scruffy, disheveled feathers on blue-headed pionus

by Deborah Savage
(Montague, Mass.)

I recently adopted a 6-year old female blue-headed pionus parrot. She came from what seemed to be a knowledgeable home, where she had been one of about five or six other parrots, all different species and each caged separately but allowed lots of free time.

When I picked up my parrot, I thought she appeared very scruffy. The former owner's other birds were all normally sleek-looking. Only the pionus was scruffy. I have now had her about three months and she is still very disheveled in her appearance. She is not dropping feathers nor plucking (just normal-seeming preening)but her feathers are just...messy. The feathers don't lie flat, they stick out every which way on her back, head, and esp.around her tail, and on her breast the under-down sticks out through the feathers. She is not sleek and shiny the way others of her species appear in photos.

She came with a cage, which is quite large enough, it seems--she has plenty of room. I was told she hated getting wet and that attempts to bathe her (by spritzer bottle) resulted in her becoming quite upset, so I don't want to try it unless that is the reason for her messy-looking feathers. But how to wash her if it traumatizes her??!

She is in all other respects (as far as I can tell) quite healthy--active, responsive, excellent appetite,engages in normal preening, adapted quickly and well to her new home. No apparent mites or parasites (but haven't checked with vet). Her beak is healthy-looking, her eyes clear. I am feeding her as per instructions from her former owner: pellets, a good seed mixture, "monkey" biscuits, and plenty of extras: scrambled or boiled egg, oatmeal, beans, also veges and fruit (although she isn't keen on them). Also I have placed a full-spectrum light on over her cage to make up for not much exposure to sunlight.

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Mar 05, 2010
Scruffy feathers on parrot
by: The Avian Vet

Unhealthy feathers are one symptom of an unhealthy bird. There are many things that affect the quality of feathers. The there most important are stress, diet, and light. Other important factors are humidity and regular bathing. Certainly disease needs to be considered, too.

Pellets are the best way to feed a parrot. Pellets should make up 80% of the diet; the other 20% can be all of the treats you mentioned (although I am not a fan of monkey biscuits, they are for monkeys, not birds; their quality control is not acceptable for parrots because of the levels of bacteria that are allowed in this food).

Not all pellets are created equally, however. Some pellets I do not recommend because of their ingredient list. All colored pellets should be avoided. The colors are artificial and so are the preservatives. These ingredients can cause problems. These types of formulated diets often contain large amounts of sugar (sucrose) and this is not good for parrots either; it can contribute to yeast infections. Many of these pellets lead to a protein deficiency and this is reflected in the quality of the feathers.

The best pellet to feed is Harrison's. This food is organic, which means no preservatives or other artificial ingredients, no sugar, and no pesticide residues, either. Harrison?s also contains omega fatty acids which are necessary for healthy skin and and feathers.

Birds need UV light for healthy feathers and healthy attitude. You mention that you have given him a full spectrum light. This is good, but make sure it is for birds, not plants. Some reptile bulbs are acceptable, but be sure it has UVA and UVB; not all do and the best one is ZooMed?s AvianSun Lamp and bulb. Your bird should get 4-6 hours daily, split between two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

It may be beneficial to put a humidifier in the room with your bird. The humidity will help the feathers and skin stay moist and supple.

Bathing is very important. If spraying is frightening, then pick another method. Take him into the shower with you and or let him see other birds bathing. In time, he will learn to bathe.

The first thing you need to do is take him in to see an avian veterinarian. If he is not vaccinated for polyomavirus, then have that done. Also test him for beak and feather disease; but, he should be screened for basic problems such as nutritional deficiencies, bacterial infections, yeast infections, etc.

Finally he needs time for all of these changes to take effect. It will take 6-12 months to start and complete a molt. However, I have seen improvements as soon as 3 months in birds that I have switched to Harrison?s. It really does work that quickly.

Dr B

Mar 04, 2010
scruffy, disheveled feathers on blue-headed pionus
by: Linda

Sounds like you know what you are doing, and I am very happy to help you here.

First of all, your bird needed to be seen by an Avian vet immediately when you brought her home. She could have low-level bacterial infection which will eventually make her very sick. So take her in for an exam and some routine bloodwork to make sure her organs are functioning properly.

As for feeding, lose the Monkey Chow as it is nasty and normally full of bacteria and fungal material. Just stop feeding it and throw away any you have right now. The pellets need to be 90% of her diet, so lose all the extras like eggs and such as these are interfering with vitamin and mineral and protein balance and are in fact probably part of the cause for her poor feathering. Pellets need to be organic as they have no pesticide or fertilizer residue. Tracie has several kinds out here, and we use Harrisons. Harrisons also makes a tasty Birdy Bread Mix and get the Sunshine factor organic red plam oil to put in it which will help with her skin and feathers. Only feed no more than 10% of the total diet in organic fruit and veggies which means very little of them a few times a week. Just stop with the eggs and any people or table food as these are full of salt, sugar and fat all of which are poison to birds. The eggs she gets in her birdy bread are the only eggs she'll ever need.

So, first thing is a trip to an Avian Vet. Second is to get her some organic pellets and some of the Birdy Bread mix which can be up to 30% of the overall diet. Put no additions into mix, just the called for oil, eggs and water. It is very nutritious and of very high quality.

Sounds like cage is right size and make sure she has natural branch perches throughout cage so her feet can get the advantage of different diameter sizes as she walks from end to end.

Let us know how everything goes, and even with a corrected diet and a trip to the vet, it can take up to a year before you see better feathers. The old ones will have to be molted out and new ones growing in plus it takes a while for a diet to start showing results. As for bathing, she may be sick, so don't give her anymore baths until she has been seen by Avian Vet. After that, use the plant sprayer and use only warm water not hot and not cold, just warm. Some birds are frightened by it, so hold it below her eye level and just start by washing her feet and her perches. Once she is over her fear of it, then you can mist her from above and put it on a mist that is very fine until she gets used to it. She will adapt to the sprayer once she sees that it is not going to hurt her.Some people use plant sprayers as a way of correcting parrot's bad behaviors, and this causes them to fear the sprayer, so in time, she'll be okay with this.

Thanks for writing and let us know how everything goes.


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