Last Updated on: 24th November 2023, 11:46 am
Sometimes, bird owners find old, damaged feathers at the bottom of the cage. Concerns grow when a parrot has bald patches on its neck, chest, around the eyes, and under the wings.
Parrots molt their feathers 1-2 times a year, usually in the spring/early summer and again in early/mid-winter, replacing them with robust and vibrant feathers.
Smaller parrots, like budgies, lovebirds, and parrotlets, molt more frequently than larger parrots.
Feathers may also fall out or be removed due to infection, disease, over-preening, and emotional distress. Parrots can become self-destructive if their social and care needs aren’t met.
Bored, lonely, and stressed parrots often express unhappiness through feather-destructive behavior. Sometimes, a cagemate is a bully, plucking out the other bird’s feathers.
Why Is My Parrot Losing Feathers?
You may suddenly notice a parrot is losing feathers when you find:
- Feathers on the cage floor.
- Patchy, missing feathers.
- Scraggly or uneven feathers.
- White strands and specks on the feathers.
Should you be concerned about the bird’s health, or is parrot feather loss normal? The answer depends on whether other negative symptoms accompany it.
Here’s how to determine if you need to take action:
- Look for bald patches or bare skin.
- Check the parrot’s health, behavior, and diet.
- Is one bird aggressive toward the other?
Is It Bad for Parrots To Lose Feathers?
You may observe a parrot shaking out and pulling away loose feathers.
It’s healthy for parrots to lose their feathers within a normal molting cycle. Once the molt is complete, a parrot will fly better, be more resilient to environmental conditions, and look its best.
Primary and secondary feather loss and bald patches can have negative connotations.
Clinical Practice notes that feather-destructive behavior is common among pet parrots with:
- Behavioral problems.
- Unsuitable living environments.
- Underlying health issues.
Feather replacement takes 1-2 months, depending on the molting cycle.
Plucked feathers don’t always regrow if the skin tissue is permanently damaged.
Why Do Parrots Shed Feathers?
There are various reasons why birds molt, including:
Parrots shed old feathers to rejuvenate themselves. Otherwise, their feathers would become frail, misshapen, and not fit for purpose. This would inhibit flight, safety, and temperature control.
Keeping Warm or Cool
Depending on the local climate, parrots shed feathers to warm up or cool down. That’s no different than how a cat or dog sheds its winter or summer coat.
Parrots shed feathers to line their nests, creating padding, structure, and insulation for their eggs and hatchlings. Some feather plucking is expected if a female parrot is gravid.
Why Do Parrots Bite Their Feathers?
Parrots clean themselves with their beaks in an act called preening. This achieves the following:
- Removes dirt.
- Gets rid of parasites.
- Coats the feathers in preen oil from the uropygial gland.
- Feather realignment.
It’s normal to find loose feathers below their perch. This is problematic if there are signs of excessive feather loss, baldness, stress to the feather follicles, flesh wounds, and signs of infection.
Why Do Parrots Overpreen?
Parrots engage in feather-destructive behavior for the following reasons:
Parrots are vulnerable to stress, manifesting as anxiety-related plucking or self-mutilation. This is an adverse reaction when parrots feel threatened, afraid, and unable to escape.
Identifying and resolving the stressors will stop feather-picking behavior. These include:
Changes to a parrot’s environment can be stressful. These modifications can be minor, like moving its cage to a different side of the room, or more significant, like moving home.
If you find a parrot is suddenly plucking its feathers, consider the following factors:
- Has a favorite toy or perch been removed from the cage?
- Have you made a change to the bird’s diet?
- Have you switched furniture?
- Are you playing loud electronic music?
- Have you been using air fresheners?
- Have you painted the walls a new color?
- Is there roadwork nearby?
- Do you have new pets or house guests?
Parrots are neophobic (dislike new things), so you can resolve the problem by removing the stressor.
Parrots need companionship and social interaction to remain happy. If you’re busy working or socializing with friends, you’re likely not spending enough time together.
Have you adopted a parrot from a rescue center? If so, it’ll take time to recover from neglect and abuse. A new environment can add to the emotional burden, further hampering recovery.
New people or animals in the home can be stressful. Parrots are prey animals, so their instinct is to be cautious of new sounds, smells, and entities.
Let the parrot grow used to new people and animals before they become a permanent fixture. This can be achieved by arranging occasional visits and play sessions.
Changes in Routine
Parrots can become stressed and uncertain about their environment due to modifying their routine. Even a minor change can trigger stress, including:
- Daylight savings change when you leave for work or return home.
- A different meal time due to a revised schedule.
- A change affects the amount or quality of sleep.
Gradually introduce changes, allowing the parrot to adjust.
Parrots are intelligent animals, so they’ll grieve the loss of someone they love in a similar way to humans. The parrot may have been attached to someone who recently:
- Surrendered them to an animal shelter.
- Permanently moved away.
- Spends extended periods away from home.
The parrot may be grieving someone’s absence. They can experience depression and, while in this state, express their unhappiness by plucking feathers.
Feather plucking can signify a medical concern, causing skin irritation and inflammation. A parrot may pull out its feathers to resolve the issue. Skin irritation has many causes, including:
- External parasites (ectoparasites) like fleas and mites.
Unless the problem is resolved, it’ll become a self-reinforcing cycle.
Parrots may pick their feathers if they can’t breed while undergoing hormonal shifts. Often, this results in feather picking on the chest, but it can occur anywhere on the body.
A parrot that lacks companionship and enrichment will grow bored, resulting in behavioral problems. You can alleviate a parrot’s boredom by doing the following:
- Getting the parrot a companion.
- Socializing together, including talking and playing or letting it sit on your shoulder.
- Providing toys, tiered perches, and a larger cage.
- Letting it explore outside the cage in a parrot-safe room.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, enrichment should include problem-solving challenges.
Viruses And Bacteria
If a parrot develops a viral or bacterial infection, the body may prioritize vital organs over primary and secondary feathers. This can cause parrots to shed while displaying other signs of illness.
Feather-destructive behavior may occur due to irritation and discomfort caused by the infection. As the parrot grows uncomfortable, it’ll grow more destructive.
Avian diseases can cause feather loss in parrots, including:
- Psittacine beak and feather disease.
Scarring from an injury could damage the feather follicles beyond repair.
Do Parrots Feathers Grow Back?
A parrot’s feathers will grow back if the old ones fall out due to seasonal molting.
The new feathers should grow following a molt in 6-8 weeks. This isn’t always true for parrots that lose their feathers for health and behavioral reasons. Examples Include:
- Scarring of the skin from a wound.
- Damage to the area from a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection.
- The feather follicles are stunted or malformed from over-preening.
If this happens, the parrot will be permanently scarred and remain partially bald.
How To Stop Parrots from Plucking Feathers
The following actions can stop a parrot from pulling out its feathers:
- A reliable daily routine.
- More nutritious diet.
- Sun exposure is essential for vitamin D3 synthesis and calcium absorption.
- New toys and extra perches.
- Larger cage size.
- More out-of-cage time.
- Regular socialization and interaction.
- Teaching parrots new words.
- Learning clever tricks.
- Improved husbandry.
- Keep other pets out of the parrot’s room.
- Introduction of a cagemate.
Feather plucking is hard to stop once the parrot has developed the habit. Potential solutions involve using an anti-plucking collar or vest until the behavior subsides.
Here are some proven ways to grow strong and healthy feathers in pet parrots.