Feathers are among the most prominent and important parts of a parrot’s anatomy. They’re essential for flight, temperature regulation, attracting mates, camouflage, waterproofing, and defense.
All parrots shed and regrow feathers, molting 1-3 times annually. The molting process involves shedding worn and damaged feathers and replacing them with bright and vibrant plumage.
Feed parrots a balanced diet rich in protein, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, E, and K, especially while new feathers grow and develop.
Encourage a parrot to spend time in the sun to synthesize Vitamin D3 and absorb calcium. Even birds that aren’t calcium deficient can experience the symptoms if they’re low on vitamin D.
Do your utmost to keep the parrot well-rested, healthy, happy, and stress-free. Captive parrots are prone to plucking their feathers, which risks permanently damaging the feather follicles.
How Do Feathers Grow on Birds?
Parrots are bald upon hatching, starting to grow feathers after about 4 weeks. From here, the growth and shedding of feathers is a regular part 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 delicate 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 into the body.
A feather will have a long shaft through the middle. The base is called the calamus, which is part of the shaft that emerges from the follicle. The center of this shaft is called the rachis, while the fluffy part of the feather is called the vane, flanking 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, β-keratins are the sole reserve of reptile and bird species.
β-keratins ensure the bird’s feathers are supple and pliable while remaining weather-resistant.
What Should Birds’ Feathers 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 you gently pet it.
What Do Unhealthy Bird Feathers Look Like?
Feathers decline gradually due to wear and tear, growing ragged and shabby.
You can detect declining feather quality by sight alone. The following warning signs indicate that the bird’s feathers are losing their vitality and luster:
- Ruffled, disheveled appearance.
- Muted colors and turning gray.
- Excessively oily.
- Discoloration, like patches of yellow on a green parrot or noticeable black tips.
- Stress bars on feathers.
If you observe the above, something is amiss with the bird’s diet, lifestyle, or health.
Why Do Parrots Lose Their Feathers?
A parrot won’t have the same set of feathers for life, as birds shed their feathers at least once a year. While molting is natural in parrots, it’s not the only way birds 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 their feathers.
Here are some possible explanations for feather loss in birds:
Parrots occasionally molt so that bright and vibrant feathers can replace the older, damaged ones.
As per 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 male and female parrots.
So, ensure the ambient temperature is optimal, with a temperature not dropping below 70OF, and regularly check to ensure the bird isn’t too cold. Feathers contribute up to 15% of a bird’s body heat.
Avoid petting the parrot while it molts because sensitive pin feathers will be exposed. Physical contact will be uncomfortable for a molting parrot, which will likely bite in response.
Feather Destructive Behavior
A parrot may not have lost feathers – it (or a cagemate) may be forcibly removing them from its body. This is known as feather plucking and is exclusive to captive birds.
Most cases of feather plucking are associated with stress or boredom.
Beak and Feather Disease (Circovirus)
If a parrot has suddenly and inexplicably lost feathers, it could have psittacine beak and feather disease.
The Australian Veterinary Journal warns that psittacine beak and feather disease is most commonly observed in cockatoos (especially galahs), budgies, and lovebirds.
Alongside feather loss, this condition can cause beak distress, although misalignment is rare.
Psittacine beak and feather disease is highly contagious, so infected birds must be isolated and taken for emergency medical care. There is no cure, but a parrot’s life can be extended, and symptoms managed.
Do 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 older birds may find the process slower.
Feathers removed by a parrot due to destructive behavior usually regrow, and the same applies if the bird loses feathers due to most health concerns.
Why Is My Parrot Not Growing Feathers?
If a parrot has lost its feathers and they’re not regrowing, explore these possibilities:
If a parrot has pulled out its feathers and picked 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 in its cage to moisturize and hydrate the skin. Always ensure that it’s drinking sufficiently and eating ample fruit and vegetables.
Parrots’ skin can be subject to bacterial inflammation. Streptococci, staphylococci, and Bacillus are the most common bacteria infecting pet birds.
Fungal infections can harm parrots’ 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 parrot species, they’re most common in blue-and-gold macaws.
A feather cyst will form a mass of tissue where the primary feathers should be growing, which will grow increasingly large and tender.
A veterinarian 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 simple steps:
A nutritionally balanced diet is indispensable to a parrot’s feather health. To grow healthy feathers, parrots need the following vitamins and minerals:
|Calcium:||Dark leafy greens, cuttlebone, and cooked eggs with the shell.|
|Iron:||Dandelion greens, lean red meat, broccoli, and spinach.|
|Magnesium:||Brazil nuts, chia seeds, and chickpeas.|
|Zinc:||Sweetcorn, blackcurrants, and soybeans.|
|Vitamin A:||Red peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots.|
|Vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12:||Lean meat, fish, and potatoes.|
|Vitamin D:||Eggs and live insects, but direct sunlight is the best source.|
|Vitamin E:||Alfalfa, grains, and almonds.|
|Vitamin K:||Kale, spinach, and mango.|
Consult a veterinarian or avian nutritionist if you have concerns about a pet bird’s diet.
A stressed parrot will likely develop stress bars (vertical lines) on its feathers.
Common stressors in pet parrots include the following:
- Predatory pets like cats stalking them.
- Sudden loud noises, like arguments between housemates.
- Changes to their diet and feeding times.
- A new cagemate without an introduction.
A calm and happy bird 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 pet parrot to sleep, cover its cage with a blanket to keep out the light.
A parrot should get 10-12 hours of undisturbed sleep. So, ensure the parrot’s cage is kept in a room free from footfall and noise to avoid sleeplessness and night terrors.
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 in the home, aiming for 40–60% in the room that houses the bird. 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. Without exposure to UVA and UVB light from sun exposure, feather quality and growth in parrots will be heavily compromised.
Sunlight kills bacteria on the surface of the feathers and makes ectoparasite control significantly 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.