Have you ever seen a living, featherless bird? It’s not an overly appealing sight, is it? But why do birds lose feathers? I’m not talking about plucked birds. I’m talking about birds that naturally lose their feathers. The variety of reasons birds lose feathers includes natural wear and tear, molting, and disease.
Let’s discuss these three reasons in-depth, why don’t we? Let’s also discuss if a bird’s feathers can grow back.
Why Do Birds Lose Feathers – Tackling the Reasons
Natural Wear and Tear
The first reason why all birds lose feathers is natural wear and tear. This first reason alone has many sub-reasons within it. The natural wear and tear on a bird’s feathers are due to many factors.
For example, a swamp sparrow will inevitably damage its feathers when it brushes its wings against the ragged vegetation. It often navigates through reedy marches; therefore, it constantly flies through plants and other vegetation.
Another example is the gull, which spends most of its time around beaches. The effects of the beating sun and the blowing sand undoubtedly damage the gull’s feathers.
Aside from the environment, living organisms (usually parasites) can damage bird feathers. Bacteria, mites, lice, and other living things feed off birds’ healthy, keratin-rich feathers.
These examples just go to show that birds will just naturally lose feathers as they use them. Feathers are just like human hair or animal fur. Sometimes, they just fall off.
Molting is another natural reason why birds lose feathers. When birds can no longer keep their feathers healthy through preening, they molt those feathers off. The molting process for birds replaces the feathers of their body.
For most songbirds, the pinnacle of molting is during late summer. At this time, every feather on a songbird’s body will be replaced.
Birds molt for two primary reasons. The first reason is that they are maturing. When birds mature into adulthood, they shed their baby feathers and grow feathers capable of more effective flight. Think of it like a human child losing its baby teeth and developing adult teeth.
The second reason birds molt is to combat parasites. If birds can’t keep up with the many parasites feeding off their feathers, the best they can do is to molt those feathers off.
The final reason why birds lose feathers is medical problems. The problems can be innumerable. Stress, viruses, bacteria, and even their environment can cause birds to lose feathers. Some factors may even induce birds to pluck their own feathers rather brutally.
Examples of diseases that cause birds to lose feathers are circovirus and polyomavirus. Circovirus is common among wild bird species. It primarily causes feather loss on the head and everywhere else on the body and wings.
Polyomavirus is a DNA virus common for many animals. It is usually present among animals with a weak immune system. Birds infected with this virus often manifest symptoms through radical feather loss.
Other skin infections caused by bacteria or yeasts will damage a bird’s ability to retain its feathers. If a bird has a glaring bald patch, its problem is probably disease.
Do Bird Feathers Grow Back?
If the reason why a bird lost its feathers is natural, then yes, the feathers will grow back. Causes such as natural wear and tear on the feather itself and molting do not make feather loss permanent. Sooner or later, their feathers will grow back.
When birds lose feathers because of natural molting, they will regrow in just about a month. A bird will only lose a feather during molting because its replacement is already developing and well on the way. So, once the old feather drops, the new feather will take its place soon.
However, if the cause of feather loss is not natural, there’s a chance that the feathers will not grow back. Parasites, abnormal plucking or molting, and diseases can permanently damage a bird’s feather follicles. For example, if a bird purposefully plucks out a healthy feather with force, it may damage the skin and the follicle.
Feathers are very similar to human hair; they grow from a follicle. But if the follicle is damaged beyond the body’s capability to repair, it won’t be able to produce hair, or in a bird’s case, feathers. In such cases, feather loss is permanent.
But sometimes, a bird’s feather follicle is still repairable even if damaged. However, the repairs on the follicles will delay the development and regrowth of new feathers. The more nutrition conducive to feather regrowth that the bird gets, the faster its recovery will be, and the quicker the feathers will grow.
Why do birds lose feathers? The three primary reasons birds lose feathers are natural wear and tear, molting, and disease. Wear and tear happen due to the bird’s interaction with nature or organisms. Molting occurs when the bird matures into adulthood or can’t keep up with parasites. Diseases are caused by stress, viruses, bacteria, and more.
Do bird feathers grow back? If a bird loses feathers due to wear and tear or molting, the feathers will surely grow back. But if the feather follicles are damaged by disease, the bird’s feathers may or may not grow back depending on the severity of the damage.