If your parakeet has a bald patch, your first instinct might be to rush him to the vet. However, finding a few feathers on the bottom of the cage isn't necessarily a sign of a problem. While diseases and parasites can cause feather loss, your bird is probably just molting.
Your feathered friend goes through periods of time each year when he's likely to shed a few of those pretty feathers. This molting period generally lasts about two months, and it involves the gradual loss of most of his feathers as new feathers grow in. Most parakeets help the process along by preening and pulling out old feathers. If molting is the cause of your parakeet's feather loss, you'll be able to see spiky new growth, called pin feathers, on the top of his head where he can't reach. If your bird continues to lose feathers after the molting period should have ended, there may be something else going on.
Parasites and Infections
Just because they have feathers to protect them doesn't mean that parakeets aren't affected by skin diseases and parasites. While it is rare, some birds get attacked by fleas, lice or other tiny insects and lose feathers as a result. Feather loss around the head and neck can be a sign of a fungal infection, such as ringworm. In some cases, a fungal infection or parasite infestation will cause itching and scratching that leaves your parakeet frustrated enough to pull out his own feathers. Your vet can run tests to determine exactly which pest is bugging your bird and can recommend a treatment designed to target that particular parasite or infection.
Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease
If your parakeet has developed beak abnormalities in addition to severe feather loss, it could be a case of psittacine beak and feather disease, or PBFD. This viral disease can be fatal for young or weak birds, so it is something to take seriously. If your precious parakeet is exposed to another bird with PBFD, ask your vet about having your pet vaccinated against the disease. If your bird has PBFD, you'll need to isolate him from other birds to prevent the virus from spreading. Even after he is better, you might need to keep him isolated in case he is a carrier.
If you can't figure out why your little buddy is shedding feathers, it could be simply that he's bored or anxious. If you've changed anything about his routine recently, your bird might be using feather pulling as a coping mechanism to deal with the change. Just like some people, some birds are more emotionally sensitive than others, so even a little change in his diet or daily routine may set your bird off. Boredom self-mutilation occurs when you don't give your bird enough toys or attention, and it is fairly common in pet birds who are left at home in a cage while their favorite person heads off to work each day. If you spent all day alone without much stimulation, you'd probably be pulling your feathers out, too.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.