parrot feather discoloration

Why Are My Parrot’s Feathers Changing Color?

A parrot’s feathers can experience a more dull coloration, a darkening of color, colored bands, or striping. Each of these changes has different underlying causes.

A healthy parrot will have strong, well-kept, and colorful plumage, and 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’s getting medical treatment or is under stress, your parrot may develop banding on its feathers. This is most likely when shedding feathers to regrow new ones. Once the cause of the banding is resolved, the feathers will regrow normally.

Feather Discoloration In Parrots

Parrots can’t choose to alter the color of their feathers, so they’re unable to brighten or dim them, switch between colors, or introduce new patterns. However, feathers can change and discolor in response to their health.

Wild parrots use the color and vibrancy of their feathers to choose healthy partners during the mating season.

What Do Healthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

Healthy parrot feathers should have a single, unbroken shaft.

The feather itself should 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’re in good mental and physical health.

parrot feathers turning black

What Do Unhealthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

Unhealthy parrot feathers will have an odd or drained coloration, looking:

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

They 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?

There are various reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change color, including:

Maturity

A young parrot’s feathers will change color as it grows and molts its juvenile down feathers.

The down feathers of most parrots are a mixture of whites and greys. As these soft, fluffy feathers are shed, they’ll 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 due to:

Health

Illness or nutritional deficiencies can cause markers to develop on growing feathers, such as:

  • Stripes or banding
  • Blotches of discoloration
  • Faded sections

Various health issues can cause a parrot’s feathers to change in color, including:

Nutritional deficiencies can interfere with how the body produces pigments and feathers. This can be due to a lack of Vitamin A, sunlight, and protein. Also, an excess of fat can cause feathers to darken.

Feather Follicles

Feather follicles are delicate structures, and any damage or irritation can interfere with their regrowth.

The feather can be deformed, which restricts its ability to reflect light. When the nanostructures are malformed, colors like blue will become dim. So, even a slight deformation can lead to 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, and feathers plucked too early or roughly may cause irreversible damage.

Trauma can cause follicle inflammation or infection. If your parrot got into a fight, that patch might not recover.  

Molting

The molting 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 will appear more vivid and colorful.

Depending on their species, parrots molt 1-3 times a year. Monitoring your parrot during a molt is a good way to check on the health of a parrot.

How Do Parrot Feathers Change Color?

Parrots don’t naturally change colors, but they do grow into their colors as they age. That’s because all feathers contain pigments, 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 parrots’ feathers is affected by light reflection, which is called structural coloring. Most parrots have a combination of structural and chemical coloring. For example, blue feathers aren’t created through pigment. Instead, they form because of the reflection of light in the nanostructures within each feather.

Because most of the tones are affected by a parrot’s chemical balance, illness can impact their feathers. If malnutrition and stress occur, the structure of the feathers will be damaged, so 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.

Turning Black

Have your parrot’s feathers darkened significantly or turned black?

If so, it’s a warning sign that the parrot has excess fat or protein in the body. A Vitamin A deficiency can also cause black feather tips and edges, but so can lightened feathers.

Turning Yellow

Cockatiels with liver disease may develop bright yellow feathers rather than black feathers. Conditions, such as fatty liver disease, can be fatal if left unresolved.

Turning Brown

Parrots need to bathe several times per week. Dirt and grime can make the feathers look slightly brown.

Check your parrot’s favorite perches. Are they coated in feces and dirt? If so, clean them because the debris is likely rubbing off onto the 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 dull or grey out the natural vibrancy of the plumage, making the feathers appear white.

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 after molting.

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

Parasites can lead to irritation. A parrot will likely over-preen or bite at the area, further irritating the skin and feathers.

how to improve feather quality in parrots

How To Improve Feather Quality In Parrots

To enable your parrot to maintain healthy feathers, offer proper care in all aspects of its life. This will include its meals, living environment, and access to sunlight.

Avoid Stress

Long periods of stress are responsible for feather banding, leading to behavioral problems and feather plucking. So, a stressed parrot is likely unhappy, bored, or feeling lonely.

Position the parrot’s cage in a room without much activity or noise. Your parrot will find this unsettling.

Ensure that the cage is large enough, with toys and enrichment items. If you make changes, do so gradually.

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, such as having a perch in the living room.

Keep the cage away from any vents, fans, or air-conditioning units. These airflows can be stressful and are notorious for drying parrots’ feathers and skin.

Diet

While parrots don’t rely on food for pigment, nutrition does play a crucial role in maintaining healthy feathers. To promote feather health, provide foods that are rich in Vitamin A.

Foods that are high in Vitamin A include:

Exercise

Preventing obesity and its associated illnesses involves providing a balanced diet and exercise. A happy parrot needs mental and physical exercise through socialization, play, and puzzle toys.

An enriched parrot will be more active, and it won’t feel the need to over-pluck its feathers due to stress or boredom.

Sunlight

Sunlight is vital for maintaining strong, vibrant, and healthy feathers.

Put part of your parrot’s cage in an area with access to direct sunlight. UVB lights are an alternative to sunlight. Keep in mind that after 6 months of use, the light will cease producing UVB rays.