Compared to other animals, parrots live long lives and age slowly. However, they don’t look and behave the same forever. Instead, many noticeable signs give away that your parrot is advancing in years.
Parrots that are growing old develop poor feather quality, skin blemishes, wrinkles, lose weight, and experience muscle wastage. Behavioral changes include irritability, lethargy, and vocalizations, either more or less noise than usual. They also fail to groom themselves and preen their nails. Similarly, many lose their appetite and struggle to exercise as much as they should.
As your parrot grows older, you must monitor its health. Aging parrots are prone to a range of health conditions, including cataracts, infections, and avian renal failure.
How Do Parrots Age?
The average lifespan of parrots varies widely depending on the species. Smaller parrots, like budgies and parakeets, live between 15 to 20 years. Some of the larger parrot species can live as long as 75 years or more.
The rate at which the bodies of large parrots age is similar to the average person. Like humans, they have the juvenile, middle, and senior stages of life. While these stages match ours, parrots reach adulthood much quicker because it gives them a better chance of surviving in the wild.
However, the same can’t be said for smaller parrots. They go through their life stages much more quickly, reaching adulthood when they are only a year old.
When parrots age, they spend the first third of their lives growing into adulthood. They then spend the next third as a fully-grown adult, experiencing a limited number of age-related conditions. But once they reach the final third of their lives – the senior stage, they experience an age-related decline.
Some parrots remain relatively well during old age, while others experience various health conditions that eventually kill the parrot. Thankfully, parrots age slowly compared to mammals and often enjoy a long, healthy life when provided with the right care.
Signs of Aging in Parrots
While parrots have different lifespans, they all show similar signs of aging. Physical changes tend to be subtle, but some are more obvious than others. In contrast, a parrot’s mental changes are more noticeable. That being said, these are the most common signs that a parrot is getting old:
As parrots get older, they sometimes develop cataracts. Cataracts are an age-related problem that affects both eyes. Cataracts are most commonly seen in canaries, but any species can get them.
Parrots with the condition develop grey or opaque white lenses. They may also show signs of squinting or redness. Some parrots go completely blind, while others retain an element of vision. In all cases, parrots experience significant sight reduction. Alongside aging, cataracts are caused by:
- Nutritional problems
- Metabolic diseases
- Inflammatory problems
Surgery is possible, but it might be too dangerous for parrots that are at the end of their life. As long as the parrot is otherwise happy and healthy and its quality of life isn’t too badly affected, most vets recommend leaving cataracts be.
Changing Eye Color
While cataracts cause some eye color changes, most are simply due to old age. Degenerative eye disorders are common in aging parrots, and some experience a loss of tone in the lids and a lightening of the iris. Eyes usually go from black or brown to red or yellow.
In most cases, this isn’t something to worry about unless the eye looks red or sore, which usually indicates a painful infection. But if your parrot isn’t troubled by its eyes and you can’t see any noticeable ulcerations, you don’t need to take your bird to the vet.
In fact, many vets use a bird’s eye color to determine its age. As they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul.
Parrot eyelids become droopy with old age. This is gravity taking its toll. As long as the eye doesn’t appear red and inflamed or the parrot doesn’t rub it with its wings because it’s itchy, there’s nothing to worry about.
Most dropping eyelids aren’t noticeable enough to see at first – if at all. But if you look closely, you’ll see some of the eye is more exposed than usual.
As parrots get older, they have less energy to look after themselves. As a result, their feathers become tattered and lifeless. They also develop stress bars, which appear as a series of horizontal lines that criss-cross across the feathers.
This is usually an indication that something in your parrot’s environment isn’t making it very happy. It could also be a sign of age-related stress.
Similarly, older birds that are unwell will develop dull, greasy feathers. This is partly because they don’t feel well enough to preen themselves, but also because parrots hide their sickness so well that low feather quality is usually the only giveaway sign.
Parrots hide their sickness so that they’re less vulnerable to predation in the wild. However, captive parrots have retained these instincts. If you noticed signs of pain or distress alongside your parrot’s poor feather quality, get it checked over in case of a health condition.
Older parrots are less likely to be able to keep their nails filed down for the same reasons as poor feather quality – they don’t have the strength or energy levels to keep themselves preened.
Thankfully, long nails are something owners can help control by cutting them down or using a pedi pad on the parrot’s behalf. However, you must be careful not to cut the quick; otherwise, you’ll hurt your bird.
