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Feathers (Abnormal Condition)

Learn the reasons why a bird's feathers might look worn, tattered or have black bars.

Margaret A. Wissman, DVM
Posted: January 14, 2013, 4:00 p.m. PST


Various abnormal feather conditions, such as discoloration or tattered edges can develop. A bird may chew or pluck out his or her feathers, leaving only down feathers, or no feathers at all. Feathers may be discovered to have tiny strange black areas along the veins, which could be quill mites. Feathers may grow in abnormally, with blood appearing in the shaft, or the feather may be curled or misshapen. Two feathers may appear to be growing in the same follicle (called polyfolliculosis).


Scarlet Macaw Feathers
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Studio/Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
Young parrots, especially macaws, might have more tattered and broken feathers from climbing and playing. This will fade over time.
In most cases, a review of the bird’s history (diet, housing environment, etc.) is needed to determine what changes can be made to correct the abnormal condition. An avian veterinarian should be consulted to determine any medical problems involved.  The method of wing-feather trimming should also be evaluated to determine if any cut feathers are irritating the bird.

A diet deficient in certain nutrients that are needed to grow and maintain healthy feathers can cause abnormalities. Feathers are the majority of protein mass in birds and a diet lacking certain nutrients can cause discoloration. Physical damage can also cause abnormal feather conditions, such as when a bird plays hard or if the bird is overdue for a molt, which may damage the ends of feathers. Oils from human hands or from over-production of oil from the uropygial (preen) gland can also cause a bird to appear greasy or darker in appearance.  Some medications or vitamin supplements that your bird may be taking can cause feathers to grow in abnormal colors. Viral infections, liver disease and protein deficiencies can also lead to feathers growing in abnormally.

Feathers may become depigmented if a bird is overdue for a molt, resulting in feathers appearing black.


An avian veterinarian needs to examine abnormal feathers under a microscope and submit them for culture and sensitivity or histopathology. A full work up by the vet is also needed to determine if any infections, parasites or disease are causing the abnormal feathers.


If an infection is found to be the cause of the problem, follow your avian veterinarian’s instructions to properly care for the infection. The bird’s diet should be supplemented with the correct amount of proteins and other nutrients to rule out the possibility of poor nutrition causing abnormal feathers.

Disclaimer:’s Bird Health Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.

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Feathers (Abnormal Condition)

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