Home » How Do Parrots Get Their Colors? (Psittacofulvins in Plumage)
why are parrots colorful

How Do Parrots Get Their Colors? (Psittacofulvins in Plumage)

Last Updated on: 17th July 2023, 05:36 pm

Parrots are among the world’s most colorful and eye-catching bird species. Psittaciformes have bright and vibrant feathers, which are part of their evolution and fundamental to survival.

According to Current Biology, parrots get yellow, red, and green feathers from psittacofulvins, while other birds get their pigmentation from dietary carotenoids. Parrots’ blue feathers are due to light refraction.

Parrots have colorful plumage to attract mates (a sign of health and vitality in males), protect territory (red signifies danger), communicate with each other, and camouflage themselves in the trees and fauna.

Interestingly, the color around the chicks’ beaks tells parents when they need urgent feeding. If a chick is malnourished, it’s significantly likelier to have dull and lifeless feathers.

What Makes Parrots So Brightly Colored?

Parrots synthesize psittacofulvins at their feather follicles, giving each species a distinctive feather color and pattern. Light refraction, not psittacofulvins, leads to blue or indigo feathers.

White light bounces off the microscopic layers. Then, the red and yellow wavelengths cancel each other out. At the same time, blue light wavelengths reflect, resulting in a blue, purple, or violet appearance.

While parrots don’t derive their colors through diet, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology found high levels of carotenoids in parrots’ blood during feather growth.

Parrots use carotenoids for feather pigmentation but don’t deposit them in their feathers like other birds.

Why Are Parrots Colorful?

Parrots’ colors are essential to their survival, so they have beautiful plumage for these reasons:


Most males are more colorful than females. According to Scientific American, this is due to natural selection, as females prefer brightly colored, healthy males as mates.

During the mating season, males attract female parrots by showing off their vibrant plumage. Colors are also a way for females to determine the health and vitality of their mates.

Males with dull feathers are more likely to produce unhealthy offspring. Similarly, poor feather quality is sometimes the result of parasites, like mites and ticks, which female parrots want to avoid.

Color signifies immunity, parental abilities, and the likelihood of breeding success.

While some birds look similar to the human eye, parrots can see the entire UV spectrum. So, they can see fluorescent colors humans can’t, providing an insight into a male’s mating potential.

why are parrots brightly colored?


Parrots compete with other birds for territory, which they need to feed, mate, protect themselves from predators, and raise their young.

Parrots choose places that have abundant food and water and provide shelter. As a result, the best territory is attractive to other parrots, who’ll seek to gain control.

Parrots control an area when they need to defend it by showing off their vibrant colors. This is part of a visual display, which includes puffing up feathers, tail flicking, and wing spanning.


Feather colors are used for communication between parrots, owners, and other animals. For example, some parrots with red feathers use them as a warning to predators.

Parrots use their colors to alert their flock that danger is nearby, allowing them to escape.

Parrots also blush to communicate with other parrots or their owners. Like feather colors, blushing is caused by psittacofulvins that give the cheeks a rosy pink glow. Blushing indicates:

  • Excitement.
  • Playfulness.
  • Sexual maturity.
  • Anger.
  • Fear.

We can’t always see this color change because feathers usually cover a parrot’s cheeks. So, parrots will fluff the feathers on their face, neck, and nape while blushing to communicate.


It’s thought that parrots use color to determine when to feed their young. Parrot egg incubation takes an average of 24-28 days but can take as little as 18 days. As a result, the chicks vary in size and age.

As they’re growing quickly, older chicks require more food. Parrots use the brightness of the color around chicks’ open mouths and head feathers to determine which ones need nourishment.

Discolored or dull feathers indicate that the chicks are malnourished, allowing parents to choose the weaker parrots for priority feeding.


While you’d think parrots would be vulnerable due to their noticeable feathers, they’re good at camouflaging themselves. This is best evidenced in green parrots.