Try to keep on top of this, as long nails can pierce the foot’s skin, increasing the risk of bumblefoot.
Parrots commonly lose weight as they age. This usually goes hand in hand with joint, foot, and leg problems, as parrots can’t get to their food bowl as easily as they should.
That’s why you should aim to make your parrot’s life as easy as possible by hand-feeding it or moving the bowl to a more convenient location.
While a small amount of weight loss is normal as parrots get older, a health condition could be at play if you notice the following things:
- More than 5% weight loss
- Lack of energy
- Frail or thin feathers
- Labored breathing
- Thinning feathers around the eyes
Similarly, if you feel the keel bone, which is located under the parrot’s breastbone, your parrot’s likely suffering from an age-related problem. It could be treatable, or it might be the sign that your parrot’s coming towards the end of its life.
Either way, keep encouraging your parrot to eat to ensure it gets all the nutrients and vitamins it needs.
Similar to weight loss, muscle wastage is attributed to a lack of exercise. The less parrots move, the weaker their muscles will become. Their wings are most commonly affected, as old birds lose the ability to fly around the room. Similarly, parrots that have had their wings clipped are more prone to muscle wastage later in life.
Muscle wastage is also known as muscle atrophy. It occurs when not enough mechanical load is put onto the muscle. Immobilization and bed rest because of illness are other causes, but muscle wastage is merely a natural part of the aging process.
Even though older parrots prefer to move less, it’s still vital that they move as much as possible to prevent this. Get your parrot out of its cage as much as you can and play with it to encourage movement.
One of the most visible signs of aging in parrots is skin deterioration. Dermatitis and skin tumors are the most common symptoms.
Skin blemishes are mostly seen on the face and feet. These blemishes usually include wrinkling, pigment spots, and discoloration. However, because most parrots have feathers covering their faces, skin complaints are only evident on the bare facial patches around the cheek area.
Similarly, old skin can also become dry, flaky, and scaly around the tops of the feet. Sometimes, the skin on the bottoms of the feet becomes smoother and thinner.
This leaves the feet prone to bumblefoot, which is caused by torn skin and open foot wounds that allow harmful bacteria to enter through.
Malnutrition and deficiencies are one of the leading causes of death amongst parrots, particularly as they get old. This is because many parrots naturally lose their appetite as they get older. Some even avoid stopping their favorite treats.
Again, this could be the result of an underlying health issue that makes it too uncomfortable for your parrot to eat. Other times, it’s simply a natural by-product of getting older.
If you notice your parrot stops eating as much as it used to, try to feed it smaller portions more often throughout the day. This might encourage it to eat more, preventing dangerous deficiencies.
Their immune systems weaken with age. This leaves them susceptible to a range of bacterial and fungal infections that their bodies can’t fight off as well as they used to. The most common parrot infections include:
- Aspergillus, a fungal infection of the air sacs and lungs.
- Avian gastric yeast infection (wasting disease), a highly infectious infection that’s a mixture of a yeast infection and secondary bacterial infection.
- Thrush, the same yeast infection that affects humans.
- Common cold, which causes runny eyes, wheezing, swollen eyes, and sneezing.
- Macaw wasting syndrome, a viral infection that causes stomach problems.
- Parrot fever, a highly contagious bacterial zoonotic disease.
Unfortunately, as parrots age, they’re more likely to succumb to an infection or disease that younger parrots are able to recover from.
Parrots growing old and weary develop bad posture, especially when they’re resting. Poor posture is usually accompanied by puffed-up feathers, which means your parrot doesn’t feel comfortable. Sick birds:
- Pull themselves into a stiff posture
- Hold their feathers flat against their body
- Hold their wings, into a pre-flight position
- Hold their heads high and forward
These are all signs that your parrot feels stressed. This is most likely due to a health condition that’s making your bird feel unwell in its old age.
It won’t get better on its own, so take the parrot to the vet to see if there’s anything you can do to make it feel more comfortable.
You’ll notice several behavioral changes. Unfortunately, one of the most common is irritability. Parrots that were once happy and affectionate become aggressive and frustrated.
Similarly, older parrots may become more intolerant of people they don’t know. While they usually show the same level of affection to their family, they won’t be very happy to have strangers in the home.
A primary reason for this change of behavior is due to tiredness and lethargy. And, like many other aging signs on our list, painful and uncomfortable age-related health conditions are also likely to make your parrot feel unhappy.
