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Why Are Parrots Colorful?

Nicole Cosgrove

Parrots are one of the most enticing, exotic pets because of their fun personalities and bright-colored bodies. Most scientists attribute a parrot’s colorful feathers to evolution and the increased ability to attract the attention of a mate. Males are usually more vibrant than females, but both sexes show off their colors to one another.

Eyesight is a parrot’s most acute sense. Birds see things similar to humans but with a lot more vividness. They can also see an ultraviolet spectrum that humans cannot. There are a few different ways that color plays a role in a parrot’s life that you might not know about.

divider-birdsPhysical Characteristics of Parrots

Parrots showcase colors with every color of the rainbow. There are many different variations as well. The African gray parrot has only a red pop of color on its tail, while the Pesquet’s parrot is all black with a few pops of color throughout. Parrots have two forward-facing toes and one backward-facing toe. They have strong and curved beaks. Parrot sizes range from 40 inches long to less than 4 inches long. The heaviest parrot on record was more than six pounds but was incapable of flight.

Macaw Parrot
Image Credit: 192635, Pixabay

How Parrots See Color

In general, birds have fantastic color vision, so much so that it is stronger than ours and detects ultraviolet light.  Parrots use this ability to identify other types of bird species and the sex of each bird. Of course, this affects their ability to mate.

A human retina has three different types of cone cells that act as color receptors to red, green, and blue hues. A parrot’s retina has an extra type of cone cell. Each cone cell contains colored oils that enhance the bird’s ability to see and create a better differentiation between all sorts of colors.

divider-multiprintHow Colors Affects Mating

Parrots choose a mate based on the coloration of their feathers. The brighter they are, the better chance they stand at finding another bird to breed with. Colorful males tend to have a higher sperm count than dull ones. Colorful females also produce healthier and larger clutches. A dull parrot is also an indication that they are sick or infested with parasites.

Even though some birds might look a little dull to us, they look a lot more enticing to other birds. This statement is especially true for all parrot species. Sometimes, birds that appear monochromatic to us have a much higher level of ultraviolet coloring. Males have a lot of reflective patches in their feathers that we are unable to see with our naked eyes. Female parrots prefer ultraviolet coloring to all others.

How Colors Affect Feeding Baby Parrots

Some scientists think that colors and patterns play a role in how young birds are fed. Because the eggs hatch on alternate days, their ages and sizes vary. Older birds require more food than smaller ones. Parents use the brightness around the edge of the young mouths to indicate which ones need more nourishment.

Heavier chicks have less vibrant patches around their heads and mouths, so parents feed to brightly colored ones first. Heavier chicks with duller colors gain less weight than the lighter birds. Some young birds even have ultraviolet light to encourage their parents to feed them. This discovery has led scientists to think that this is a way that birds communicate hunger to their parents.

Baby blue parrotlet_Woodize_Shutterstock
Image credit: Woodize, Shutterstock

How Do Parrots Camouflage with Bright Colors?

You would think that the bright feathers on parrots make them more susceptible to being spotted by predators. However, parrots naturally come from rainforest environments. Camouflaging themselves there is easy amongst the bright fruits and flowers, and the bright green parrots easily disappear when they are against all the healthy foliage.

How Ultraviolet Light Helps Parrots Forage

A lot of the insects that fall pretty to birds have an outer body coating that reflects ultraviolet light. This creates a bigger color contrast to fruits and berries, meaning that they are much easier for a parrot to spot. If you have a pet parrot, you might notice that parrots tend to gravitate towards the pieces that are brighter or more colorful than those around them. They have a knack for associating certain colors with treats.

Why Does My Parrot Pull its Feathers Out?

Even if you haven’t owned a pet bird, you might have seen a few situations where the birds pull out their beautiful feathers. Parrots are highly intelligent and extremely sensitive. One of the first signs that a parrot is ill or experiencing stress is feather plucking. This is sometimes preventable when the owner takes proactive changes, but it is crucial to understand what causes might have set the behavior off.

Molting Vs. Plucking

Parrots mold about two times a year. Molting is when a bird loses feathers in order to grow new ones, and it is a lot different from plucking. The bare skin shows when a bird plucks their own feathers, and you won’t have any bare skin during the molting phase.

Malnutrition

The most common reason for plucking is malnutrition. Birds need more than seeds. Without a varied diet, their skin becomes dry, and molting becomes irregular. The birds start to overgroom themselves and, eventually, turns into a bad habit. Even if this is the problem, it is possible the behavior will continue after you rectify it.

Parrot Scratching_ Franck TAILLEZ_Shutterstock
Image credit: Frank Taillez, Shutterstock

Stress

Plucking is common in birds who are stressed. The stress could be from a lack of attention, cramped cages, dirty spaces, or boredom. Some birds even pluck after losing their owners and going through a period of grief until they find another bird or human to bond with.

Illness

Illnesses and parasites might also contribute to plucking. Common bird parasites are mites or lice. Always take your pet bird to the doctor if you notice any changes in their behavior.

Parrot Skin Problem
Image Credit: Linda Bestwick, Shutterstock

How to Treat Feather Plucking

Parrots that pluck themselves should be taken to a veterinarian to be examined. They evaluate whether the behavior is based on environmental changes or if they should subscribe medication for anxiety issues. If caused by nutrition, they’ll ensure to give you a list of foods or programs to enhance their diet. If they rule all these out, the vet will likely run tests to find an underlying medical condition.

divider-birdsConclusion

While mating is certainly one reason why parrots have evolved to showcase their bright colors, there are other reasons that most people don’t realize. Everything about a parrot’s coloring is there for survival purposes. Even though we lack the ability to see their ultraviolet colors, knowing more about them helps you appreciate the beauty of these birds on a deeper level.


Featured Image Credit: Arulonline, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.