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Health Articles / Moulting

Many bird keepers report problems with moulting birds. Birds get "stuck in the moult", moult slowly or produce poor quality feathers.

Research carried out at the Institute of Animal Nutrition at the Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine shed some light on the nutritional requirements of moulting cage birds. This work was reported at the International Symposium on Pet Bird Nutrition held in Hanover late last year.

The researchers compared the moulting performance of canaries by dividing them into three groups and feeding them differently.

    Group 1 was fed on: An un-supplemented seed diet

    Group 2 was fed on: Seed plus a moulting supplement high in calcium and sodium

    Group 3 was fed on: Seed plus a moulting supplement high in calcium, sodium, zinc and sulphur containing amino acids.

    The supplements used were ones that were already on the market in Germany.

    So that they could get as full a picture as possible of any effect these diets may have on moulting, the researchers looked at three different features of the moult:

    • The time from individual feather loss to the first appearance of the new feather (turnover time)
    • The growth rate of the new feather
    • The time from the onset of the moult (shedding feathers) to the completion of the moult.

    Interestingly the results did not find that the supplements made any difference to either of the first two features - the turnover time or the feather growth rate. But the birds on no supplement or on the second diet with a mineral only supplement were much more reluctant to start the moult and they took longer to go through the moult as they shed fewer feathers at any one time.

    It seems that the birds fed the sulphur containing amino acid supplement were far quicker to go into the moult. They dropped more feathers more quickly and so were able to go through the moult faster.

    There is a simple explanation for this. Feathers are mostly made of protein and the proteins in feathers contain larger quantities of sulphur containing amino acids than the protein in other parts of the body. Seed-based diets are particularly low in these critical amino acids. Since mineral only supplements do not compensate for this shortage they did not prove adequate to promote a fast successful moult.

    As far as buying suitable products is concerned, The Birdcare Company developed a specialised moulting supplement called Feather-Up. Not surprisingly it contains sulphur containing amino acids along with a well-balanced total protein source, vitamins and macro and trace minerals. Feather-Up should be used in conjunction with CalciBoost to ensure adequate supplies of a highly available form of calcium and both are available through retail stockists or direct by mail order.