Parrots And Odors

Parrots And Odors

 August 8th, 2012
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Umbrella cockatoo

So many people over the past several months have commented that their bird smells bad that I have been wanting to do a post on the subject. I held out only because I’ve been unable to get any particulars from the people complaining – where is the odor emanating from: Body? Breath? Poop? I’m still not sure what they were talking about.

But, the simple fact of the matter is, there should be no “odor” coming from your parrot. The different parrots have smells that are unique to their species, but none of the smell could be appropriately referred to as an “odor”.

For instance, birds with powder down feathers smell noticeably different that those without. My cockatoos and cockatiels smell completely different from my quaker (whose smell reminds me of the owl I had when I was growing up). Amazons have a musky odor to them. These are all normal and to be considered a natural scent.

Wet blue fronted amazon

Beyond what is normal, there are really only a few reasons that your bird might have an odor:

Poor Hygiene:
Birds that are not bathed frequently enough will begin to smell dirty after a while. If the cage and general environment is unclean, a smell will begin to intensify. A bird’s feathers can also pick up cooking odors, and if the owner smokes cigarettes, the residue from the smoke will settle onto feathers and it will sometimes take many bathes to eliminate the smell.

Your bird should be bathed no less than twice a week to keep feathering in great condition and to eliminate dander or debris that could collect and cause odor over time.

There is no illness that causes a bird’s body to smell bad, and a healthy bird’s dropping will have no odor to them either. However, odor from the droppings of an ill bird might carry a detectable odor.

If even healthy droppings are allowed to accumulate and cage liner is left uncleaned, it can make the area surrouding the cage smell bad, which might be misinterpretted as odor coming from the bird.

Bad breathe in birds is pretty uncommon. But it could be caused by infection somewhere between the crop and the lower digestive system, by rancid food eaten (which I have never heard of actually happening, but it could), or in rare cases, by candida. But, again, bad breath is quite unusual.

Hormones will sometimes elevates a bird’s normal scent. Such is the case with the male amazon. Cockatoo owners might notice a distinct smell to their breathe when they get excited (I notice it year round in my umbrella cockatoo). These are normal scents.

If you notice an odor coming from your bird that can’t be explained, you need to seek the assistance of an AVIAN VET. A standard vet, unfamiliar with parrot physiology and disease, may not properly diasgnose your bird’s condition.

Musk lorikeet photo from

Exceptions to the NOT-smelly rule:
The musk lorikeet is appropriately named and has a sweet musky scent (which becomes more potent during breeding season) that is not for everyone and keeps it from being a commonly kept parrot in aviculture.

The nearly exstinct kakapo has a heavy, musty odor that can’t be missed. Its smell may be part of the reason that this ground dwelling species had a near complete loss of population following the introduction of non-native ground predators by settlers.


Kakapo photo from

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9 Comments on “Parrots And Odors”

Pepe  08/08/2012 1:37 pm

My Pionus smells like chocolate brownies. Yum!

Evelyn  08/08/2012 5:12 pm

My macaw smells a bit like pine tree if I put my nose right next to his feathers. Other macaw owners have told me their macaws smell like pine Interesting.

Yeah, if we don’t clean our macaw’s cage and change the papers under his perches on a regular basis, the poop begins to smell.

Audra  08/16/2012 4:49 am

Our parakeet, Louis does have an odor at times. He feels the need to feed his favorite toy by regurgitating on it. Then when the unsuspecting owners go to snuggle him we are assaulted by this yeasty, musky, not to mention hideous smell! Wish I could get him to stop doing. Gotta love the little pecker head though!

Dennis Ryan  08/16/2012 9:37 am

Interesting article. I just wanted to add that I have 2 Macaws. One is a hybrid, a Camelot and the other a pure bred Blue and Gold. The Blue and Gold when in a state of excitement , good or bad, will start to blush and emit an odor much like a perfume. It’s hard to describe the aroma but it is pleasant. I later found out that this is a trait of all blue and golds.

caleb  09/08/2012 11:48 pm

I love the smell of my parakeets! I think it would be a good air freshener.

Krisztina  12/31/2012 4:13 pm

My female eclectus has a distinctively specific musky smell all the time, which is changed in “sweet” and “sour” overtones depending on what she eats! I akin it something like to how you describe wine – a bit barnyardy! She particularly loves onions and garlic – which i don’t let her eat much of at all (as it’s not good for birds to eat much of anyway) but every once in awhile, she’ll indulge a little when she’s having a few bites of my dinner. She carries the sweet onion smell with her for the rest of the day.

Ren  05/03/2014 8:02 pm

My one blue & gold macaw’s regurgitation smells like sour apples / vinegar. His diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables (apples, blueberry, grapes, snaps, carrots, broccoli), a few seeds/nuts/peanuts, and pellets. He is 10 years old. Is it a problem we need to seek a vet’s opinion or do tests?

Parrot Scents | In Loco Parrotus  01/25/2015 11:15 am

[…] to the subject, this great blog post confirms that Amazons have a musky smell. And there should be no bad odor coming from any bird. Powdery birds like cockatoos, cockatiels, and […]

Chantel Woerner  09/09/2015 3:08 am

what is the best shampoo to use on cockatiels? Also, I noticed when mine are setting on a clutch, they hold their bowels and then eliminate after setting on the eggs for an extended time…this poo smells truly horrid. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do to reduce or eliminate it? I know a lot of chemicals are very toxic so I have been limiting my cleaning to plain Ivory dish soap and water.