Feathers are one of the defining features of all birds, so it comes as no surprise that they can be a source of health problems. The conditions listed below should not be confused with moulting, which is natural and a very important part of your bird’s life cycle.
A finch's feathers should be in great shape
Finches that have contracted this condition will be constantly scratching themselves. These feathers will shed a sort of dandruff like substance and will lose their usual sheen. In advanced cases the birds could scratch away their feathers leading to bald patches. The cause of this condition is mites or lice.
Feather bleeding is relatively common and can occur when a finch is growing new feathers or when fledglings are producing their first adult plumage. New “pin” feathers contain blood vessels, which are crucial to the growth of the full new feathers. If these blood vessels are damaged during the early days, they will bleed. The pin feathers on the wings and tail are the largest and as a result will bleed the most if damaged. Once spotted, the bleeding must be addressed at once. Catch the bird and hold the broken end of the feather tightly for ten minutes. Make sure not to squeeze the bird itself. Once the bleeding has stopped, arrange a trip to the vet to have the broken pin feather removed.
Feather cysts can occur when a feather fails to properly break through the skin. The feather will continue to grow beneath the surface, causing a lump (or cyst) under the skin. The primary wing feathers are the most commonly affected ones. These cysts will need surgical intervention.
Feathers Falling Out
Heavy feather loss is usually a sign of parasites, self-plucking or even a feather virus disease.
Finches Plucking Feathers
Any finch that plucks itself is unwell, but it is not always clear which ailment is to blame. The list of possible culprits range from parasites, allergies, low humidity, lack of fresh air, stress, boredom, mating hormones, liver disease, cancer, a bacterial or fungal infection, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning to just a simple bad habit. Here are some tips for getting to the bottom of the issue.
- Study your birds to see if there is any obvious pattern or trigger their feather plucking. Could it be down to boredom or anger? Is another bird involved? Does it happen after the bird has eaten? Or could it be down to loneliness?
- Assess the light, air and humidity of their living quarters. Is the finch getting a 50/50 balance of light and dark throughout the day? Can you do something about their centrally heated, moisture-free environment to dampen things down a bit?
- Swap the perches and cage accessories around to liven up the environment a bit and prevent boredom. Introduce some new, interestingly shaped natural wooden perches.
- Does your finch need a bath? Sometimes a simple case of itchiness can lead your birds to damage their feathers in an attempt to stop the itching. A wide-nozzle spray (not a fine mist one) will get them wet and washing. Make sure no to overdo it though.
- Check the birds’ diet against the list of food given in this guide. Try some new ones and see if you can plug a nutritional gap.
- Are you handling the bird too much, causing stress?
Note that some finches never break the self-plucking habit. If you have spoken to a vet and tried all recommended solutions and the bird still persists with its bad habits, you’ll have to put up with a semi-bald finch.
Finches Plucking Each Other’s Feathers
Cage mates may start plucking at one another's feathers. Usually this is a sign of aggression, birds bully with their beaks and what’s more painful than pulling out a feather? In these cases the bully should be removed from the cage. This situation arises from too small of a cage, try to reassess your bird’s living conditions.
Another possible reason for this behaviour is netting. FInches need nesting materials, and if these are in short supply they will take to plucking from timid birds, or sometimes even their own chicks. Provide your birds with suitable nesting material (see Nesting in the Finch Breeding section of this guide).
Another solution is to tie some jute string toys or other “fraying” finch toys in the cage to distract the bird (nearly always the male in these cases). He will pull at the strands without actually separating them, this should eventually quell his desire to pluck at other finches. If this doesn’t work you will need to separate the bully from the rest of your birds.