In the wild, parrots have constant access to sunlight. When flying up to 15 miles per day in search of food, parrots are exposed to bright UV rays. Even when nesting in trees, the branches and leaves don’t completely shield them from the sun. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for owners to replicate the natural environment of parrots in captivity.
Without sunlight, a parrot can’t absorb the vitamin D it needs for its body to function optimally. Natural sunlight enables parrots to maintain their proper circadian rhythm, which allows them to get the sleep they need. Each parrot species has different requirements, but most need 11 to 14.25 hours of sunshine.
The amount of sun exposure a parrot needs will depend on its geographical origins. From Australia to continental Asia, different breeds of parrots all naturally receive varying amounts of sun exposure. For example, the scarlet macaw (which originates from Central America) benefits from an average of 11 hours of sunshine per day.
Is Sun Good for Parrots?
Sunlight enables parrots to synthesize vitamin D, which, through a series of cellular reactions, produces vitamin D3. Without this crucial vitamin, parrots can experience various health and behavioral issues.
One condition that a parrot may develop without sunlight is hypocalcaemia. According to the Canadian Veterinary Journal, African grey parrots are prone to this condition. Other symptoms of sunlight deficiency include:
- Inability to absorb nutrients from food
- Excessive screaming
- Destructive behavior
- Lower immune function
- Poor vision
- Trouble molting
- Lack of sleep
- Increased aggression
- Feather plucking
- Overgrown beak
Do Parrots Like Being In The Sun?
Parrots like the sun. Not only does this mimic their natural environment in the wild, but it also enables them to:
- Process vitamin D more effectively
- Have balanced and restful sleep
- Perceive light in more constant streams
Prolonged exposure to artificial light affects a parrot’s mood. According to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, parrots with greater exposure to florescent lighting display similar symptoms to people on the autism spectrum, including repetitive stereotypies and self-harming behaviors. In part, this is due to how parrots perceive light.
Humans perceive light in waves. This means we don’t detect constant light unless the waves are fast enough for us to perceive them as continuous or solid. Parrots perceive light in waves as well, but they can detect light faster than us.
You can measure the speed of any light waves using a scale called the Color Rendering Index (CRI). Most light bulbs in our homes produce a CRI of 60 to 80. Anything lower means that the light quality will fail to illuminate a room properly. We might even see lights with a low CRI as flickering or unsteady.
While a CRI of 60 to 80 is satisfactory for humans, the same cannot be said for parrots. That’s because they perceive light very quickly. Any light bulb with a CRI less than 91 is perceived as a flicker instead of solid, continuous light. Being stuck in a house where the lights are constantly flickering is extremely annoying, at the least.
If exposed to this long-term, it may even cause your parrot to develop behavior issues. That’s why it’s important to take your parrot outside, especially if your windows don’t let in a proper amount of natural light. The sun has a CRI of 100, which is the highest number on the scale.
Vitamin D Production
Parrots create vitamin D differently than humans. Because of this, if your parrot only gets 30 minutes of direct sunlight a day, it will have a vitamin D deficiency.
To produce vitamins correctly, parrots need to receive direct sunlight through their skin. However, since parrots are covered in feathers, their skin can’t be exposed to direct UV rays. Instead, parrots get around this issue by using their uropygial gland. This is also known as the preen or oil gland.
When a parrot preens itself, it gathers the oil (which contains a precursor of vitamin D) from the uropygial gland. It then spreads this on its feathers. Vitamin D is activated in the oil when it is exposed to sunlight. Once the parrot preens itself again, the oil gets absorbed onto its skin.
A parrot’s circadian rhythm is determined by the amount of sunlight it receives. Its body will get confused if it’s kept in the dark or only exposed to flickering lights. It will not sleep as deeply or restfully. It may also be prone to waking up more often during the night, making it hard to regenerate its cells and keep its brain healthy.
Parrots come from all around the globe but mostly hail from tropical areas. These locations receive more sunlight, so parrots are used to a healthy dose each day. In contrast, pet parrots are usually forced to live in areas with a different light cycle than their biology is used to. This can result in sleeping disorders and confuse mating or molting signals.
