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parrot feather discoloration

Why Are My Parrot’s Feathers Changing Color?

A healthy parrot will have strong, well-kept, vibrant, and colorful plumage.

A sick parrot’s feathers may turn grey, black, yellow, white, brown, or lose vibrancy. Liver disease and vitamin A deficiencies are common causes of feather discoloration.

If the feathers are only slightly duller in color, the parrot is preparing to molt.

A parrot may develop banding on its feathers if it is under stress or getting medical treatment.

Feather Discoloration In Parrots

Parrots can’t choose to alter the color of their feathers, so they can’t 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 parrots’ 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.

Parrots have a wide range of colors, and most have several colors in their full plumage.

As long as the colors match the rest of the body and the patterns they normally display, the parrot is in good mental and physical health.

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

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

  • 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 tones for their species, with a few normal variances.

A parrot’s feathers don’t naturally change again after the down is lost, except when the following apply:

Health

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

  • Stripes or banding
  • Blotches of discoloration
  • Faded sections

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

Nutritional deficiencies interfere with how the body produces pigments and feathers, which 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 regrowth.

The feather can be deformed, which restricts its ability to reflect light. When the nanostructures are malformed, colors like blue become dim. So, even a slight deformation can lead to a loss 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 a parrot was injured, that patch might not recover.  

Molting

Depending on their species, parrots molt 1-3 times a year.

The molting process allows old feathers to be shed and new feathers to take their place.

As a feather reaches the end of its life, it may have a frayed appearance with duller colors. In contrast, any 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. That’s because all feathers contain pigments, known as chemical coloring.

They’ll react to the hormones and chemicals in the parrot’s body as it matures. The pigments may change hue or develop into 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 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 isn’t affected by food.

Colors in parrots’ feathers are 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 pigments. Instead, they form due to the reflection of light in the nanostructures within 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 damaged, so you’ll notice 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 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 in the body. A Vitamin A deficiency can also cause black feather tips and edges.

Turning Yellow

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

Turning Brown

Parrots need to bathe several times per week, as dirt and grime make the feathers look slightly brown.

Check your parrot’s favorite perches. Are they coated in feces and dirt? If so, clean them because it’s likely rubbing off onto their 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 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, give them proper care in all aspects of its life, including 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 lonely.

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

A socialized parrot is happy and stress-free. 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 vents, fans, or air-conditioning units, as these airflows can be stressful and are notorious for drying parrots’ feathers and skin.

Diet

While parrots don’t rely on food for their pigmentation, nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy feathers. To promote feather health, provide foods rich in Vitamin A, such as:

Exercise

Preventing obesity and 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 unlikely to over-pluck 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 direct sunlight, as this is an essential source of vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium synthesis.

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