What is a Blood Feather?
It is the process of molting that precedes the development of a blood feather. An adult bird typically replaces all of its feathers during a molt, but that loss often takes place over several months. When a feather is lost a new feather replaces it. Much like hair is replaced in in humans, a feather develops in a specialized area of the skin called a follicle. As the feather grows it has an artery and vein that extend up through the shaft that nourishes the feather with blood. The feather at this stage of its growth is called a blood feather. Because of the color of the blood supply in the feather the shaft will appear dark; however, when the feather is mature the shaft becomes white and hard. The shaft (or quill which is called a calamus) of a blood feather is larger than when mature. When the blood feather is growing it begins within a waxy keratin sheath that surrounds and protects the feather. As the feather matures, the blood supply will recede and the quilll will harden. The waxy sheath will be removed by the bird. If a bird has a mate often the mate will help groom the bird and may aid in removing the waxy sheaths from the new feathers.
How Can I Recognize a Blood Feather
A blood feather is most easily recognized by its thicker quill (calamus) than a mature feather. The calamus is soft and has a bluish-purple coloration in a growing blood feather. The developing feather is enclosed by a waxy sheath which the bird will remove once the feather has matured to the point that the nourishing blood supply recedes.
Where are Blood Feathers Located?
Blood feathers are located on different parts of the body depending on what molting stage the bird is in. Baby birds growing their first set of feathers have all their blood feathers at one time. The largest blood feathers are found in the developing feathers in the wing and tail.
Can a Blood Feather Be Dangerous to the Bird?
Not under normal circumstances. The growth of blood feathers is a natural process. However, danger does occur if a blood feather is cut, broken or bent. The reason is because the artery and vein holding the blood can be damaged and the blood feather will bleed, often profusely. Birds do not have a large amount of blood in their body, so any loss is a potential danger and can even be deadly. A large blood feather damaged enough to bleed can act like a straw. That is, blood will continue to run out of the injured feather, unless it is stopped.
How Do I Stop the Bleeding from a Blood Feather?
Broken blood feathers may stop bleeding if left untouched; however, as soon as they are bumped the bleeding usually starts again. The permanent solution to stop blood flowing is to remove the feather.
How Do I Remove a Blood Feather?
Two people will be required to remove a blood feather. One person to restrain the bird, and the other to remove the feather. Using a pair of hemostats (best choice) or needle nose pliers gently grasp the feather at the base of the calamus close to the body (do not grab the bird's skin) and using steady pressure pull the feather straight out in the direction in which it is growing. After the feather is removed apply gentle pressure to the follicle area with tissue or gauze. Once the bleeding is reduced or stopped apply a styptic powder like Kwik Stop to help competely curtail the bleeding.
What Happens Next?
Once the blood feather is removed the growth process will begin again and a new feather will develop.
Trimming Your Bird's Wings discusses cautions regarding blood feathers.