Many parrot species live in the rainforest, with abundant brightly-colored fauna and flora. A range of colorful fruits and berries also grow on trees and bushes.

Parrots with kaleidoscopic or rainbow-colored plumage can blend into their surroundings.

Feathers and bold patterns disrupt a parrot’s body’s outline, preventing them from being seen. All parrots need is one color to blend into their environment, and a predator’s eyes will grow confused.

What Are The Most Colorful Parrots In The World?

All parrots are known for their bright and colorful feathers, but some are more vibrant than others. Parrots with the most colorful plumage include:

Scarlet Macaws

Scarlet Macaws are one of the most distinctive parrots, with bright red feathers on their head and shoulders, yellow on their back and mid-wing feathers, and blue on the wing tips and tail.

They have bare facial skin and yellow eyes. When they extend their wings, their entire body looks like a rainbow, particularly if you look at them from the back.

Eclectus Parrots

The Eclectus parrot is a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that males and females differ in color. You can tell the sex of a parrot just by looking at its colors.

Male Eclectus parrots are mostly bright green with red and blue patches under the wings and tail, while females are mainly red with blue-purple feathers around the chest and wings.

Sun Conures

Sun conures boast a kaleidoscope of colors, ranging from red, yellow, and orange to blue, green, and purple. They also have a black beak and feet, with white patches around the eyes.

They develop their full plumage when they’re around 1 year old. In the early stages, the feathers start as olive before changing to a yellow-orange mixture after 6 months.

Male and female sun conures have the same colors.

Blue-And-Gold Macaws

Blue-and-gold macaws are a mixture of blue and yellow. The head is mostly green, the neck and chest are yellow, and the rest of the body is primarily blue and varies in shade depending on the bird.

Blue-and-gold macaws also have a striking stripe pattern around the eyes, resembling a zebra’s markings. Their beaks are black, large, and sharp.

Female and male blue-and-gold macaws are barely distinguishable from each other.

Hyacinth Macaws

Hyacinth macaws have vivid cobalt blue plumage. They have large black eyes with a yellow ring around the pupils. The same yellow appears around the beak.

The hyacinth macaw is the world’s largest parrot, reaching 40 inches long with a wingspan of 4 feet.

Males and females look the same, though females have a slenderer build.

most colorful parrots in the world

What Does Feather Discoloration in Parrots Mean?

A healthy parrot’s feathers should be vibrant and well-formed.

In most cases, color changes are temporary. Once an issue has gone, the parrot’s feathers should return to their standard shade. Feather discoloration occurs for the following reasons:

Damaged Follicles

Feathers grow from follicles located throughout the body. Feather discoloration is commonly caused by follicle damage, either through feather plucking or injury.

Parrots can move their feathers through the muscles and ligaments attached to them. Sometimes, they accidentally break their feathers while preening, damaging the follicles.

Similarly, jagged feathers don’t always lay properly, irritating the parrot. As a result, the parrot will pull the feather out to relieve the discomfort.

Due to the follicle damage, not all feathers grow back with the same color they had before, appearing duller or changing color completely.

Vitamin A Deficiency

According to Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, vitamin A (retinol) is among the most common nutritional deficiencies captive parrots face.

A vitamin A deficiency is signified by the loss of color, making the feathers appear dull, lifeless, and low quality. However, excessive vitamin A can adversely affect a parrot’s feather colors.


Dull or discolored feathers are an indication of malnutrition. When malnourished, many parrots develop stress bars, appearing as dark, horizontal lines across the feathers.

When stress bars appear, the parrot is malnourished or stressed when the feather develops, affecting the pigmentation. Poor feather colors can occur due to a diet lacking in the following:

  • Protein.
  • Zinc.
  • Manganese.
  • Magnesium.

If you notice that parrots’ feather colors are dull or faded, a health issue may be responsible.

Unlike other birds, parrots don’t get their colors from carotenoids. Psittacofulvins give parrots’ feathers vibrant yellow, green, and red colors. Other colors, like blue, occur due to light refraction.