I love spending time in the sun.
With parrots living in hot environments, it’s no surprise that they spend a lot of time in the sun too.
When I spend too much time in the sun, my skin burns – and if you have ever had a sunburn then you can vouch with me that they are not fun.
If you slap on a little aloe vera, it’s gone in a few days.
What about parrots?
When they spend too much time in the sun do they burn like me?
Is their skin immune to sunburn?
To be honest, the answer to this question is “I don’t know”. There is no definitive information regarding the subject online, just some speculation. Some believe that parrots can burn on areas of their body that aren’t covered in feathers such as the face. Others are inconclusive about whether or not parrots can burn. We’ll dive more into the topic below…
But this also raises many other questions:
What defense mechanisms do parrots have against the sun?
What is the “sunburn gene?”
Is sunlight good for parrots?
How much sunlight do they need?
Can parrots get skin cancer from sunlight?
Are there any other dangers associated with sunlight?
What can you do to keep your parrot safe when taking them outside?
Today we will answer all of these questions and more, so let’s not waste another minute:
Do parrots burn?
Okay, before we dive into some similar topics, let’s first take a closer look at our original question – do parrots burn?
Since there are no definitive answers on the internet, we can attempt to generate our own answer by comparing the skin of a parrot to that of our own.
Quite obviously, our skin is different.
Because we are mammals and parrots are birds – and we both have different evolutionary histories.
With that being said, our skin does have one thing in common with that of a parrot – we both have two layers of skin – the epidermis (outer layer that we see) and the dermis (inner layer that contains tissues, nerves, etc).
And because it’s the outer layer of skin that burns, it’s the epidermis that we would need to study to determine whether or not parrots burn like we do.
How does a sunburn work?
Within our epidermis are cells called melanophores that produce a protein known as melanin.
Melanin is the main factor in the determination of our skin color.
When we spend too much time outside in UV rays, our melanophores start to produce melanin to act as a barrier against the UV rays, which is how we get a tan.
Unfortunately, it can take time for our melanophores to start producing this protective barrier, and in the meantime while you wait you can get a sunburn.
So the question then is “do parrots produce melanin?”
And the answer to this question is no.
And because they don’t produce melanin it also means that they don’t tan.
It also means that they don’t have the same defense mechanisms against the sun that we do.
What defense mechanisms do they have against the sun?
Parrots have lots of feathers and these feathers help to protect them against the sun – which is a good thing for tropical parrots that spend a lot of time in the hot UV rays!
But what about areas of their skin where there are less feathers, like the face?
Well, this is where the “I don’t know” answer comes into play.
Because feathers are the main defense mechanism against the sun, I would assume that anywhere feathers are scarce could be prone to sunburn.
With that being said, I have found no definitive answers to back up that statement, and it’s really just a theory.
What is the Sunscreen gene?
There are many animals in the wild that are consistently exposed to the sun, yet never end up burning.
Take hippos for example – they are all skin.
In other words, their skin is always exposed to the sunlight – they don’t have any fur or feathers to protect them.
But for some reason, they don’t burn.
Why? Science suggests that there are some animals out there that actually produce their own sunscreen through a compound known as gadusol.
Gadusol is a compound that actually absorbs UV radiation, or more specifically UVB radiation.
In other words, it acts as its own sunscreen.
Gadusol been found in a variety of species including fish, reptiles, amphibians, and yes, birds.
If this gene is present in parrots, then it would lean in favor of the idea that parrots do not burn.
Is sunlight good for parrots? How much sunlight do they need?
Yes! Sunlight is good for parrots – in moderation of course.
Just like sunlight activates Vitamin D in humans, it also does so in parrots.
In doing so, it also helps with the absorption of Calcium.
In birds, calcium plays several different roles.
Not only does it help to generate a strong bone structure, but it also helps with the functioning of enzymes and metabolism, and helps to prevent blood clotting and regulate hormones.
When a bird does not have enough calcium and Vitamin D they can develop hypocalcaemia which can lead to seizures, muscle spasms, and weakness.
In return, it’s essential that your parrot gets sunlight.
But how much sunlight do they need?
Experts recommend that your parrot have between 4-6 hours of sunlight each day.
If you can’t take your bird outside, make sure they have a space by the window where the sunlight can shine in.
Keep in mind, however, that parrots need a good balance of sunlight and darkness.
So just as they need sunshine through the day, they also need a dark space at night to create balance.
What will happen if my parrot doesn’t get enough sunlight?
If your parrot doesn’t get enough sunlight they can face a variety of negative side effects such as loss of appetite, poor feather quality, and hormone imbalances.
Lack of sunlight can also lead to mood conditions such as moodiness, sluggishness, and even depression.
In severe cases, parrots can become physically ill due to lack of sunlight.
Can Parrots get skin cancer?
The answer to this question is yes!
Whether or not they burn is up for debate, but either way, too much sun exposure can lead to skin cancer for a parrot.
More professionally referred to as “squamous cell carcinoma”, parrots can get skin cancer almost anywhere on their body.
With that being said, it most commonly occurs on the tip of the wings, on the toes, and around the eyes.
Surprisingly, parrots can also get skin cancer of the beak.
Such cancers can be benign (which do not spread) or malignant (which can spread).
Other common cancers in parrots include internal cancers (kidneys, liver, stomach, etc), papilloma cancer (benign tumor due to infection), and fibrosarcoma (cancer of the connective tissues).
What can you do to protect your parrot from the sun?
Keep your room cool
When it comes to the sun, UV rays aren’t the only thing that you need to worry about.
In hot summer months, sun can shine into a room causing it to become hot too.
When this happens, your parrot can overheat.
To prevent your parrot from overheating, keep the AC circulating within your home.
If you don’t have AC, a fan will work well too – just make sure that it’s not blowing directly at your parrot, as this could cause them to become fearful.
Limit direct sunlight
You want your parrot to have direct sunlight, but you also don’t want them to have too much.
Whenever possible, take your parrot outside with you – that’s the best sunlight for them.
But when not possible, keep them near a window so that they can reap the benefits.
Once their 4-6 hours of sunlight is up, cover the window with a curtain or blind to prevent them from getting too much.
Make sure your bird has access to shade and water
Anytime your parrot is in the sunlight, make sure they have plenty of access to water to stay hydrated.
They should also always have the option of a shaded spot if they start to get too hot.
In conclusion, it’s unknown as to whether or not parrots burn.
If feathers are the main protection from the sun, then areas that have a lack of feathers could be subject to burn.
With that being said, it’s also possible that parrots produce gadusol, which acts as a natural sunscreen.
If this is true, then it’s also possible that they don’t burn.
But while the question “do parrots get sunburn?” is still up in the air, there is no debating that an imbalance of sun exposure can lead to a variety of health risks.
Too much exposure can lead to cancers, while too little can lead to mood disorders and depression.
In return, it’s important to strike the right balance between sunlight and dark to maintain the health of your parrot.