Feather Notes

Jean Pattison, July 15, 2001

I have just received a phone call from someone concerned about stress bars. Since this issue is dealing with feathers I thought this might be a good place to throw in a few notes.

Stress bars

African parrots overall seem to be very resistant to getting actual stress bars across their feathers. Stress bars are caused from an upset in the nutritional intake of a bird. This can be caused by poor diet, administration of meds, poor health, and of course stress which could be associated with chicks being too cold and food not digesting properly.

The little cut lines seen running across a feather, which most people (including some veterinarians) refer to as stress bars in the Africans, are actually tiny cuts in the feather caused by the hardened feather sheath not being removed in a timely manner. Imagine the feather sheath being a soda straw, and the folded feather quills are starting to pop out but the "soda straw" does not break away. This is causing an abrasive action across the feather, which results in tiny perforations across the feather. These can be randomly scattered throughout the feathers, but usually show up in the wing and tail feathers. Actual stress bars from nutrition and health usually form a pattern over the bird's feathers that indicate an abnormality when that particular group of feathers was being formed.

Dirty, black, ragged feathers

When edges of feathers take on a ragged appearance and seem a bit oily, or dirty looking most people assume bad diet, or an all seed diet. In reality, this could just be "old" feathers that have not molted yet. Granted, this could be diet induced, but there can be many causes for a delayed molt. Of course with the molt, the new feathers should be pristine and healthy looking.

Yellow feathers

As most of us know, abnormal colored feathers can indicate illness, and liver problems. In African parrots, red feathers on African greys or yellow feathers on Poicephalus are often times the result of plucking or even rubbing feathers out. I once bought 2 pair of brown-headed parrots from a gentleman who was asking a high price for them due to the fact all four had completely yellow heads. Of course I was the only person wanting brown-headed parrots, so I was able to convince him this was from being plucked. I told him if the chicks have yellow heads, and the parents retain the yellow I would give him the birds back, at no cost. I still have the birds.


Since I do a wing-clip where the primaries are cut leaving about one half inch of feather left, under (not below) the overlapping feathers. Some of my clients were concerned the molt would be affected, thinking the weight of the feather is what allows it to fall out, rather than being pushed out. I had one veterinarian write me a letter regarding this issue, since she did not approve of this cut. Well, I thought, does anyone really know if this is actually the case? That year I was holding back six African greys for breeding so I clipped only one wing of each bird and waited. Eventually the wing feathers started their molt and I found the feathers molted at the same time.