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

How Do Parrots Get Their Colors? [Psittacofulvins in Plumage]

Parrots are known for their vibrant colors, which are essential to their survival and evolution.

Parrots have a unique set of pigments called psittacofulvins, which turn their feathers yellow, red, and green. A parrot’s blue feathers are due to light refraction. Parrots have bright plumage for mating, protecting their territory, communicating, and camouflaging themselves.

Parrots would be vulnerable to predation and attack from other territorial birds if they didn’t have feathers. Also, dull or discolored feathers are a warning sign of an underlying health condition.

What Makes Parrots So Brightly Colored?

Parrots are one of the most colorful bird species in the world. Unlike other birds, who get their pigmentation from dietary carotenoids, parrots get their coloration from psittacofulvins.

According to Current Biology, parrots get their bright yellow, red, and green feathers from psittacofulvins, which are the same pigments that lead to orange and pink feathers.

Parrots synthesize psittacofulvins at the feathers’ follicles, giving each species distinctive feather color and pattern. Psittacofulvins don’t cause purple and blue feathers; they’re created by light refraction.

When white light hits a blue or purple feather, it bounces off the microscopic layers. As a result, the red and yellow wavelengths cancel each other out. At the same time, blue light wavelengths reflect, leading to the feather’s blue, purple, or violet appearance.

While parrots don’t get their colors through diet, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology found high levels of carotenoids in the blood of the parrots, which appeared at the same time as feather growth.

Parrots use carotenoids for feather pigmentation but avoid depositing them into the feathers.

Why Are Parrots Colorful?

Parrots’ color is essential to their survival, so they have bright plumage for these reasons:

Mating

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

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

Males with dull feathers are more likely to have a health condition. Similarly, poor feather quality is sometimes the result of parasites, which female parrots want to avoid.

Color also signifies immunity, parental abilities, and the likelihood of breeding success. While some parrots look similar to the human eye, parrots can see the entire UV spectrum. So, they can see fluorescent colors humans can’t see, giving them an insight into a male’s mating potential.

why are parrots brightly colored?

Territory

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

Parrots choose sites that offer food, water, and shelter. As a result, the best territory is attractive to other birds, who’ll attack the dominant bird to gain ownership.

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

Communication

Feather colors work as a communication tool 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, giving them a chance 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

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

Feeding

It’s thought that parrots use color to determine when to feed their young.

A parrot’s eggs hatch at different rates. Parrot incubation takes an average of 24-28 days, but it 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 than newborns. So, 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 and allow parents to choose the weaker parrots for priority feeding.

Camouflage

While you’d think parrots would be vulnerable due to their noticeable feathers, they’re extremely good at camouflaging themselves.

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.

So, parrots with kaleidoscopic plumage can blend in with their bright 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 become 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 Macaw

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 Parrot

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

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

Sun Conure

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 one year old. In the early stages, the feathers start as olive before changing to a yellow-orange mixture after six months.

Male and female sun conures have the same colors.

Blue-And-Gold Macaw

As their name suggests, 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, which looks like 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 Macaw

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 in length with a wingspan of 4 feet.

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

most colorful parrots in the world

Does Parrot Discoloration Mean That Something’s Wrong?

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

In most cases, any color change is temporary. Once an issue has gone, your parrot’s feathers should return to their standard shade. Discoloration occurs because:

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 grooming, 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 get relief.

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 is one of the most common deficiencies captive parrots face.

A vitamin A deficiency is signified by the loss of feather colors, making them appear dull, lifeless, and lacking quality. However, too much vitamin A can also affect a parrot’s feather color.

Malnourishment

As mentioned, dull or discolored feathers are an indication of malnutrition. When malnourished, many parrots develop stress bars, appearing as dark, horizontal lines across the parrot’s body.

When stress bars appear, it’s because the parrot was malnourished or stressed when the feather was developing, affecting the pigmentation.

Poor feather colors can occur due to a diet lacking in the following:

  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium

If you notice that parrots’ feather colors are dull or faded, this might be due to a health issue.

Parrots can’t tell their owners when they’re unwell, but feather quality and sudden color changes are easy ways to determine that changes or treatment are necessary.