Bathing Birds: Why, When And How

One of the most important things in maintaining our bird’s health is bathing. Bathing is natural to birds. It helps them in maintaining the quality of their feathers, keeping clean, removing dust, dander, loose feathers and debris from new feathers, moistening the skin, maintaining the insulation properties of their feathers and much more. Breeding birds often bathe in water to dampen their feathers, which helps maintain proper humidity within the nestbox. In homes where the air is very dry, such as those using forced hot air heat in the winter, skin can become very dry and bathing becomes essential.

I do not know whether bathing is intinctive or a learned behavior. We have owned baby birds which have taken to baths completely on their own, while others needed to observe another bird bathing before trying it themselves. Perhaps there are variances by bird or by species, but however they learn, all birds we have encountered take baths.

Bathing is not only a natural behavior, but it is an activity that many birds enjoy. I have seen birds chirp and sing as they bathe, spreading their wings and turning their bodies for maximum exposure, obviously having fun and a most enjoyable experience.

Even though our birds are bathed about twice a week, when they are in the mood, they will let us know that they want a bath. The smaller ones will attempt to bathe in their water bowls, while the larger ones will shovel water out of their water bowls onto the floor with their beaks. They are not shy about getting their message across.

So to keep your birds healthy and happy, be sure your birds have frequent baths.

Just as birds vary in personality, they also vary greatly in how they enjoy their baths. Some like a bowl, some like the shower and some like being sprayed with a spritzer. Some like more frequent, shorter baths and some prefer long baths and being heavily doused. Experiment with different methods and learn what your birds prefer.

Use slightly warm to cool water for baths. Most birds prefer cool water. Thoroughly wet the bird. This is especially important for birds such as cockatiels, greys and cockatoos which produce heavy feather dust. If not washed off, the wet dust can cake on the feathers as they dry.

Do not use soap. Soap removes the natural oils from feathers, dries the skin and is difficult to rinse off. If by some chance a bird gets into something thick and hard to remove, try a mild dishwashing detergent such as Dawn liquid. Use it sparingly and only on the feathers affected. Rinse it off thoroughly.

During the bath and while the bird is drying, be sure that there are no drafts and that the room is not cold. Give the bath during the day when temperatures are warmer. You can also help dry a bird. Wrapping him in a towel and stroking the body (in the direction that the feathers lay) is a good method. We have a few of our smaller birds that like to perch on top of a lampshade after a bath. The warmth from the light bulb is comfortable to them and helps them dry more quickly. Others like to go under a blanket or towel which we spread tent-like on a sofa, bed or chair. Do not use a hair dryer or blower on a bird. Not only can it burn the bird, but many of them contain teflon which emits toxic fumes.

For those interested in trivia, we and other bird owners have observed that birds have an odd reaction to a vacuum cleaner. Although we have no explanation for it, while the vacuum is being run, many of our birds will try to take a bath in their water bowls.

Using a Bowl

Placing a shallow bowl of slightly warm to cool water on the bottom of a cage is an easy way to give a bath. The bird can perch on the rim of the bowl and dive into the water or step into the bowl to flutter around and get thoroughly wet. Using this method, the bird can bathe when it wishes and for as long as it wants.

This is the best method to use with breeding birds and also small birds such as canaries and finches which usually are not taken out of their cages. But larger birds also enjoy a bowl of water. Be sure that the temperature is not too cold and that there are no drafts. It is best to remove the bowl at night, when it is cooler and also dark.

From time to time each of our birds have used their water bowls for bathing. The larger birds have dipped their beaks into the water dish and shoveled water onto themselves and all over the cage. The smaller birds have dived into the water dish and enjoyed a bath. When this occurs, we immediately give them fresh water and change the wet papers on the cage bottom.

Bedding on the bottom of the cage often needs changing after a bath is taken. Wet bedding is a breeding ground for bacteria, fungus and mold. Birds will splash water over the rim of the bowl when bathing and some treat the bowl as a toy and enjoy tipping it over. Using a heavy bowl, helps avoid it being tipped over. However, if you own a mischievious imp, as we do, it is a lost cause. One way or another, he finds a way to tip over the bowl.

Using a Spray Bottle

If your bird likes it, a spray bottle is a good method to use to give a bath. Spray bottles can be purchased at garden or hardware stores and even at supermarkets. Fill the bottle with slightly warm to cool water and set the sprayer on a fine or mist setting.

You can take the bird to a gym, play perch or other area which is safe. The bathroom or kitchen are good areas for a spray bath. If you prefer, you can spray the bird in its cage. Wherever you choose, be aware that the surrounding area and the floor will become wet and will need to be cleaned up. A playperch usually has an easy to clean bottom. If spraying in the cage, the bedding on the cage bottom will need changing. We usually give a spray bath just before we are about to change the cage bedding. We also usually have to wipe the surrounding area as well.

You can easily see that a bird is enjoying this type of bath. The bird will move from foot to foot and spread its wings so that the water reaches the under feathers. They will also turn about on the perch so that other parts of the body get wet. Some birds will chirp and trill, letting you know how pleased they are.

