Stress Bars In Parrot Feathers

Posted by Patty on

Photo from

Stress bars are lines that run crosswise through a feather shaft illustrating that inadequate diet, high stress or illness (and subsequent medicating) was present during the time that the feather was being formed. They are areas of poor development that create flawed or weakened segments which make the feather vulnerable to breakage.

Stress bars are similar to what a geologist discovers as he studies the layers of the earth. Each layer tells a story about the conditions at the time the layer was forming. A geologist can tell if there was volcanic activity or flooding based on the observation of each layer. Stress bars also paint a picture, although less detailed, about your bird’s well being at the time the feathers were forming.

The bars can be either dark or light in color or depigmented and clear, but are always a sign that something has been, and perhaps still is, wrong in the bird’s environment.

photo from


In baby birds, feeding intervals that are too far apart and environment temperatures that are allowed to get too cool can lead to stress bars. It is not uncommon to find a few stress bars on baby birds that are newly feathered out. In adult birds, however, stress bars should be taken very seriously.

Given that stress bars can only happen during feather formation, you will have to look back to your parrot’s last molt to identify the period of time that produced poor quality feathers. If your bird molts once a year, it could mean that your bird has been suffering malnutrition or emotional termoil for some time.

In order to get to the root of the problem, you are going to have to carefully dig into your bird’s environment and make appropriate changes and critique your overall performance as caregiver with honesty and humility. More often than not, inadequate diet is responsible.

If you suspect that your bird is unwell as a result of the conditions that brought about the stress bars, you will want to involve your vet immediately. Otherwise, an improved diet will usually see that the trend doesn’t continue into the next molt.

Photo by Krystal Vlach

Photo by Krystal Vlach

We have to feed our parrots an optimum diet 365 days a year. With two feedings a day, that’s 730 meals every year – that’s a lot of feedings and a lot of stress if you don’t feel confident about what you are doing…

  • Do you know for certain that the foods you select for your bird are safe?
  • Do you know which ones must be cooked and which are best served raw?
  • Do you know how much is too much, or too little?

If you are like so many that feel they just don’t understand parrot nutrition well enough to make changes to their bird’s diet, we have put together a parrot nutrition course, Cooking for Parrots, that is meant for people like you who want to do better, but just don’t know how.

Cooking For Parrots answers all your questions about nutrition, provides you with a seasonal feeding system that lasts an entire year and offers over 100 additional recipes that your birds will love.

Click here to learn more:


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  • A very interesting topic on how bird food and the environment can affect your parrot and cause stress lines; but the amount of time necessary to properly care for my African Grey and two Macaws; feeding, bathing, playtime, teaching, etc. I do not think I will be looking for stress lines for past problems; but love the article. Thanks

    John-Parrot on
  • Thanks for all the info Birdtricks; I have learnt sooo much since joining this website and it’s free.
    I am saving for some DVD’s and am glad for all the free info too.
    I have had my female Caique “Allie” for 3 ½ years now, and then at the beginning of this year I bought a 3 year old male “Stanley”.
    I noticed he had these “stress bars”; when I first got him, but just thought he was over preening himself, he was also dull in colour compared to Allie.
    When I read this article I inspected him and am very pleased to say, both my babies are in good condition, phew!
    When I first got Stanley his wings were clipped, he was very upset when he couldn’t fly with Allie and was also not hand tame. But at last, after about 3 months, he finally moulted and got his flight feathers and is now hand tame.
    I wouldn’t have known how to do this if it wasn’t for the Womach’s; thank you; he is now hand tame. It is an ongoing daily, taming session for them both “and me”. I often think Alley is taming me, as she clicks me while I do the daily taming sessions. He he!
    They don’t talk though, but when I tell Stanley to step up, she says “up” and when he does it she clicks him; she’s so funny.
    Alley is a typical Caique and loves to play all the time, but Stanley was an aviary reared bird and flipped out when Alley wanted to play, but after a few stressful months, he has a great time just playing with Alley, and now doesn’t panic and scream at her any more.
    Thanks Patty for the above article, I will keep a close eye on them both now I know what to look out for.

    teresa on
  • John,
    Don’t think of it as looking for a past problem. That might be true of baby birds that are weaned and feathered out, but with adults it says that your bird’s care has been inadequate in the past, and most often it still is. Stress bars are warnings to us that help us to evaluate the quality of their current care and make improvements.

    Patty on
  • I bought the cook books and I’m thrilled with them.

    I have 2 macaws, a 19 yr Blue & Gold Macaw and a 18 Green Wing Macaw. I’ve had them since they were 6 months old. We did A LOT of research before getting our birds….of course this was 19 years ago and the information out there was no where near as detailed and knowledgeable as now. I’ve been to several reputable avian training courses as well.

    The Bird Tricks cook books for parrots are fantastic. It’s easy to see a lot of hard work went into the project. Very easy to read, very easy to understand, great detail in the explanations. They provide excellent ideas for keeping birds healthy. It was worth every penny I spent on it.
    Yes, they do try to sell us stuff all the time, BUT, they’re just trying to stay in business like any other business is. They aren’t non-profit so they can’t rely on donations.

    From my experience with Bird Tricks every thing I’ve bought is of high quality and they have excellent customer service.
    They also provide a ton of FREE information that is very important for birds owners so in that I feel they are providing a service. They have no guarantee anyone is going to buy anything.

    Advertising is one way they stay alive. Just think if they decided to stop providing the free information and just sold their products. They probably could do that , they have a huge fan base now. So let’s give them credit for providing lots of excellent free information and if you don’t want to buy their stuff just click through it.

    For me, I’ll keep purchasing some of their items because, like I said, very high quality and excellent customer service.

    BTW….I’m not related to them in any way…..I don’t work for them in any way…..I’ve never even met them……..I’m just a satisfied customer.

    Bj Wallace on
  • I brought home my 8 month old bird with stress bars, and he also had been almost disabled by his clip at the former residence. Now I must wait for a molt, I suppose.But he is a hopper and likes to be on the move. He has hurt himself and I have been on call 24/7 as a result,we are bonded quite well.that’s ok he was little.Now I have a normally serene and reflective bird about a yr old.But screaming in the car by an Eclectus who was previously silent can lead to complications. Any ideas? He can vocalize to me for other reasons out of the vehicle, but after happily driving 3000+ miles in June he suddenly goes bananas going to the store.What to do?Thanks

    mary patricia dougherty on

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