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Feather Lumps in Pet Birds
by R C McDonald
Copyright 2004

A feather lump - sometimes called a 'feather cyst' - on a bird is the equivalent of an ingrown hair on a human. Feather lumps are relatively much larger in size, of course, since feathers are larger than hairs, and our birds are so tiny in comparison to us.

To date, there has been very little scientific research on the cause of feather lumps. Studies to conclusively prove one cause or another have not been done in numbers great enough to produce proper statistical evidence and until they are, widely varying opinions, many contradictory, help only to confuse the newcomer.

Some theories insist that an improper (or incomplete) diet is the biggest source of this problem, while other theories state emphatically that the tendency a bird shows to develop feather lumps is genetically inherited.

Over the years my experience has indicated to me that while there may be a genetically inherited tendency towards developing feather lumps, the overall diet of the bird in question does seem to be connected to the results seen.

I myself have owned birds which in other hands, annually developed feather lumps during their moult. But while these birds were under my care, I had no such problem with them.

In particular, a diet including larger amounts of incomplete proteins and rich foods seems to cause feather lumps to happen a little more easily in birds susceptible to them. I should mention here that tradition recommends that birds who develop lumps should not used for breeding, as sooner or later their offspring will usually show the same tendency to develop these lumps.

The fact is, though, that this problem tends to show up much more frequently in inbred or line bred show stock, rather than just indiscriminately. This in turn has caused a great many people to believe that this problem arises from breeding for softer, broader feathers.

Such feathers will help to give a bird that 'chubby' look that is considered so desirable in Glosters, Norwhich, and Borders, which are the breeds most often seen with feather lumps. Yet the breed with the softest, broadest feathers of all - the Mosaic, or Dimorphic Canary - is rarely seen with feather lumps. They do occur in this breed, but far less frequently than would be expected if soft feathering alone was the cause of the development of feather lumps.

Feather lumps can be quite painful for the bird, depending on their placement. If they are situated where they can cause pressure on a nerve or an internal organ, they can cause long-term damage, and occasionally can even kill a bird!

Feather structure is high in silicon, and growing in feathers properly demands a diet with 17 - 20% or so complete proteins while a bird is moulting. There's several different methods used to achieve this in a bird's diet, with varying results.

My best success has been achieved from mix-and-matching vegetable proteins to comprise complete proteins when eaten together. Almost all vegetable proteins are incomplete in and of themselves, but can be combined with complementary veggie proteins to make a complete protein in combination. (Corn and beans is a classic example.)

Quite a lot of research went into designing my homemade nestling food and soak seed mix, so as to allow the ingredients to work together to digest as a complete protein. It's always worked well for me! (see the article at )

Many people prefer to use animal proteins, which are more often complete in and of themselves, and that's why so many bird food recipes are high in egg. But when working with animal proteins, you need to be wary of the high fatty content that is also often present.

The nice thing about animal proteins is that they are already complete. One school of thought theorizes that animal proteins are harder to digest, though, and that combined veggie proteins are more effective, as well as being healthier because of the lower fat content.

As far as developing or not developing feather lumps goes, the kind and quantity of greens fed also seems to be a factor, although there is very little truly conclusive evidence for this; but it has been my observation that people who feed more of the 'softer' greens (romaine or leaf lettuces, celery leaves, etc...) don't seem to get the good feather results that always seems to accompany the abundant use of kale, collards, savoy cabbages, gai lan, and other such cabbage-family plants.

Perhaps this is because these plants have thicker cell walls, and are higher in silicon? I don't know for sure - but I do know my experience has been that it does seem to make a big difference. I once had several birds who had several lumps each given to me for free - I took them because the previous owner was going to 'throw them out the window'... (yeesh!!)

After 6 months or so with me, they looked like different birds. Their feathers were smooth and, shiny, and every bird was completely lump-free! I never saw another lump on any one of them, and some lived with me for several years.

European breeders, who have the advantage of statistical numbers, suggest that the following amino acids especially, contribute to a successful, lump-free moult; methionine, lysine, threonine, and tryptophan. (These are all seperate elements of a complete protein, found in varying amounts in varying foods)

They also suggest that lecithin (an unsaturated fatty acid) also aids in allowing feather growth to occur smoothly. Adequate B vitamins, mineral content (especially zinc), Folic acid and Biotin have also been cited as essential elements required for a trouble-free moult. Methionine and Lysine especially are thought to be particularly important at preventing the occurrence of feather lumps.

In conclusion, it must be noted that there is much yet to be learned about the cause and prevention of the phenomenon of feather lumps in our birds - but in the meantime, this information has proven to be very useful to a large number of bird owners. It is my hope that these thoughts will prove as useful to you as they have to myself and so many other bird owners, with the wish that none of us may ever again see a feather lump in our birds!

by R C McDonald
Copyright 2004
Reprinted with Permission

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