Exposing your parrot to more sunlight will help its circadian rhythm return to a natural setting. Once it has, the rest of its system will also rebalance. This will cause it to return to a more natural sleep, hormone, and molting pattern.
How Much Sunlight Do Parrots Need?
Parrots need far more than 30 minutes of sunlight that humans need to activate vitamin D. While any amount of sunlight will be appreciated, too little will leave your parrot unbalanced and vitamin deficient.
Upon discovering this, you might be tempted to place your parrot cage next to a window. This would allow it to have near-constant sunlight. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Some parrots need more or less sunlight than others, depending on their species and natural habitat. Here’s how many hours of sunlight different types of wild parrots get:
|Parrot Species||Continent||Hours of Daylight|
|African Grey Parrot||Central Africa||11.9 hours|
|Amazon Parrot||South America||13 hours|
|Conure||South America||13 hours|
|Caique||South America||13 hours|
|Monk Parakeet||South America||13 hours|
|Scarlet Macaw||Central America||11 hours|
|Alexandrine Parakeet||Continental Asia||11 hours|
|Great-billed Parrot||Continental Asia||11 hours|
Can Parrots Get Sunburn?
Parrots are shielded from the sun’s rays by their feathers, which is why they need to spread oil from their preen gland. This allows them to obtain the benefits of sunlight, even though minimal sun touches their skin.
That said, too much sunlight (or the wrong kind of sunlight) is bad for parrots. Depending on the temperature where you live, exposing your parrot to direct sunlight can cause it to overheat.
When temperatures are high, provide shade that doesn’t fully block out the sun. This allows the parrot to retreat if it becomes too warm. Then, it can easily step back into the sunlight when it needs to absorb the warmth and vitamins.
Besides the risk of overheating, too much sunlight can cause skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is a common issue for parrots. This may appear around their eyes, beaks, tips of their wings, and on their toes.
Remember, wild parrots are usually surrounded by trees and aren’t exposed to direct sunlight for hours on end. Give your parrot the chance to regulate its own sun exposure.
Sun Lamps for Parrots
Sun lamps are a good way for parrots to get the UVA light exposure they need. It can’t replace direct sunlight, but it’s better than not getting enough. To make sure it’s effective, consider the:
Sun lamps should be placed 12 inches above the parrot’s cage. Any further and the lamp will be ineffective; any closer, and you risk harming your parrot as it could get overheated.
The best sunlamps for parrots will emit UVA light, not UVB. UVB will be far hotter, which can be too intense for your parrot. In many pet shops, there are UVB lamps for reptiles, which benefit from that intensity.
In contrast, UVA rays are more penetrating. This means it can have a greater effect on the cells of your parrot. Processing vitamin D will be easier with UVA.
During the winter, keep the sun lamp on for 12 hours. However, during the rest of the year, you need only use a sun lamp to give your parrot the extra light it can’t get through your window.
If possible, allow your parrot to get natural sunlight throughout the day. Only turn on the sun lamp for a few hours later in the evening. When bedtime arrives, turn off the lamp entirely, as exposure to sunlight during the night will disrupt your parrot’s:
- Circadian rhythm
- Sense of time
- Sleep schedule
- Biological functions that take their cue from light cycles
Signs That Your Parrot Enjoys The Sunlamp
Owners that get sun lamps for their parrots will enjoy the benefits within the first few days. By exposing your parrot to the UVA rays, you can expect the following changes:
- Willingness to try new foods
- Reduced levels of sickness
- Healing from injuries sooner
- Less biting
- Increased activity
- Vibrant feathers
- Improved mood
Sun lamps can also be used for physical therapy. If your parrot has been injured or is recovering from surgery, a sun lamp can aid the healing process. Every parrot is different, but most benefit from:
- Having a sun lamp on for 12 hours
- Complete darkness for 12 more hours
Parrots need more sunlight than humans. By allowing your parrot to bask in UV rays through your window, it’ll synthesize vitamin d better, improve its mood, be physically healthier, and sleep more soundly.