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parrot feather discoloration

Why Are My Parrot’s Feathers Changing Color?

Last Updated on: 30th September 2023, 12:41 pm

The plumage of a parrot ought to be colorful and bright.

A sick parrot’s feathers may turn gray, black, yellow, white, brown, or lose vibrancy. Dull and off-colored feathers may be due to liver disease or a vitamin A deficiency.

If a parrot is under stress or taking medication, it may develop banding (bars) on its feathers.

Molting in parrots is characterized by dull feathers and shedding inner (primary) feathers. The old feathers should contrast sharply with the slowly emerging new ones.

Regular preening keeps a bird’s feathers clean, properly aligned, and vibrant.

Feather Discoloration in Parrots

Parrots can’t choose to alter the color of their feathers, unlike lizards and frogs. They can’t brighten or dim them, switch between colors, or introduce new patterns as camouflage.

Feathers can change color or discolor due to their health. That’s why parrots use the color and vibrancy of feathers to select strong and healthy mates during the mating season.

What Do Healthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

Parrots have various colors, often combining to create different hues in their plumage.

Healthy birds’ feathers should have a single, unbroken shaft.

The feather itself should be glossy, and the barbs zipped together; the colors should be vibrant and clean, and the feather should be soft to the touch.

parrot feathers turning black

What Do Unhealthy Parrot Feathers Look Like?

Unhealthy parrots’ feathers have odd or drained colors, looking:

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

The feathers may also be dry or brittle to the touch and combined with unusual patterns, like:

  • Striping.
  • Banding.
  • Splotching.

Why Did My Parrot’s Feathers Change Color?

Here are the reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change color:


A young parrot’s feathers will change 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 bright, strong, and sleek adult feathers.

The colors will match the tones for their species, aside from genetic mutations and normal variances.

A parrot’s feathers shouldn’t change again after the down is lost unless the following apply:


Illness or nutritional deficiencies can cause markers on the feathers, such as:

  • Stripes or banding.
  • Blotches of discoloration.
  • Faded sections.

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

  • Stress.
  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD).
  • Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).

Nutritional deficiencies interfere with how the body produces pigments and feathers, which can be due to a lack of vitamin A, sunlight, or calcium.

Too much dietary fat can cause the feathers to darken gradually.

Feather Follicles

Feather follicles are delicate, so damage or irritation can interfere with regrowth.

The feather can be deformed, restricting the bird’s ability to reflect light. When the nanostructures are malformed, colors like blue become dim. So, even a slight deformation can lead to color loss.

While many things can damage the follicles, feather-destructive behavior (feather plucking or picking) is the most common explanation. Feathers removed aggressively can cause irreversible damage.

Trauma can cause follicle inflammation or infection. If a parrot has been injured, that patch may not recover.  


The molting process allows old feathers to be shed and new feathers to be replaced. Depending on the species, parrots molt 1-3 times a year. Smaller birds molt more frequently.

As a feather reaches the end of its life, it may have a frayed appearance with duller colors. In contrast, new and growing feathers will appear more vivid and colorful.

How Do Parrot Feathers Change Color?

Parrots don’t naturally change colors but grow into their colors as they age.

All feathers contain pigments, which is called chemical coloring. They’ll react to the hormones and chemicals in the body as it matures. The pigments may change hue or develop into entirely new colors.

According to Cell, parrots’ feathers contain pigments called psittacofulvins. The vivid red, orange, and yellow pigments are found only in parrot species. Other pigment families include:

  • Melanins.
  • Porphyrins.
  • Carotenoids.

According to Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, carotenoid pigments produce the same colors as psittacofluvins. These are derived from ingesting plant matter.

Even though carotenoid sources are part of a parrot’s diet, food doesn’t affect the color of their plumage.

Colors in parrots’ feathers are affected by light reflection, called structural coloring. Most parrots have a combination of structural and chemical coloring.

For example, blue feathers aren’t created through pigments. Instead, they form due to the reflection of light in the nanostructures in each feather.

As most 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 harmed, so you’ll observe fraying and bands.

Parrot Feathers Turning A Different Color

There are reasons why a parrot’s feathers may change to a specific color. Although not a hard-and-fast rule across every species, the new color may enable you to gauge the reason for the change:

Turning Black

Black and dark-colored feathers warn that the parrot has excess fat or protein. A vitamin A deficiency can also cause black feather tips and edges.

Turning Yellow

Birds with liver disease may develop bright yellow rather than black feathers. Conditions like fatty liver disease can be successfully treated but will eventually be fatal if left unresolved.

Turning Brown

Parrots must wash regularly because dirt, grime, and debris make the feathers look slightly brown.

Check the parrot’s favorite perches. Are they coated in feces and dirt? If so, perform a deep clean of the cage and everything in it because it’s likely rubbing off onto the feathers, causing discoloration.

Turning Grey or Dull

A parrot’s feathers will start to dull as it prepares to molt, which usually happens in the spring.

This results in the feathers turning gray or ashy in color. A surplus of parrot dust can also dull or gray out the natural vibrancy of the plumage, making the feathers appear off-colored or 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 once they’ve finished molting.

Patches of differently colored, shredded, or damaged feathers may indicate an injury or infection in the skin or feather follicle. Parasites can also 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 a parrot to maintain healthy feathers, provide quality care in all aspects of its life:

Avoid Stress

Long periods of stress are responsible for feather banding, leading to behavioral problems and feather picking. A stressed parrot is likely unhappy, bored, lonely, annoyed, or jealous.

Position the parrot’s cage in a room without much activity or noise, and ensure it’s large enough, with lots of engaging toys and enrichment items. If you make changes to the cage, do so gradually.

A well-socialized parrot will be happy and stress-free. Spend time with the 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 air vents, fans, or air-conditioning units because these airflows can be stressful and are notorious for drying out parrots’ feathers and skin.


While parrots don’t rely on food for their pigmentation, nutrition is crucial in maintaining healthy feathers. To promote feather growth, provide foods rich in Vitamin A, like:


Preventing obesity and associated illnesses requires a balanced diet and exercise. An enriched parrot will be more active and unlikely to over-pluck feathers due to stress or boredom.


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

Put part of a parrot’s cage in an area with direct sunlight because this is needed for vitamin D3 synthesis and essential for absorbing minerals like calcium.

UVB lights are an alternative to sunlight, but they’ll cease producing UVB rays after 6 months.