesthetic. It can be used on broken blood feathers, beaks, toenail injuries and topically on minor cuts of a bird's skin. It is not the same as styptic powder you purchase at a pharmacy.

What Causes Broken Blood Feathers?

Cinnamon, the bird in this picture broke 22 blood feather during a night fright. A trip to a 24 hour, emergency hour clinic saved his life. You can see the new blood feathers that are growing back in, to replace the broken ones that had to be pulled out. Cinni will be kept in a glass aquarium that has perches and toys in in it until all of the new blood feathers fully mature into normal feathers. It will take about 8-10 weeks before these 22 feathers are fully grown in. Blood feathers can be broken accidentally during a flying accident, when the bird is preening or when it thrashes around in the cage when frightened. Keeping a nightlight on in the bird's room and leaving the front corner of the cage uncovered at night can help reduce night frights. Providing "white noise"  in the room for a bird prone to night frights may help the bird to sleep better too. Broken blood feathers can also occur when a growing feather is accidentally cut during wing clipping. Feathers being clipped too short are a contributing factor to frequent breaks in blood feathers. While not the primary cause, very short feathers do not allow the proper amount of protection for new feathers that are growing in. Instead of the longer primary flight feathers taking the brunt of an impact, the blood feathers that have grown out past the length of the exposed, short feathers, break on impact when hit. Lesson here is that when clipping, be conservative.

If you suspect that your bird may have broken a blood feather while you were out, but the bleeding has stopped,it is still advisable to pull it out. Bleeding can start again if the bird bumps into something. Check your bird carefully under the wings and tail feathers daily. Take note where blood feathers are and the condition they are in. Look for signs of breakage. This is really the only precaution you can take. By knowing the location of blood feathers, if your one does break one, it will be easier for you to find rather than searching through a mass of bloody feathers.


Special Thanks to Sarah, Stacy, Michelle, Cindy, Schell and Mary
for sharing pictures of their birds

Graphics Courtesy of Graphic Garden
Page Contents, Layout and Design, Copyright© Eleanor McCaffrey, Cockatiel Cottage
Graphics Copyright by Named Artist are NOT Public Domain

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