by Diane Burroughs February 09, 2021 4 min read

Feather plucking in birds is a common problem and it could be caused by nutritional deficits. Many pet birds are notoriously low on vitamin D.  After all, taking our birds out safely for a couple of hours a day is to get sunshine is simply not reasonable in many of our climates.  As you probably know, getting a few hours of sunshine each day is the most natural and efficient way for animals and people to get much needed vitamin D.

Sunshine and feather plucking birds

Vitamin D plays several very important functions in the body. Possibly, one of the most important functions is to assist in the synthesis of Calcium - the most abundant nutrient in the body.  The body literally can’t synthesize, or make use of Calcium without assistance from vitamin D and magnesium. Calcium is important for strong bones but, did you know that it also plays an important role how the nervous system functions and in mood management. 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble that is naturally present in certain foods and is also produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight land on the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. The body produces vitamin D in response to sun exposure. That is why vitamin D is nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin.”

Vitamin D and Depression in Birds

One of the most prevalent symptoms of vitamin D deficiency is mood disorders. Mood disorders is one contributing factor to feather plucking in birds.

Have you heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that is common in the Northern hemisphere and in locations with lots of rain? Simply put, a living being isn’t exposed to UVA UVB light, isn’t receiving enough vitamin D! Our birds are no exception.  They can suffer from SAD, too.

There’s a lot of research on the link between depression and vitamin D deficiency. 

In fact, the vitamin D receptors in our brain are in the same locations in the brain associated with depression (i.e. the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, cingulate gyrus, thalamus, hypothalamus, and substantia nigra). While bird’s have different brain structures, they are still susceptible to mood disorders associated with lack of exposure to UVA UVB lighting. 

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency in Birds

Limited Sunlight

While sunlight is considered the primary source of vitamin D, there are options for your feathered friend. It may be dangerous to leave your feathered friend outdoors for a couple of hours a day, what with predators and all.  Also, during colder, darker months, your bird could get chilled and ill if left outdoors without a heat source. In these situations, full-spectrum lighting may be your best friend, especially if your dealing with a feather plucking problem.

Sunshine and feather plucking birds


There are actually very few bird safe foods that have high amounts of vitamin D, even premium bird pellets.  You see, the cooking process in bird pellet manufacturing diminishes the availability of nutrients in most pellets.

The following are foods that humans eat to obtain vitamin D but the only one that is bird safe is egg yolks. (of course, that’s likely egg yolks from free range chickens.)  

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods – certain cereals and juices


Older birds have an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency because the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D declines with age.


A lot of domestic birds are a little on the chunky side.  While obesity does not affect the body’s ability to produce vitamin D,  higher levels of body mass and fat requires higher levels of vitamin D for the body to function properly.


Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, conditions that affect fat absorption also affect the production of vitamin D. For example, conditions such as fatty liver disease and poor gut health all have a negative effect on vitamin D. 

Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency in Birds:

  • Aching bones
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Weak muscles
  • Lethargy

Symptoms of Avian Depression:

  • Poor sleep
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of interest in normal bird activities
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive weight loss of weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Feather Plucking and self-mutilation

Reach out to an Avian Veterinarian or Avian nutritionist if you notice signs of depression or anxiety in your bird. 

Solving Vitamin D Deficiency

To treat your vitamin D deficiency the obvious answer is to increase your intake of vitamin D, but how? Ways to increase your intake are:

Helpful Solutions for the Winter Blues in Birds

If you suspect the lack of sunlight and vitamin D is affecting your pet’s mental health and causing symptoms of depression, the first (and best) thing to do is always talk to an Avian Veterinarian who is knowledgeable about avian nutrition.  of that, here are some bird-care tips to support your feathered friend:

In Conclusion:

Numerous studies show a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Ensuring that your bird gets the proper amounts of vitamin D is an essential component of parrot husbandry  Even though it can be hard to help your bird get proper levels of Vitamin D, there are several ways to make sure your bird doesn’t suffer a deficiency.

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