On your first visit to the avian vet with your brand-new cockatiel, the doctor will give you the short version of the Cliffs Notes for a cockatiel parent. When quickly and briefly skimming over things to be on the lookout for, find out all you can about broken blood feathers.
Know What a Blood Feather Is
Before you can watch out for broken blood feathers, it helps tremendously to know what a blood feather is. Blood feathers are essentially new feathers. All feathers have blood vessels inside the shaft when they first start growing to provide nourishment and help the feather mature. As the feather develops, the blood vessels close off. If you inspect your cockatiel's feathers down near his skin, you can see which ones are still blood feathers because they are the ones that are darker in color, indicating blood inside the quill.
When Blood Feathers Break
Your cockatiel can be a bit clumsy, especially if he's not used to flying or if he has episodes of thrashing about in the night. Even if your cockatiel is uncommonly graceful, he still can break a blood feather if you keep his wings clipped because there won't be as many non-blood feathers to protect and support the ones that are filled with blood. There will be no question when your cockatiel breaks a blood feather; the shaft of the feather acts like a funnel, siphoning blood out of your bird. Sometimes there's a lot of blood flowing, and sometimes you'll just notice drops of blood on your bird or on the walls near his cage.
What to Do
The best thing to do when your cockatiel breaks a blood feather is actually what not to do: don't panic. If your avian vet scared you with stories of birds bleeding to death from a broken blood feather, it was probably an attempt to make you watchful of your cockatiel's physical condition. It's true that a broken blood feather can be dangerous if the bleeding isn't stopped, like with styptic, corn starch or flour or by crimping the end of the feather with a pliers, but once the bleeding has ceased, your cockatiel won't be in a crisis situation. A broken blood feather should be pulled, because once it breaks it is vulnerable to breaking again or opening back up. Your vet can show you how to pull a broken blood feather, but unless you've been trained to do it, you could accidentally harm your bird or make the injury worse. It's best to take your little guy in and have the vet do the dirty work.
If you're able to stop the bleeding, an emergency call to the avian vet at 4 a.m. isn't necessary, but don't delay a doctor's appointment for long just because you were able to stop the bleeding. Birds like to have all their feathers just right, and if your cockatiel picks at the broken feather during his regular preening, he could open it back up again. Also, an undiagnosed medical condition such as liver disease can cause bleeding problems with a broken blood feather. Always contact your avian vet if your cockatiel breaks a blood feather, but especially if your little bird is bleeding a lot and seems weak or if his feather broke off beneath the skin.
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