parrot feather discoloration

Why Are My Parrot’s Feathers Changing Color?

A parrot’s feathers can change color, but underlying health problems are the most common reason. The most obvious differences will be a duller coloration, a darkening of color, or colored bands or striping appearing on the feathers. All have different specific causes, and some of these indicate serious health problems.

A parrot’s feathers change in color primarily in response to its health. A healthy parrot will have strong, well-kept, and colorful plumage. An unhealthy parrot will present at least one symptom of its illness via its feathers. A parrot’s feathers may turn grey, black, yellow, white, brown, or lose their vibrancy. Liver disease and Vitamin A deficiency are two common causes of feather discoloration in parrots.

If the feathers only slightly dim in color, your parrot is preparing to molt. If it is getting medicated treatment or a stressful time, it may develop banding on its feathers. This is especially true right before it sheds the feathers to regrow them. As long as the source of the banding is resolved, the feathers will grow back normally.

Feather Discoloration In Parrots

Parrots can’t intentionally change the color of their feathers. They cannot brighten or dim them, switch between colors, or introduce new patterns like an octopus. However, unlike a dog’s coat, parrot feathers can change and discolor in response to certain stimuli. Namely, this will be its health and wellbeing.

The state of a parrot’s feathers is a reflection of its health. It is theorized that wild parrots use the coloration of feathers to determine healthy partners during mating season. In most cases, the reason behind your parrot’s feathers changing color is serious. You may need to alter its diet, reduce outside stressors, or even contact a vet.

What Do Healthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

A healthy feather should have a single, unbroken shaft. The feather itself will also be free of debris, glossy, and the barbs will be zipped together. The colors should be vibrant and clean, and the feather should be soft to the touch.

Parrots have a wide range of colors, and most have several colors in their full plumage. As long as the coloring matches the rest of their body and the patterns they naturally display, they are in good health.

What Do Unhealthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

Unhealthy feathers are usually quite easy to spot, not in the least because of odd or drained coloration. Unhealthy feathers can look:

  • Ragged
  • Frayed
  • Ashy
  • Malformed
  • Bent
  • Broken
  • Oddly formed

Unhealthy feathers may also be dry or brittle to the touch. This can be matched to unusual patterns, such as:

  • Striping
  • Banding
  • Splotching

Why Did My Parrot’s Feathers Change Color?

If your parrot’s feathers changed, this can be a warning sign or benign. To know which is which, and how you can help your parrot, you need to discover the cause. There are a number of reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change color. That includes:

parrot feathers turning black

Maturity

A young parrot’s feathers will change color as it grows and molts away its juvenile downy coat. The downy coats of most birds are a mixture of whites and greys. As these soft, fluffy feathers are shed, they will be replaced with those of a mature bird.

These new feathers should be bright, strong, and sleek. Their colors will match the normal tones for their species, with a few normal variances. A parrot’s feathers do not naturally change again after the fluffy down is lost, except for the reasons below.

Health Problems

Illness or nutritional deficiencies can cause ‘markers’ to develop on growing feathers. They may include:

  • Stripes or banding
  • Blotches of discoloration
  • Faded sections

Any number of health problems can cause a parrot’s feathers to change in color. The most typical include:

  • Long periods of stress
  • Diabetes
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease
  • Fatty liver

Nutritional deficiencies can also interfere with how the body produces pigment and feathers. Namely, this is a lack of Vitamin A, sunlight, and protein. An excess of fat can also cause feathers to darken.

Feather Follicle Issues

Feather follicles are delicate structures, and any damage or irritation can interfere (or even prevent) regrowth. The feather itself can also be deformed, which restricts its ability to reflect light. When the nanostructures are malformed, colors like blue will become very dim. Given the complexity of these tiny structures, even a slight deformation can result in a lack of color.

While many things can damage the follicles, the most common reason is feather plucking. Feathers naturally fall out and are regrown when they’re too old. Feathers plucked too early, or too roughly, may cause irreversible damage to the delicate follicle. This could result in permanent issues with regrowing feathers.

Trauma can also cause the follicle to become inflamed or infected. If your parrot got into a fight with another bird or pet, that patch of its body may not recover.  

Molting

As noted above, parrots naturally molt old feathers. This process allows old feathers to be shed and new ones to take their place. As a feather reaches the end of its life, it may take on a frayed appearance with duller coloring. In contrast, the new, growing feathers often appear more vivid and healthy.

Depending on the species, parrots molt between 1-3 times a year. Monitoring your parrot during a molt is important. The new feathers are a good way to check how healthy the bird is.

A natural molt will not be isolated to one area of the parrot’s body at a time. Isolated feather shedding is a sign that there is an underlying problem.

How Do Parrot Feathers Change Color?

Parrots don’t naturally change colors, so you can’t buy a red parrot and wait for it to turn blue. However, parrots do grow into their colors as they age. That’s because all feathers contain pigment, which is known as chemical coloring.

This will react to the hormones and chemicals in the parrot’s body as it matures. As such, the pigments may change hue or develop into new colors altogether. According to Cell, parrot feathers contain pigments called psittacofulvins. These are vivid red, orange, and yellow pigments found only in parrot species. Other pigment families found in feathers include:

  • Melanins
  • Porphyrins
  • Carotenoids

Carotenoid pigments make up the same colors as psittacofluvins, according to Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. These are derived from ingesting plant matter. However, even though carotenoid sources are the main part of a parrot’s diet, this species’ plumage is not affected by food.