As a result, you must try to make your parrot as happy as possible by providing its favorite treats and toys, as well as spending plenty of time with it. However, recognize when it wants to be left alone, as this can make your parrot feel worse.
Low Energy Levels
As we’ve mentioned, aging parrots become tired as they get older, losing the energy levels of their younger days. On the flip side to becoming irritable, some parrots become more sedate and easy-going than normal.
Lethargy is a by-product of many other aging signs, including a lack of exercise, a loss of appetite, and malnutrition. Unfortunately, when all these factors combine, they can make your parrot seem far from its usual self.
This is part of the natural aging process. Providing a comfortable, stress-free environment for your parrot to live in is the best way to keep it healthy. However, you can’t affect its tiredness levels once it’s old.
Avian Renal Disease
Avian renal disease is commonly seen in older parrots. Parrots with the disease can’t expel waste from their bodies properly, making them seriously unwell. It’s usually caused by kidney damage or inflammation. Symptoms of avian renal disease include:
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Blood in stool
- Painful joints
- Puffy abdomen
Many viruses and infections can bring on avian renal disease, which is more likely to be fatal in older parrots. Therefore, keeping your parrot healthy and taking it for regular veterinary check-ups will help to prevent the condition from becoming too serious.
Parrots develop fatty lipomas as they get older. These are abnormal lumps that appear beneath the skin. They’re benign, but they usually scare owners once they’re found.
As described by VCA Animal Hospitals, lipomas are most commonly found in budgies, Amazon parrots, galahs, and sulphur-crested cockatoos.
Unfortunately, cancer is also a possibility in older parrots. There are hundreds of cancers that can affect parrots, and malignant tumors can appear anywhere on the bird’s body. Paying attention to your parrot’s body by regularly handling it is the best way to catch cancer early.
Not all tumors will be cancerous, but you must get any newly-developed mass seen to by a vet to be sure.
Another sign of aging is a change to your parrot’s usual vocalizations. Quiet, placid parrots become louder and more vocal, while parrots that love to talk become stop vocalizing as much as they used to.
While there are several reasons for this, it tends to happen as parrots get older and their bodies and minds begin to change. Similarly, parrots that are in pain react by making either more sound or less. Which way they go depends on their personality.
Sleeping More Often
Older parrots get tired quicker, which means they sleep more during the day. This is so that they can conserve their energy. They also have less interest in playing with their toys, preferring to rest.
While this is normal, make sure the room your parrot’s in gets plenty of quiet and darkness at night. If your parrot can’t sleep a full 12 hours at night, it’ll struggle to stay awake during the day, throwing its sleeping pattern out of sync. This will also cause a series of health problems.
Can Parrots Get Arthritis?
According to MSD Manual, parrots can develop septic and traumatic arthritis at any age. It most commonly develops in the digits from gripping perches, particularly if they’re too narrow or wide.
The parrot’s weight and other injuries are also factors that play into whether or not the parrot develops arthritis later on in life. Similarly, parrots with hip arthritis are most likely to develop bumblefoot, a painful condition that commonly affects older parrots.
That’s because parrots with painful hip joints end up standing on their unaffected leg for long periods of time, increasing the pressure on the foot while leaving them with painful ulcers.
Signs of arthritis vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some parrots are rendered lame because of it, while others may not want to fly. Other symptoms include:
- Falling off perches
- Swollen or warm joints
- Decreased range of motion
- Feather plucking
- Excessive vocalization
While arthritis can appear at any time, older birds are most likely to be affected.
Do Parrots Get Dementia?
As parrots get older, their brains begin to slow down. Some become more mellow and chilled, while others stop vocalizing as much as they used to.
Your parrot’s age-related decline is all down to your parrot’s mental and physical health – it’ll be completely different from bird to bird.
Currently, there aren’t enough studies to know whether parrots get dementia or not. However, when birds age, they display a range of behavioral changes, including depression, anxiety, and stress.
If you notice your bird’s mental abilities are beginning to decline, take it for a veterinary examination to make sure it’s not suffering from a health condition. Otherwise, this is simply a natural part of getting older.
As your parrot gets older, its needs will change. That’s why you must monitor your parrot’s health and behavior and provide it with the most comfortable place to live. If you’re worried about something you see, there’s no harm in taking your parrot to the vet for a check-up.