August 03, 2020 10 min read

Are you worried about your bird’s feathers looking bad? The reason can be anything from bird preening gone rogue to nutritional issues to parasites. In this complete guide, you will learn why your bird’s feathers look bad and what all you can do about it.

Firstly, if you are a new bird owner then, you can’t rely just on your eyes to determine the health of your bird. Sick birds naturally tend to hide the signs of illness to avoid being targeted by predators in the wild. That’s why it’s important to take note of even the slightest changes in your bird’s weight and keep an eye on feather condition.

Birds are amazing and beautiful creatures. And, they are quite unique in the way that only they have feathers. Feathers are extraordinary creations that are remarkable to behold and range from the fluffy down on a swan chick to the brilliant spiral on a King Bird-of-Paradise’s tail.

Why Do Bird’s Need Feathers In The First Place?

Every feather on your bird’s body is a finely tuned structure that serves an important role in your bird’s daily activities. For example, feathers allow your bird to fly, show off, blend in, stay warm, and stay dry. Some bird species have special airfoil feathers that are efficient for smooth flight, while others have feathers in extreme ornamental forms. Simply put, birds are what they are because of their feathers.

What is the structure of a feather?

Following are some reasons that explain the importance of feathers to birds:

Identity

First of all, feathers are crucial for the identity of birds. Feathers are what make each bird species different from the others and give them unique identities. Feathers give birds the glamour and the shine to appear magnificent. Some birds have highly modified feathers that don’t look like feathers at all. Say, for example, the iridescent spiral of a King-of-Paradise tail appears and functions more as an exquisite adornment rather than a feather.

While there are 3 basic types of feathers, each species adorns them in a unique pattern. This is why all birds look so beautiful, yet so different. Healthy feathers are what give your parrot that beautiful look and coloration that we find so alluring. This is why it’s so upsetting you’re your bird’s feathers look bad or the bird feather plucks.

Insulation

One of the most important purposes of a bird’s feathers is insulation and in some species, water-proofing. Birds, like all other animals, need to stay warm when it gets chilly. Feathers do the job well. Feathers act as great insulators and prevent birds from heat loss. Insulation is extremely important for the survival of birds.

To help you get an idea, our young parrots are usually hatched with no feathers.  It may take a week or more for tiny down feathers to start to come in.  Down feathers provide excellent insulation from the elements, which is why we make coats and bedspreads from them. Down feathers have barbs that branch off in every direction.

A bird with tattered or missing feathers is at risk of becoming chilled.

Flight

Flight is basically one of the primary purposes of feathers for the majority of bird species. The primary and secondary wing feathers of your bird allow it to fly. Naturally, your bird is designed for flight. There’s a combination of lightweight, strong, and aerodynamic feathers that allow birds to fly. The wing and the tail feathers work together to allow your bird to fly.

The wing feathers, also called remiges feathers, are long, stiff, and asymmetrically paired to aid in both lift and thrust. There is a simple natural rule for flight. The heavier the bird, the longer the regime feathers need to be. The bird needs bigger, stronger wings and chest muscles to achieve flight.

Mating

Another important function of feathers is that they help in mating. Female birds often choose their mate on the basis of appearance. The more vibrant in coloration and iridescence that the feathers are, the healthier the male appears to be. After all, it takes a healthy, nutritionally sound bird to produce healthy feathers.

So, feathers, like in the case of the Hawkheaded Parrot below, help to attract mates. In fact, almost every mating in the bird kingdom is a result of the unique external features of the partners. Especially, during the mating season birds flaunt their feathers in the hopes of attracting a mate.

 

 

So, now you know that a bird’s feathers are not just about flight or insulation. There is more to it. Healthy feathers attract attention. People are fascinated with birds primarily because of their beautiful feathers, which are loved because of their color and glamour. There’s a reason that bird watching is such a popular hobby.

The fact is that parrots, which are pets of millions of people around the world, are loved and lusted after mostly because of their dazzling, spectacular colorations. Simply put, your parrot's feathers are so beautiful that you want to learn more about them.

Why Do My Bird’s Feathers Look Bad?

So, now that you see how amazing feathers are, it's clear why it's troubling when your bird's feathers look bad. You're not alone.

Are your bird’s feathers tattered, dull, or full of stress bars?  Does your bird have bald spots? Are you worried about the physical health of your bird? There can be many reasons for feathers looking bad.

