Last Updated on January 29, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Birds’ feathers are essential for flight, temperature regulation, attracting new mates, camouflage, waterproofing, and defense. Parrots shed and regrow feathers, molting 1-3 times annually.
To promote feather growth, feed parrots a diet high in protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, E, and K. This is essential while new feathers are growing and developing.
Do your best to keep the parrot well-rested, healthy, and stress-free in its living environment.
Unhappy parrots pluck their feathers to self-soothe, which risks permanently damaging the feather follicles. Interestingly, wild parrots don’t engage in feather-destructive behavior.
How Feathers Grow on Parrots
Parrots are bald upon hatching and start to grow feathers after about four weeks. From here, feather growth and shedding are regular parts of their cycle.
Feathers grow from single follicles in the skin, just like hair or fur on mammals. When a parrot grows feathers, the follicles open and reveal pinfeathers (blood feathers).
Blood feathers resemble tiny needles poking from the skin. The feather is sensitive and vulnerable at this stage. A keratin sheath protects the pinfeather, so it’ll bleed profusely if removed prematurely.
A parrot will preen itself and peck at this keratin sheath, eventually removing it. This will allow the full feather to unfurl without being obstructed while the blood supply moves freely.
A feather has a long shaft. The base is called the calamus, which emerges from the follicle. The center is called the rachis, while the fluffy part is called the vane, flanking on either side of the rachis.
What Are Feathers Made of?
A bird’s feathers are constructed from β-keratins. According to BMC Ecology and Evolution, beta-keratins are the sole reserve of reptile and bird species.
β-keratins ensure the feathers are supple and pliable while remaining weather-resistant.
What Birds’ Feathers Should Feel Like
A parrot’s feathers should feel soft and pliable. The feathers shouldn’t feel dry and brittle or excessively slick or oily. The parrot also shouldn’t react with discomfort when petted.
What Unhealthy Bird Feathers Look Like
Feathers decline gradually due to wear and tear, growing ragged and shabby.
The following warning signs indicate feathers are losing their vitality and luster:
- Ruffled, disheveled appearance.
- Muted colors and turning gray.
- Excessively oily.
- Discoloration, like patches of yellow or black tips.
- Stress bars.
These are signs something is wrong with the parrot’s diet, lifestyle, or health.
Why Parrots Lose Their Feathers
A parrot won’t have the same set of feathers for life, as it sheds its feathers at least once a year. While molting is natural and to be expected, it’s not the only way parrots lose their feathers.
Some parrots forcibly remove feathers by plucking, by accident through over-preening, or sickness and disease. Sometimes, over-zealous or bullying cagemates pull out feathers.
Here are some explanations for feather loss in parrots:
Parrots molt to enable bright and vibrant feathers to replace the older, damaged ones.
According to Ethology Ecology and Evolution, female parrots choose mates based on feather quality, seeing them as a reflection of the male’s health and vitality.
The molting process can be itchy, irritating, and uncomfortable for males and females.
Ensure the temperature is optimal, with a temperature not dropping below 70°F, and regularly check to ensure the parrot isn’t too cold. Feathers contribute up to 15% of body heat.
Avoid petting the parrot while it molts because sensitive pin feathers will be exposed.
Sometimes, the parrot or a cagemate forcibly removes feathers. Most cases of feather-destructive behavior are associated with stress or not having enough to do.
Beak and Feather Disease (Circovirus)
The Australian Veterinary Journal warns that psittacine beak and feather disease is most commonly observed in cockatoos (especially galahs), budgies, and lovebirds.
Psittacine beak and feather disease cause beak distress and feather loss, but misalignment is rare.
It’s contagious. Infected parrots must be isolated and taken for medical care. There’s no cure, but a parrot’s life can be extended and the symptoms managed.
Parrot’s Feathers Grow Back
If a parrot sheds feathers during a natural molt, they’ll regrow. Even senior parrots can regrow lost feathers, although the process will likely be slower.
Feathers removed by parrots or fall out due to health concerns usually regrow.
Parrot Not Growing Feathers
If a parrot has lost its feathers and they’re not regrowing, explore these possibilities:
If a parrot pulls out its feathers and picks at the skin, it may have damaged the follicles. If so, the shape and color of the feather follicles will be inconsistent.
Stop feather-damaging behaviors before irrevocable damage is done to follicles. This will give a parrot the best chance of regrowing replacement feathers when it next molts.
Regularly mist the parrot to moisturize and hydrate the skin. Always ensure it’s drinking sufficiently.
Parrots’ skin can be subject to bacterial inflammation. Streptococci, staphylococci, and Bacillus are the most common bacteria that infect avian species.
Fungal infections can harm the feathers. A parrot with ringworm will have inflamed, irritated, itchy skin and feather loss. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find a series of red, raised rings on the skin.
Feather cysts occur when a feather can’t penetrate the skin and commence growth. While they can happen to all Psittaciformes, they’re most common in blue-and-gold macaws.
A feather cyst will form a mass of tissue where the primary feathers should grow, which will become increasingly large and tender. A vet must surgically remove a feather cyst before it ruptures.
Polyfolliculosis occurs when multiple feathers attempt to grow from a single follicle. This means that no single feather will have sufficient space to grow and develop.
How To Stimulate Feather Growth in Parrots
To help a parrot regrow lost feathers, follow these steps:
To grow healthy feathers, parrots need the following nutrients:
|Dark leafy greens, cuttlebone, and cooked eggs with the shell.
|Dandelion greens, lean red meat, broccoli, and spinach.
|Brazil nuts, chia seeds, and chickpeas.
|Sweetcorn, blackcurrants, and soybeans.
|Red peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
|Vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12:
|Lean meat, fish, and potatoes.
|Eggs, live insects, and UV sun rays.
|Alfalfa, grains, and almonds.
|Kale, spinach, and mango.
A stressed parrot may develop stress bars (vertical lines) on its feathers. Common stressors include:
- Pets, like cats and dogs, are stalking their cage.
- Sudden loud noises, like arguments and roadwork.
- Changes to diet and feeding times.
- A new cagemate without an introduction.
A calm and happy parrot is less likely to manifest feather quality problems or engage in harmful activities, like feather-destructive behavior (feather picking).
Parrots need a consistent routine, waking up at sunrise and sleeping at sunset. When it’s time for a parrot to sleep, cover its cage with a blanket to keep out the light.
A parrot should get 10-12 hours of undisturbed sleep. To avoid sleeplessness and night terrors, ensure the cage is kept in a room free from footfall and noise.
Mist parrots with a spray bottle, increasing the frequency during the warmest months. Add aloe vera to the misting spray because it has natural antibacterial and healing properties.
Be mindful of humidity levels, aiming for 40–60% in the room that houses a parrot. This will be sufficiently humid to avoid drying out the skin without causing mold growth.
Sunshine is fundamental to vitamin D3 synthesis and calcium absorption. Sunlight also kills bacteria on the surface of the feathers and makes ectoparasite control easier.
When a parrot basks in the sun, it releases sebum from the uropygial gland near the tail. Sebum coats the feathers during preening, preventing the barbules from breaking and assisting with waterproofing.