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Dandruff in Birds

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Preening and molting causes white dandruff-like specs to shed from birds. African greys, cockatiels, Amazons and cockatoos have special feathers that grow on the sides of the body. During preening, these feathers produce a white powder that is easily mistaken for dandruff. Another type of dandruff-like substance that a bird sheds is "sheath," which is slowly preened off by the bird as its pin feathers grow, creating tiny white flakes.

Grooming Instincts

Birds groom their feathers daily. This is also referred to as "preening." This natural instinct allows birds to run the tip of their beaks through microscopic individual feathers; removing debris and organizing their feathers. Preening also includes the removal of the sheath as the pin feather grows. The uropygial gland is found in some bird species, especially parrots. This gland is located on top of the tail base and produces an oily secretion. The birds use the oily secretion to preen their feathers and diligently spread the oil over them, making them waterproof.

Diet and Sunshine

The diet affects the condition and quality of the feathers. If a bird's diet is lacking in nutrients and vitamins, it will cause feathers to look faded and dull. High-quality organic pellet food, grains, protein, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables are part of a well-balanced diet. Feathers are almost completely made of protein. Including protein food sources as part of a balanced diet will result in healthy, strong feathers. Sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D and assists in creating colorful, rich and bright colored plumage.


Bathing in water is a natural instinct that keeps birds' feathers cleaned and well maintained. Misty showers, bird baths and soft, natural rain allows birds to remove sticky substances, dirt and debris from their feathers. Birds have a natural instinct to bathe and shower near plants, as if in a rainforest atmosphere. The drops of water that fall from the plant and the touch of the leaves allows birds to clean themselves in a natural environment. Bamboo is a popular, non-toxic plant used to create this environment for pet birds.


Excessive plucking or picking at feathers or any other destructive behavior a bird displays toward its feathers or skin is a sign of discomfort. Signs of bleeding and swelling at the base of the feathers or unusual marks need to be addressed immediately. Stress lines will appear perpendicular to the long axis of the feather. The appearance of a stress line is a sign that there has been a deprivation of nutrients being supplied to the growth tissue. Immediate medical attention from a licensed avian veterinarian is highly recommended.