Coloring in parrot feathers is also affected by light reflection, which is called structural coloring. Most parrots have a combination of structural and chemical coloring. As an example, blue feathers are not created through pigment. Instead, they form because of the reflection of light in the nanostructures within each feather. Blue is actually rarely found in nature.

With the science of parrot coloring in mind, we can better understand why parrot feathers may change color. Because most of the tones are affected by a parrot’s chemical balance, illness can dramatically impact their feathers. If malnutrition and stress come into play, the structure of the feathers themselves will be damaged. That’s when you’ll notice fraying and bands.

Parrot Feathers Turning A Different Color

There is a small set of reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change to a specific color. Although not a hard rule across every species, the new coloring may help you gauge the reason for the change.

Parrot’s Feathers Turning Black

Have your parrot’s feathers darkened greatly or turned black? Then it’s a sign that the parrot is grappling with an excess of fat or protein in the body. This could even mean fatty liver disease.

Black feather tips and edges can also be caused by a Vitamin A deficiency (but so can greatly lightened feathers).

Improper diet is one of the main reasons why pet parrots develop health issues. A seed-heavy diet, for example, can lead to malnutrition and obesity. This can then lead to fatty liver disease, also called hepatic lipidosis, according to the Journal Of Veterinary Medicine.

Parrot’s Feathers Turning Yellow

Cockatiels with liver disease may develop bright yellow feathers rather than black feathers. Conditions such as fatty liver disease are serious and potentially fatal.

Parrot’s Feathers Turning Brown

Parrots do need to bathe on occasion. A collection of dirt can make a parrot’s feathers look slightly brown in color.

You should also check your parrot’s favorite perches. Are they covered in feces and dirt? Then clean them, as the debris is likely rubbing off onto the parrot. The same goes for any surfaces that the parrot’s feathers brush against, such as aviary walls.

Parrot’s Feathers Turning Grey Or Dull

A parrot’s feathers naturally dull as they prepare to molt. This results in the feathers turning grey or ashy in color.

A surplus of parrot dust can also dull or grey out the natural vibrancy of the plumage. If your parrot is overwhelmed by it, the feathers may even seem white.

Parrot’s Feathers Shredded Or Frayed

An illness that requires medication could lead to feathers growing back with markers or varying colors. As an example, African greys are known to occasionally grow scattered red feathers throughout their plumage due to damaged follicles or medication. These feathers return to normal with the following molt.

Patches of differently colored, shredded, or damaged feathers may indicate an injury or infection. This will be in the skin or feather follicle.

Parasites can also be responsible for the irritation. A parrot will likely over-preen and bite at this area, further irritating the skin and feathers.

How To Improve Feather Quality In Parrots

To help your parrot maintain health feathers, you should offer proper care in all aspects of its life. This will include its meals, its environment, and even how much sun it gets.

Stress-Free Environment

Long periods of stress are responsible for feather banding. This will eventually lead to behavioral problems and feather plucking. A stressed parrot is likely unhappy, bored, or lonely. That’s all the more reason to provide it with an enriching and stress-free environment.

It is best to place the bird’s main cage in a room that doesn’t get a lot of action or noise. Remember that parrots are prey animals, and it doesn’t take much to startle them.

You should also make sure the cage itself is large enough, full of toys and other enrichment items. A parrot’s cage is its home, so try not to change things too rapidly and trigger stress.

A socialized parrot is a happy and stress-free parrot. Spend lots of time with your bird, and allow it to join you in other parts of the house. For example, setting up a perch in the living room is a great way to let it spend time with its family.

Keep the cage away from any vents or air-conditioning outputs too. These air flows are notorious for drying our parrot’s feathers and skin.

how to improve feather quality in parrots

Healthy Diet

Diet-related problems are common in parrots, so be sure you’re offering a balanced set of meals. A parrot does not rely on food for pigment like other animals. However, it does play an important role in maintaining healthy feathers.

Every parrot species has its own unique requirements. Very few birds can live on a seed-only diet. To promote feather health, offer meals rich in Vitamin A. Good options include:

  • Papaya
  • Spinach
  • Mango
  • Broccoli leaves
  • Cantaloupe

Exercise

Preventing obesity and its associated illnesses means a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. A happy parrot is one that receives lots of mental exercise too, in the form of socialization, play, and puzzle toys.

Provide your bird with daily opportunities for activity. Indoor flight training sessions are a great method for this.

A fully enriched parrot is one that will be more active, and it won’t feel the need to over-pluck its feathers from stress or boredom. This also prevents overeating, so obscenity and liver disease aren’t a heavy threat.

Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight is critical in maintaining strong, vibrant, and healthy feathers. It is also a main source of the ever-important Vitamin D, which is good for organ and bone health.

Arrange your parrot’s perch or a section of its cage in an area that provides direct sun. Let your parrot sunbathe an hour or more each day. If the bird is confined to its cage, be sure to offer a shaded area, so it can retreat if the sunlight becomes too warm.

UVB lights are a great alternative to sunbathing if needed. Just keep in mind that after 6 months of use, the light will cease producing UVB rays, even if it still creates light. You may need to switch it out.

There are many reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change in color. Most of them spell out health issues, while a few are benign. As long as you offer your parrot a balanced diet, access to a UVB source, and regular exercise, it shouldn’t change color.

If the changes are stark or severe, then consider reaching out to a vet. An expert can examine your parrot and recommend exactly how to get it back in good health.