Joan & Charmaine’s Blood Feather Emergency

Losing and replacing old feathers is a normal process in birds. However, when new long feathers on a bird’s tail and wings emerge, they continue to receive a supply of blood until they have completed their growth. If you examine the shaft of an emerging feather, you can actually see the blood in it. These feathers are called Blood Feathers.
Unfortunately our rambunctious pets will sometimes break a blood feather. And if the broken feather continues to bleed, it can turn into a life threatening emergency! This happened to my umbrella cockatoo, Charmaine. He’s fine now, but I’d like to share my experience with you as a reminder that we all need to be prepared to handle such situations.

This past Sunday, Charmaine and I went up to North Jersey to visit my brother and his family. We were having a nice time playing outside, until Charmaine took a wild leap off my shoulder, (which he does, often, which is the main reason I need the harness for him) flapping away, and dropped a primary flight feather! This feather was a new one, which was not yet clipped, and was jutting out beyond the previously clipped primaries.

Bear in mind, I had noticed that feather, that very morning, and thought, “hmmmm, I wonder if that feather is gonna cause a problem… since it has no support, all by it’s lonesome there.. maybe I should bring the birdie first aid kit (with hemostat and clotting stuff)…”

Did I??? Nope.

Anyway, I retrieved the feather, and to my horror, saw the bloody stump.

Now, there I was in the middle of nowhere, with 3 little kids tearing about. THANK GOD MY BROTHER WAS THERE, and I wasn’t babysitting! Anyway, by this time, I got to take a look at C and of course, his wing was soaked in blood, as was my shoulder, neck and the side of my face!

Now, bear in mind, we are in relative wilderness, and my brother knows of no avian vet (why would he, after all?) and it’s a SUNDAY MORNING!!!!!

My mind was racing, and my heart was pounding, and my EMT emergency cool-head kicked in. I ordered my brother to run and get me needle nosed pliers and a towel. Again, thank God he was there! He ran and got the pliers, and I grabbed a towel from the bathroom. By this time, we were in the (white) kitchen, and the blood was splattered on the floor, walls and refrigerator!

Let me say this by the way. My brother is NOT an animal person. He would never let me bring either of my dogs to his house, nor would he ever have a pet in his home. (although he was a great rescuer of lost animals when he lived with my parents ). But, for some reason, he loves Charmaine, and lets me bring him anytime, even though he makes 10 times the mess any dog would have made.

He was SO good in this emergency. I had to show him how to hold the bird, in the towel, while I tried to get the rest of the feather out. Bear in mind this was a first (and I hope, last) for both of us! Poor Charmaine did not know WHAT the heck was going on, and protested loudly.

Steve (brother) did his best to cradle Charmaine in the towel, while I tried to grab the feather. He was so bloody, that I couldn’t really see exactly what was happening, and missed twice, pulling out little bits of fuzz from somewhere in there. Poor birdie is still bleeding… I had visions of my baby bleeding to death, right there in the kitchen.. Charmaine was squawking, not so much screaming, and squirming around like crazy! He managed to get his head out of the towel, and the ‘beak’ was flashing and slashing around, but God bless him, he did not bite either of us, even though at one point, my finger was right inside his beak. I was feeling so awful, I almost wished he’d take a bite out of me.

I could not get the blood feather, and we were all pretty freaked out. I asked my brother for some flour or corn starch, and there was none in the house. He ran out to the store to buy some, and I sat C down on the basket-perch. I smoothed him down, and petted him, and he was, understandably, breathing heavily, and looking freaked!

I stood there, and said a brief prayer, gathering my psychic strength.

I placed the towel just over his head, while he was standing on the perch. I held his head gently, and with the same hand ( I do not know how I managed that) held the bloody wing spread out. I took those slippery, bloody pliers, found the bloody stump and YANKED it out!!!!!!! That thing was the diameter of a soda straw!!!!! But I got it, and I got it all!!!!!

I looked at C and he looked at me. I really felt like he knew I was helping him, although from his perspective, I can’t imagine how he could know that.

A minute or two later, Steve was back with the Corn Starch. I showed him the stump, and he couldn’t believe it either! At this point, my brother, recognizing how upset we all were, allowed the bloody Charmaine to sit on his shoulder, while I applied great hand-fulls of Corn Starch to the wing! I couldn’t tell if it was still bleeding, and I wanted to sop as much up, and clot any holes, so I just STUFFED the wing-pit with corn starch! You can imagine, Charmaine was not thrilled with this either, and was flapping like MAD!!!

So there we all were, drenched in blood and caked with cornstarch!!!! At this point, looking at my beloved brother, and my sweet baby bird, I burst out LAUGHING!!! WHAT A MESS!

At this point, it was time to calm down. I tried to start cleaning up the kitchen, and my brother told me to go sit quietly with the bird, and give him water to make sure he did not dehydrate. Good advice, no?

He sat the kids down ( 6 yr old girl, 2 4yr old boys) and told them what happened, and that we have to be quiet around the bird, and not upset him. They were really good about that.

I took C outside, and we sat in the sun (nice and warm) and he just sat there, kinda dazed, and I gave him a few drops of water every couple of minutes. He wouldn’t even look at the almonds I offered him (his very favorite) and that was pretty scary. But after a couple of hours of rest, he gobbled about 3 almonds and some pine nuts, and was back to his old self.

Now, after the long story, let’s get to the point. BE PREPARED, BRING THE FIRST AID KIT WHERE EVER YOU GO. LEARN HOW TO PULL A BLOOD FEATHER!!!! READ UP ON IT! I could have lost Charmaine!!! What if we were out on a walk somewhere???? What if my brother wasn’t there, and I couldn’t find the pliers??? I never thought it would really happen to us! And it did!!! You just never know.

Please pass this advice along to any one who might benefit.

Sometimes a blood feather will bleed a little and then stop. However, it is possible that the bleeding may resume, if the bird brushes the damaged feather against an object or preens it. For this reason, many people recommend pulling the broken or damaged feather. Others pull the broken feather so that a new one can begin growing. If the feather is not actively bleeding, it is not an emergency and you may feel more comfortable waiting to have your vet pull the feather.

However, a bleeding feather cannot wait. Birds have much less blood than humans and can literally bleed to death from a broken blood feather. You have to act immediately.

First towel the bird and then examine the wing, trying not to touch the broken feather. Try to pack the open end of the feather with something like corn starch or flour (Styptic powder is not recommended. It is fine for nails but not live tissue). You can also try a tissue glue or even Krazy Glue. Put pressure on the end of the feather, being careful not to break the portion of the shaft which is left. A hemostat, tweezer or even a pad or folded cloth can be used. The pressure may help the blood to clot.

If nothing works, then the remaining portion of the feather must be removed. If there is enough of the shaft left for you to grip the feather with , then you may be able to remove it yourself.

Use a needle nosed pliers or a hemostat or even a tweezer for a smaller feather. Place the pliers on the feather shaft some distance away from the skin, if possible. Get a firm grip on the feather and hold the bird so it won’t move when you pull on the feather. Pull firmly, smoothly and quickly. Jerking or wiggling can result in another break closer to the skin. Once removed, the bleeding should stop.

If the feather has broken at the skin level or the feather follicle continues to bleed after the feather is removed, apply corn starch or flour to try to stem the bleeding. Also put pressure on the area with your finger or a clean cloth. If the bleeding still continues, get to a vet immediately, keeping pressure on the area till you get there.