If a bird is new to spraying or afraid, then talk or sing to the bird as you spray it once or twice. Praise the bird afterwards. It may take a while, but most birds will get used to the spray. However, some birds just don’t like being sprayed and shouldn’t be forced.

Bathing In the Sink

A good way for a thorough bath is in the kitchen sink. It is easy to adjust the water temperature and the force of the water in the faucet. Also a spray head is usually available.

We have a number of birds of varying sizes and each has a preferred way of taking a bath in the sink.

One of them hates the sink, and lets us know it by trying to climb out and by biting the faucet, us or anything he can reach to show his displeasure. He prefers the shower and so that is what he gets.

One of our cockatoos, will tolerate being sprayed by the sink spritzer. Since she likes a daily bath, she bears up with the sink to please us, but really shows her pleasure when given a shower.

Another of our large birds, likes being placed in a sink with a few inches of warm water and then being sprayed with the spritzer. This bird will open his wings so that all body feathers and the top and undersides of the wings can be reached. A few passes of his head under the faucet, completes the bath. He is then wrapped in a towel and taken with us to a chair where he purrs his pleasure as he is talked to and stroked dry while being kept warm under the towel. He too prefers the shower, but a bath in the sink is almost heaven.

Our smaller birds take sink baths using a glass pie plate. The plate is placed under the faucet and filled with warm to cool water. The birds will run down our shoulders to the pie plate and cavort at their will. One likes to grasp the edge of the pie plate and perform multiple swan dives to thoroughly wet the chest and lower feathers. There is no way to describe the beauty and grace of this action. When this happens, there are two of us enjoying it – the bird and me.

Swan diving is followed by head thrusts under the faucet to wet the head and front of the body. Lastly the bird steps into the water in the pie plate and flutters her wings, another action worth watching. This not only wets the wing feathers, but also lifts water onto the back.

Another small bird prefers running up and down our arms for quick douses under the faucet. With each trip he grabs onto my fingers (in the bottom of the plate) and uses them as a perch to position himself under the faucet. He moves about so that each portion of his body comes under the faucet. Sometimes the wings are outstretched, sometimes the head is quickly doused and sometimes the bird crouches into the inch or two of water to wet his underbody. Every few minutes, this bird runs back up my arm to my shoulder where he checks out the environment for safety and then shakes excess water all over everything, including me and my clothes. This bird believes in sharing his bath water with his owner. After a happy chirp or two, he is then ready for another trip down my arm to the sink.

In The Shower

Most of our larger birds love showers and regard them as a wonderful treat. We take our birds into the shower with us, but many people use a shower perch. When using the shower, be sure to use warm to cool water and to keep the shower spray on a finer, more gentle setting.

Shower perches attach to the walls or sides of the tub and allow the bird to perch on them while the shower is running. They are thus free to move in and out of the water and postion themselves as they wish.

I get into the shower with our birds. Since they are using my arms, shoulders and front as perches, I wear long tee shirts to give their feet something to hold onto.

Most of our birds like to frolic in the shower. I extend one arm, resting it on the front and side walls, and the bird moves up and down my arm, assuming different postions and turning his body. Halfway through the shower I switch arms, making it easier for the bird to wet the other side of his body. I also turn about, so the bird can douse his back, tail and head.

One of our birds, feels more secure if we hold him in the shower. I cradle him on my chest where he holds onto my tee shirt. Then I slowly move into the shower. One at a time I extend each wing and turn so that water reaches both the top and the undersides. This bird loves to feel the water cascading off his back as he leans against me with his head resting at the base of my neck. Each bird is different. As you get to know yours, he will let you know what his preferences are.

Most birds will spread their wings to enable water to reach both the top and undersides of their wing feathers as well as the body feathers under the wings. This helps in washing off feather dust and debris as well as moistening the skin. The birds will turn about bathing the back, head, tail and chest, remaining in each postion until they are satisfied. These actions are often accompanied by chirps and sounds of pleasure. We often join our birds in singing in the shower. We have special songs which they seem to enjoy.

Only a few minutes are required to shower a bird. But you may have one that really enjoys bathing. We have a bird that enjoys spending 15 – 20 minutes in the shower. Watching this bird cavort, play, assume various postions, sing and purr is a pleasure which makes our efforts worth every moment.

If a bird is new, you may want to introduce it to showers slowly. You can take the bird into the bathroom while you run the shower and talk to it. You can let the bird see you showering while you sing and appear to have fun. If you are using a shower perch, let the bird get used to it before hand. Put the bird on it without running the water until it is comfortable. Try holding the bird in your arms and entering the shower with him as he gets used to it.

Singing to a bird, is a good way let him know that showers are for pleasure and not something strange to fear. We try to make showers a time for fun and to ensure that our birds feel safe and secure.

Whatever method you choose, remember that your bird needs frequent bathing. And it can also be a pleasant and enjoyable experience, which both you and your bird can share.

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