This article appears in its entirety in the August 2019, issue #259 of Parrots magazine.
Did you know that your bird’s feather condition, ragged edges and improper coloring can be a sign of avian malnutrition, undernutrition or imbalanced nutrition?
And what about beaks? Do you know anyone who regularly has their bird’s beak trimmed? Did you know that an over grown or misshapen beak is another sign of avian malnutrition?
Trimming a parrot’s beak has become such a common occurrence that many do not realize that an over grown or mis-shaped beak is something to be concerned about. I’ll do a separate blog post on this topic.
Feather Condition Tells the Story
In 2002, Greg Harrison, DVM, presented a protocol for identifying avian nutritional deficiencies. The two key areas to look at include, first reviewing the diet and the foods a parrot actually eats. Secondly, to look at the condition of a parrot’s the beak, skin, nails and especially the feather condition.
When looking at your parrot focus on the condition of their feathers and beak, it’s easy to overlook the things you are used to seeing. The photos here will help you become aware of the feather condition abnormalities that can occur because of improper nutrition. You can click on the photos for a larger image.
Examining a Parrot’s Diet
Because I teach people how to use food to keep their birds healthy and happy I can instantly tell, by what is fed, if a parrot’s food plan lacks essential nutrients. Using my approach to feeding foods that provide balanced avian nutrition ensures your parrots and finches are receiving all the nutrients they need. The ‘old approach’ of feeding a wide variety of different foods is actually missing hundreds of essential nutrients that a parrot must eat everyday. I’ll write an upcoming post explaining exactly the foods that are in these two foods bowls above.
Feather Condition and Clinical Manifestations of Dietary Imbalances
The areas where signs of malnutrition are often first seen are in the beak, skin, nails and feather condition. Hyperkeratosis (the thickening or abnormal growth) of the epithelial tissues is commonly seen in vitamin A or biotin deficiencies and is manifested by:
- Overgrowth of beak and nails.
- Poor quality of beak and nails – flaking, chipping and breaking.
- Retained pin feathers that may be painful for the bird.
- Poor quality feathers – scruffy, inflexible, break easily, abnormal molting.
- Abnormal feather color (black feathers on green or blue birds, pink feathers on African Greys).
- Hyperkeratotic lesions (thickening of the skin) on the plantar surfaces (soles) of the feet, leading to pododermatitis (inflammation of the skin).(1)
Nutrition and Feather Condition and Growth
Feathers grow continuously during a molt, throughout the day and night. Because of this, dietary amino acids are supplied only after meals. After the proteins from the meal have been used up the amino acids then required for keratin synthesis are taken from the proteins in the body’s tissues.(2) This same situation occurs when a parrot is experiencing stress and is not fed foods that provide balanced nutrition. See my post, “Understanding the Avian Stress Response”.
The Importance of Complete Protein
If you are concerned about your bird’s good health you’ll want to be aware of the quality of complete protein in the foods your bird eats. Protein quality varies on the basis of amino acids present, the balance of these amino acids and their digestibility. For example, if one protein source contains a lower level of a particular amino acid (the limiting amino acid), a different protein source that is rich in that particular amino acid must be consumed to meet the bird’s protein requirement.(2) This is when feeding your parrots a food that has been especially formulated to provide them complete protein becomes important. Our sprouting blends have been especially formulated to provide your birds complete protein.
(1) Dorianne Elliott, Dip Vet Nur, BVSc, ‘Recognising Avian Malnutrition’, World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress, 2014. https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?id=7054663&pid=12886& . Accessed June 3, 2019.
(2) F. Péron and C. Grosset, ‘The diet of adult psittacids: veterinarian and ethological approaches’, Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2014. https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/1919305/file/1919306.pdf . Accessed June 3, 2019.
The complete article covers four pages, cites a total of nine resources, shows more than nine photos of ‘poor quality’ feathers (caused by malnutrition), shows photos of misshaped beaks (caused by malnutrition), explains how healthy feathers look with additional charts and healthy feather diagrams.
For the complete article containing all the photos and diagrams please visit Parrots magazine website.
Do you have questions or comments on this blog post? Make a comment below, or send us an email with a photo of your bird’s feather condition.