You will need:
1. A pair of hemostats (preferable, as they grasp and lock on), or needle nose pliers
2. Styptic powder, or cornstarch
3. A clean towel for holding
4. Spray bottle with room temperature water
5. Two people make it easier
Capture your bird, and encircle it in the clean towel for control and examination purposes. While one person holds the bird, a second person can lift the towel and examine the bird to locate the broken feather. If there’s a great deal of blood, this can be difficult, so the person conducting the exam should then gently spray the bloodied area to get a clearer view of the feather shafts, and which one is bleeding. Try to move the feathers as little as possible, as a broken blood feather is extremely painful to the bird.
Once the broken feather is removed, the pain will end, as you will be detaching the nerve from the follicle. The bleeding will also end, although occasionally, particularly if the feather is a large flight, or tail, feather, a bit of residual bleeding will occur, but only briefly.
Removing the shaft: As gently as is possible, place the hemostat or pliers opened tip right up against the skin line. When you close the tool, and pinch the shaft, the pain will be intense for the bird, so make sure that: a) the bird is securely held before beginning this procedure, and b) you are grasping only one feather, and it’s the bleeding feather. Count to three, pinch and then pull back in one smooth motion. The bird will be screaming, but remain calm. The person holding the bird has to be prepared to resist the sudden tug made on the feather by holding the bird in place. When you pull back, you will be detaching the feather from the follicle, so what needs to come out is the feather and the root. When pulling, you will feel resistance, but give a good tug, and the feather will release. To accomplish this, you must pull with a good amount of force if the bird is large. If the bird is a macaw, and the broken feather is a tail feather, one must use an enormous amount of force to remove the feather, so be prepared to pull hard.
When pulling a wing feather, you must place the bird either upright or on its back. Securing the wing by holding it at the joint from which the wing extends (like our elbow joint), gently fan open the wing feathers to find the broken shaft. When pulling, secure the wing at this joint with one hand, and pull with the other.
Once the feather is properly removed, the bird feels instant relief. Residual blood will quickly clot, but if it the bird is large, and blood wells up, apply a small amount of styptic powder or cornstarch to staunch the bleeding.
Bleeding feathers must always be pulled. If they aren’t pulled, they may become infected. If they aren’t pulled, the bird will suffer continuing pain, and can injure itself fighting the pain. In addition, a significant amount of blood can be lost through just one large broken feather shaft if it’s not attended to, and continually bleeds.However, if the blood feather clots quickly, and does not appear to bother the bird, it’s best to leave it alone and keep a close watch over it.
If one is clipping wings, always make sure no blood feathers are in the wing. This can be done by examining the underside of the wing before clipping. If new, pink shafts are evident, don’t clip until the feathers have completely matured. If blood feathers are clipped, all of the feathers will need to be pulled immediately, as this is a life threatening situation for the bird. Enough blood can, in this scenario, be lost to cause the bird to pass away.
After pulling a damaged blood feather, hold the bird, and calm it. Re-examine the area to make sure you did, indeed, pull the right shaft. After you are certain the offending feather is pulled, and all bleeding has stopped, you can return the bird to its cage or perch.
As with all emergency procedures, the humans need to work well together, with a minimum of panic and noise that will transmit to the bird and cause the situation to degrade. A person who does not have help can also perform this procedure, it’s just a bit more difficult, especially with a frantic bird. Still, it can, and has, been done, and must be done. When working alone, you will want to keep a good portion of the towel over the birds head to keep it from biting and panicking while you proceed with pulling the feather.
Written by: Linda Brink