A blood feather is an actively growing feather that still has
a blood supply running to it. When a bird molts out a feather, a
new one is forming in the follicle. This live tissue has a
central artery and vein to supply nutrients to the growing
A blood feather has a thicker quill (or calamus) than than a
mature feather, and the calamus is softer and bluish-purple in
color. There is a sheath that encloses the developing feather.
Also, blood feathers are shorter than mature feathers, since they
have not grown to their full lengths.
Blood feather are located on different areas of a bird's body,
depending on what molting stage he is in. (Molting is the process
by which birds shed feathers and grow new ones.) Birds usually
molt in a particular pattern, so that in the wild they are always
able to fly. Birds may molt, one, two, or three times per year,
depending on the species. The pattern of molting follows an
orderly progression. In a complete molt, the sequence is usually first the
inner primaries, then the secondaries and tail feathers, and lastly body
feathers. Matched pairs of feathers are usually shed at the same
time so that flight is still possible. Baby birds growing their
first set of feathers have all their blood feathers at one time,
all over their bodies.
The danger with blood feathers occurs if a feather is cut,
broken, or bent. Because the feather has an artery and vein, a
damaged blood feather will bleed, often profusely. Once a broken
blood feather begins bleeding, the simplest solution is to gently
remove the damaged feather by pulling it.
To remove a blood feather, use a pair of needle-nosed pliers
or a pair of hemostats. Gently grasp the feather near the base of
the calamus, (close to the body) and using steady pressure, pull
the feather straight out in the direction in which it is growing.
This procedure usually requires two people, one to hold the bird
and the wing (assuming the broken blood feather is on the wing--a
common spot), and one to pull out the offending feather.
Broken blood feathers may stop bleeding if left untouched, but
as soon as they are bumped, bleeding usually commences. The only
permanent solution is to gently, but firmly, pull the feather
from its follicle and apply pressure to the follicle area with
tissue, gauze or Quick-Stop until the bleeding stops.
Once a blood feather is pulled, the feather-growth process
begins all over again, and a new blood feather will soom replace
the pulled one. Once a feather reaches matuity, the blood supply
degenerates, the pulp dries up and the calamus develops into a
When you clip your bird's wings, make sure you examine each
quill (or calamus), and identify each shaft as not being a blood feather
before you cut. If
you do this each time, you will minimize your chances of having a
broken blood feather, although it still seems to happen to
all birds at one time or another.