But, the good news is that most cases, poor feather condition can be dealt with and your bird’s feathers can look great again. This, usually, can occur in the span between molts. Your bird's feathers can often return to normal fairly quickly. But, again, the causes are many and some causes may take more time to resolve than others. There are a lot of different reasons that your bird’s feathers may look bad.  I’ll describe them below.

Natural Issues Can Cause Feathers To Look Bad

Natural issues like molting can make a beautiful bird look tattered and unwell. Molting, the process when birds shed old feathers to produce new ones, is a naturally occurring event when feathers may look bad.  This process takes place periodically depending on the species.  You can learn more about molting here.

Birds molt at least once a year. There are several different types of molts. Don’t worry your bird won’t shed all of its feathers at once, but some molts can be rather harsh. 

Molting is a slow process and the feathers are replaced over the course of several weeks.  Growing new feathers is very taxing on the bird’s body and the bird may look bad for a while in an exceptionally hard molt. 

As a matter of fact, a bird may require up to 25% more protein in their diet during this time.

Therefore, it is extremely important to feed your bird well, so that your bird has the essential nutrients needed to grow beautiful feathers without too much stress on the body. It is common-sense that to grow new, vibrant feathers back, your bird requires optimum energy. So, before and during a molt, you should feed a diet rich in protein and use a feather growth supplement like FeatheredUp!

Wellness Issues Can Cause Feathers To Look Bad

There are some really serious health issues that affect your bird both physically and mentally. As a bird owner, it is your responsibility to make sure your bird has its environmental and physical health needs met. The best way to achieve this is to understand and identify what your exotic pet needs to thrive, and therefore have beautiful feathers. Here is a partial list of essential needs that parrots have:

Skin Health           

  • Allergies

Your bird can over-preen and pluck as a result of skin irritation. Birds can be allergic to food or chemicals in the environment (household products), amongst other things. Isolating the irritant can be tricky. Therefore, it is better to turn to your vet for expert advice.

  • Baldness

Now, this can be brought on by different factors like plucking, hormonal imbalance, mineral deficiency, mite or other parasites, genetics, etc. Some bird species, due to genetics, suffer from baldness more than others (example cockatiels in case of parrots).

  • Cysts

When and if a feather fails to break through the skin, cysts can occur. Since the feather will continue to grow beneath the surface, it can produce a lump on the bird’s skin. The primary wing feathers are more likely to be affected than the others. While the cause is not fully known yet, malnutrition, genetics, parrot over preening, and infection of a follicle are known to cause cysts. Cysts are serious and won’t go away without medical intervention. 

Environmental And Parrot Husbandry Issues That Affect Feather Condition

Various studies of abnormal repetitive behaviors in birds have indicated that the environment plays a role in the feather plucking behavior. It is believed that sometimes birds' behavior can mirror human mental disorders. The major factor in the case of many bird species is the lack of socialization. Further, a physical environment like caging a bird all the time can also trigger feather plucking in many species of parrots. But, this behavior is controllable. A parrot over preening can be regularized by setting the right environment for your bird. It is recommended to let your bird be free for more time than in a cage.

Cage Size and Accessories

The size of the cage and the positioning of accessories also contribute to the look of your bird. You should get a cage with a good space for your bird. If the cage is too small and does not allow for movement and exercise, your bird may rub up against the cage bars or cage accessories and damage its feathers.

Nutrition 

As talked about above, nutrition is extremely important when it comes to the health of your bird and the look of its feathers. Growing beautiful feathers demands a nutritious diet.  Therefore, it is important to include vitamins in the diet of your bird. FEATHEREDUP! is a great biotin-rich product containing vitamin and minerals that support healthy skin and feathers.  

Bathing

Bathing is something you can easily take care of. It is recommended to bathe your bird daily. Some birds don’t like to get showers or misted.  This is likely due to either never having learned the importance of it or maybe being squirted with water as a form of discipline.  Learn how to mist a bird here.

Indoor Humidity

Household humidity can also cause your bird’s skin to dry out resulting in feathers that look bad. Dry skin can be miserable causing a bird to scratch excessively. If you live in a very dry climate, it will help to run a humidifier and bathe your bird more frequently. 

Over-Preening

Over-preening can also cause your bird’s feathers to look bad. Since birds are taught how to preen by mom and dad, a hand-fed chick may have never learned how to properly preen or how to use its preening gland. While it may be hard for you to teach your bird proper preening, there are some steps that you can take to help your pet.

