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Why Do Parrots Need Sunshine? (UVA + UVB Rays)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Parrots hail from tropical and subtropical climates, exposing them to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Sunlight is vital to parrots’ health, enabling them to synthesize vitamin D3. Without enough vitamin D3, the body can’t absorb sufficient calcium for strong bones (skeletons) and eggshells.

When exposed to UVA and UVB rays, parrots find it easier to preen themselves and remove ectoparasites. Ultraviolet rays also strengthen the immune system, enabling parrots to fight off illness.

Under owner supervision, you can put the parrot’s cage in partial sunlight and shade. A parrot should spend 30+ minutes outdoors or under a UV lamp every other day.

Access to UV light must be moderated to avoid inflammation of the skin, cornea, and eyelids.

Why Sunlight Is Good for Parrots

Exposure to sunlight is directly and indirectly linked to skin and feather health, parasite removal, internal organ health, and safer reproduction.

Sunlight matters to parrots because it provides vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). When parrots experience the sun’s warmth, they expose the uropygial gland (preen gland) near the tail.

The uropygial gland produces sebum, an oily film that parrots use when preening themselves. The sebum kills bacteria, waterproofs the skin, and maintains supple feathers.

The UVB rays of the sun synthesize vitamin D3 once they interact with sebum.

A parrot will benefit from vitamin D absorption while preening. Vitamin D3 is vital to hormone regulation and organ health, especially the liver and heart.

Calcium is the building block that provides a parrot with a strong skeleton and a healthy nervous system. It’s also needed for strong eggshells, reducing the risk of egg binding (dystocia).

What Happens if A Parrot Doesn’t Get Sunlight?

The consequences of failing to provide full-spectrum light for parrots include:

Skeletal And Muscular Weakness

A calcium deficiency often leads to skeletal decalcification. According to Poultry Science, osteoporosis can result in brittle bones and fractures.

It’s not just the skeleton that’ll suffer. A parrot will likely experience muscle wastage, grow increasingly unsteady on its feet, and experience tics and seizures.

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Weak Eggshells

Eggshells will fail to solidify. The embryo won’t survive, meaning the eggs won’t hatch.

A parrot that lacks sunlight will have soft and misshapen eggs, complicating the laying process. If you observe a gravid female straining, it’s likely due to dystocia. If so, it needs urgent vet care.

Unbalanced Circadian Rhythms

If a parrot gets insufficient UVA and UVB, its circadian rhythms will become unbalanced. This will lead to confusion, preventing the parrot from getting the 10-12 hours of sleep it needs to thrive.

Parrots use daylight and darkness to understand when to sleep. If you fail to expose a parrot to sunshine during the day, its sleep patterns will be severely compromised.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Parrots can develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the winter. Most species are native to tropical or subtropical territories, so they’re unfamiliar with prolonged darkness.

The symptoms of SAD in parrots mirror those found in humans. The bird will become increasingly withdrawn and lethargic, possibly showing signs of stress and anxiety.

How To Expose A Parrot To Sunlight

Most parrots spend their days and nights indoors, so choose the right location for the cage. Positioning a parrot’s cage beside a window is ineffective because glass filters the sun’s UV rays. 

Draw curtains when the sunlight is most intense without sacrificing a parrot’s ability to bask in the sun.

There are two ways parrots can benefit from direct sun exposure:

Outdoor Aviary

An aviary allows a parrot to spend time outdoors while protecting it from predators. This substantial birdhouse should be positioned to provide exposure to sunlight and shade as needed.

An aviary is a welcome place for parrots to spend their days during the hotter times of the year. No tropical bird can live outdoors all year or sleep outside when temperatures drop.

Harness Training

If you want to allow a parrot time outside, consider harness training. This involves fastening a harness to the parrot so it can walk or fly outdoors without escaping.

It may take time to get a parrot used to wearing a harness. Offer rewards as the parrot starts to accept the idea of wearing this leash, encouraging it to walk and fly while tethered.

Once the parrot accepts wearing a harness, you can introduce it to the outdoors and allow it to bask in the sun. Harness training also allows the parrot to exercise outside without clipping its wings.

Alternatives To Natural Sunlight for Birds

Most pet stores specializing in avian supplies stock bird-friendly UV lights.

These could be lamps you position close to the cage or overhead lighting strips. These additional UV sources compensate for UV shortfalls caused by windows filtering the sun’s rays.

A UV lamp will improve a parrot’s psychological health, minimizing the risk of destructive and anxious behaviors like feather picking. It’ll also enhance the parrot’s appetite and bolster its immunity.

Understand the different types of UV light and their uses. The ultraviolet light spectrum comprises:

UVA:UVA is essential for a parrot’s psychological health, helping to prevent feather picking. Birds can see UVA light, which assists with food and mate selection.
UVB:UVB light is critical for vitamin D3 synthesis and calcium absorption. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ it is essential for a healthy skeleton and strong eggshells.
UVC:The ozone layer usually filters out UVC. It’s harmful to birds.

The Brazilian Society of Dermatology stated that UV lamps don’t release dangerous radiation.

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How Much Sunlight Parrots Need

Parrots need 12 days of light and 12 hours of darkness to balance their circadian rhythms.

Wild parrots instinctively seek shade when the sun is highest because it’s dangerous for them to be constantly exposed to the sun’s heat and UV rays.

Parrots should get at least 30 minutes of direct sunshine or under the lights of a UV lamp no less than three times per week. This is long enough to produce enough vitamin D3 for a parrot to flourish.

Risks of Excessive Sunlight

Constant, unrelenting exposure to sunshine can cause a parrot to overheat, potentially leading to heatstroke. A body temperature above 104°F in a parrot is a medical emergency.

Check for the following warning signs of overheating:

Owners must be mindful of the risks of melanomas and squamous cell carcinoma. These skin diseases arise when a parrot spends excessive time in the sun.

According to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, a parrot’s beak can develop cancer.

Sunshine is essential because it keeps parrots mentally and physically healthy. Unfortunately, too much UVA and UVB are detrimental. About 30 minutes of sun exposure every 2 days is recommended.