You may think artificial lighting is a good substitute for sunlight. However, it’s recommended that birdcages are kept out of direct sunlight. Too much sun can lead to sunburn or overheating in parrots. However, it’s a huge mistake for owners is to deny their parrots any natural lighting.
Sunshine is crucial for the prevention of illnesses and behavioral problems. Without sunlight, a parrot cannot absorb the nutrients it needs for its body to function optimally. So, it’s more susceptible to illnesses and behavioral problems. Natural sunlight helps parrots to maintain the proper circadian rhythm, which allows them to get the sleep they need. Every parrot species has different requirements, but most need 10 to 12 hours of sunshine.
In the wild, parrots have constant access to sunlight. When they fly up to 15 miles each day for food, they’re exposed to bright UV rays. Even when nesting in trees, the branches and leaves do not completely shield them from the sun. Because of this, you can’t expect your parrot to be contented with artificial lighting or semi-darkness.
Is Sun Good for Parrots?
Sunlight helps parrots synthesize vitamin D, which, through a series of cellular reactions, produces vitamin D3. Without this crucial vitamin, parrots experience many health and behavioral issues.
One negative condition that a parrot may develop without sunlight is hypocalcaemia. African grey parrots are prone to suffering from this, according to the Canadian Veterinary Journal. Other symptoms of sunlight deficiency include:
- Inability to absorb nutrients from food
- Excessive screaming
- Destructive behavior
- Poor immune system
- 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 helps them to:
- Process vitamin D more effectively.
- Have balanced and restful sleep.
- Perceive light in more constant streams.
Sunlight Helps A Parrot’s Vision
In fact, prolonged exposure to artificial light can even harm a parrot’s mood. According to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, parrots with greater exposure to florescent lighting display symptoms that are similar to people on the autism spectrum. These include 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 it as continuous or “solid.” Parrots perceive light in waves as well, but they can detect light much faster than we can.
You can measure the speed of any light waves using a scale called CRI. This stands for Color Rendering Index. Most light bulbs in our homes produce a CRI of 60 to 80. Anything lower means 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.
Sunlight Helps Parrots Produce Vitamin D
Parrots create vitamin D very differently than humans. Because of this, if your parrot only gets 30 minutes of direct sunlight a day, it will begin suffering from 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.
Sunlight Affects A Parrot’s Circadian Rhythm
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?
Most owners believe that parrots only need 30 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Sadly, this is untrue. In fact, 30 minutes a day is the recommended amount for humans.
On the other hand, parrots need far more than 30 minutes of sunlight to properly activate vitamin D. While any amount of sunlight will be appreciated, too little will leave your parrot unbalanced and vitamin deficient.
Upon hearing 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 will need more or less sunlight than others. That’s determined by their species and natural habitat. Let’s take a look at the most popular species to own as pets, where they originate from, and how many hours of sunlight wild parrots get:
|Parrot Species||Continent||Hours of Daylight|
|African Grey Parrot||Central Africa||11.9 hours|
|South America||13 hours|
|Scarlet Macaw||Central America||11 hours|
|Continental Asia||11 hours|
In the wild, parrots have 11 to 14 hours of daylight. Northern countries, on average, get around 9. Of course, these extra 2 to 5 hours may not seem like much to us. However, getting the right amount can be the difference between a healthy parrot and a sick one.
Can Parrots Get Sunburn?
Parrots can get sunburn, but only if they are completely bald. 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.
With that said, too much sunlight (or the wrong kind of sunlight) is bad for parrots. Depending on what the temperature is like where you live, exposing your parrot to direct sunlight can actually cause it to overheat.
When temperatures are high, always provide shade that doesn’t completely 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 also 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 a chance to regulate its own exposure.
Sun Lamps for Parrots
Sun lamps are a great way for parrots to get the UVA light exposure they need. It can’t replace direct sunlight, but it is better than not getting enough of it. To make sure it’s effective, be sure to consider the:
Sun lamps should be placed 12 inches above the parrot’s cage. Any further and the lamp will be ineffective, but any closer and you risk hurting your parrot. The bird could easily 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. Be sure to check the label before making your purchase.
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 a much easier feat with UVA.
During the winter, it’s important to 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, be sure to turn off the lamp entirely, as exposure to sunlight during the night will disrupt your parrot’s:
- Circadian rhythm
- Sense of time
- Sleep schedule
- Other biological functions that take their cue from light cycles
Signs That Your Parrot Enjoys The Sunlamp
People that buy sun lamps for their parrots see benefits within the first few days. By exposing your parrot to the UVA rays, you can expect the following changes:
- Willingness to trying new foods
- Getting sick less often
- Healing from injuries quicker
- 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 be used to aid the healing process. Every parrot is different, but most benefit greatly from:
- Having a sun lamp on for 12 hours
- Then being in complete darkness for 12 more hours
Parrots need more sunlight than humans. By letting your parrot soak in UV rays through your window, it can look and feel better.