Proper preening is when the bird takes a feather into its mouth and zips all the barbs back in place.  Each feather is only manipulated for a few seconds as the bird quickly aligns the length of the feather with its tongue. The bird rubs its preening glands with its beak to gather essential oils to lubricate the skin and feathers.

This is different than the frenzied act of over-preening in which the bird appears to compulsively focus on one area or one feather.  These birds may also chew at or over-focus on their preening gland.

It is important to reward proper preening with treats and scritches.  If your bird doesn’t know where it’s preening gland is, spray it with a fine mister which will encourage it to explore that area.

Do Birds Have Feeling In Their Feathers?

As already mentioned, mature feathers are not living cells. Once the feather has fully grown, the vein inside recedes. Hence, feathers don’t have nerves. But, the skin surrounding the feather shaft does have some nerves. When a bird plucks a feather out, the feather follicle may become inflamed, resulting in even more over-preening or plucking.

How Do You Know If Stress Is Causing Feathers to Look Bad?

Although it is hard to know for sure if your bird stressed you can look for some tell-tale signs and symptoms to find it out.

Stress Bars

What do stress bars on feathers look like

Stress bars are damaged lines that run across the width of the feather affecting barb and barbule formation. They often appear dark in color. Stress bars occur when, during feather growth, the bird undergoes a stressful event, causing the body to divert nutrients to vital organs. Baby birds are prone to stress bars. 

Stress bars may be a sign of an inadequate diet, a highly stressful event, or an illness present during the formation of the feather. Stress bars can show in baby birds as well as in adults. But, in the case of adult birds, they need to be taken seriously. They are a sign that something serious is affecting your bird.

Chewed Off Shafts

Chewed off shafts in birds can be easily noticed. If you see a feather that has a splintered shaft, it is likely that the bird chewed it off.  This behavior is frequently caused by stress in birds.

Tattered Barbs and Barbules

While tattered barbs can be caused due by bumping into something, stress can also be a factor. Bathing and misting your bird can encourage healthy preening the feathers back into shape. 

Sometimes, a bird that preens too much breaks off feather barbs which also makes the feather look tattered.  This, of course, can’t be corrected until the feather is molted.

how to improve bird feather quality

How Can I Help My Bird Have Pretty Feathers?

The best way to help your bird develop pretty feathers is by caring for it properly.

  • The first thing, in the to-do list, is to feed a healthy diet to your bird. Include general vitamins if the condition is worsening or if your bird is on all seed diet. FEATHEREDUP! is a great supplement that can support your bird grow shiny and stylish feathers.
  • Plus, getting an aloe vera spray can soothe your bird’s skin.
  • Allergies can cause severe itching in your bird. This can result in the bad habit of over-preening or feather plucking. Itching can be prevented by using an anti-itch formula like FeatherSoft. Moreover, vitamin A supplements can also be added to the diet of your bird for healthy skin.
  • Red palm oil is rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A to support healthy skin.
  • Ensure that the environment is optimized to allow your bird to thrive.
  • You should also consider training your bird to preen properly. In the wild, birds are taught to preen and bathe properly, but many owners are not committed and therefore their birds miss this important developmental milestone. You should also make sure that your bird does not over-preen.

All in All

So, hopefully, you now know why do your bird’s feathers look bad and what all you can do about it. Feathers are an amazing creation of nature. They help birds to fly, mate, to be insulated, etc. They are of different shapes and colors and therefore appeal to the human eye in a delightful way. But, they can look bad due to natural issues, wellness issues, environmental issues, etc. Note that bird preeningis the natural bird grooming method and it is absolutely okay and does not need intervention unless your bird is over-preening.

Many things can cause your bird’s feathers to look bad. Therefore, you need to take care of the diet, physical, and mental health of your bird. Parrot moltingis also a normal phenomenon. But, you should prevent your bird from feather plucking. Furthermore, you should not forget to add vitamin supplements to the diet of your bird. This will immensely help your bird to develop pretty feathers. 

References

https://www.omlet.co.uk/guide/parrots/parrots_and_disease/feather_problems

https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/feathers-article/

https://www.northernparrots.com/mobile/caring-for-your-parrots-feathers-blog740/

https://blog.londolozi.com/2018/07/15/the-fascinating-symbolism-of-feathers/

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