parrot feather discoloration

Why Are My Parrot’s Feathers Changing Color?

A parrot’s feathers can change color. The most obvious differences will be a duller coloration, a darkening of color, or colored bands or striping appearing on the feathers. Each of the explanations has different specific causes.

A healthy parrot will have strong, well-kept, and colorful plumage. An unhealthy parrot will present at least one symptom 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 common causes of feather discoloration in parrots.

If the feathers are only slightly dim in color, your parrot is preparing to molt. If it is getting medicated treatment or is going through a stressful time, it may develop banding on its feathers. This is especially true when shedding 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. However, parrots’ feathers can change and discolor in response to health-related factors.

It’s theorized that wild parrots use the coloration of their feathers to determine healthy partners during the mating season. In most cases, the reason behind your parrot’s feathers changing color is likely to be serious. So, you may need to alter its diet, reduce outside stressors, or 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 easy to spot, not least because of odd or drained coloration. Unhealthy feathers can look:

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

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

  • Striping
  • Banding
  • Splotching

Why Did My Parrot’s Feathers Change Color?

If your parrot’s feathers changed, this could be a warning sign or benign. To assist your parrot, you need to discover the cause. There are many 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 down feathers. The down feathers 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 parrot.

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 don’t naturally change again after the down is lost, except for:

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 issues can cause a parrot’s feathers to change in color. The most common include:

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

Nutritional deficiencies can interfere with how the body produces pigment and feathers. 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 with 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 dim. Given the complexity of these 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 might not recover.  

Molting

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 parrot 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. The pigments may change hue or develop into new colors altogether. According to Cell, parrots’ feathers contain pigments called psittacofulvins. These are vivid red, orange, and yellow pigments found only in parrot species. Other pigment families include:

  • Melanins
  • Porphyrins
  • Carotenoids

According to Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, carotenoid pigments make up the same colors as psittacofluvins. 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. For 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 rarely found in nature.

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

Parrot Feathers Turning A Different Color

There are a small number 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 enable you to 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.

A Vitamin A deficiency can also cause black feather tips and edges, but so can lightened feathers.

Improper diet is one of the main reasons why pet parrots develop health issues. For example, a seed-heavy diet can lead to malnutrition and obesity. According to the Journal Of Veterinary Medicine, this can lead to fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).

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 potentially fatal if left unresolved.

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 because the debris is likely rubbing off onto the parrot. The same goes for any surfaces that the parrot’s feathers brush against.

Parrot’s Feathers Turning Grey Or Dull

A parrot’s feathers will start to 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. For example, African greys 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 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 enable your parrot to maintain healthy 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 parrot’s main cage in a room without much 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 time with your parrot 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 units. These airflows 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:

Exercise

Preventing obesity and its associated illnesses means a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. A happy parrot receives lots of mental exercise in the form of socialization, play, and puzzle toys. Provide your parrot with daily opportunities for activity. Indoor flight training sessions are a great method for this.

A fully enriched parrot 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 fatty liver disease aren’t as much of a concern.

Sunlight Exposure

Sunlight is critical in maintaining strong, vibrant, and healthy feathers. It is also the main source of 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 parrot is confined to its cage, offer a shaded area, so it can retreat if the sunlight becomes too much.

UVB lights are a good alternative to sunbathing. 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.

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