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Birds & Bathing

Bathing is essential for all birds, and most birds, given the opportunity, will bathe frequently to help keep the skin and feathers in good condition and because its fun. It helps prevent itchiness and feather plucking behaviour and is of great benefit during moulting because the water softens the keratin surrounding the new feathers making it easier to remove with the beak. Bathing also encourages good preening behaviour.

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If you or your bird is new to bird bathing here are some things to think about:

Water Temperature

Your bird may enjoy a warm bath, but bear in mind it might enjoy a cool one too. In fact many birds prefer it. Some birds will enjoy bathing in a dish of water with ice cubes floating around in it! The main thing is to provide a variety of options and opportunities for your bird so that it can express its preferences.

Winter Bathing

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean your bird doesn’t want a bath. Providing your bird is in good health and the ambient temperature doesn’t drop below about 10 degrees Celsius, the change of seasons should have only a small effect on your bird’s bathing habits. Stick to the first half of the day for baths during cooler weather, so your bird has time to completely dry before the cold night arrives.

Drying Out

The best place to dry out is outdoors soaking up the sunshine, even if it’s cloudy the beneficial sun rays get through, and if even if it’s a little cool healthy birds will still often enjoy drying off outdoors. If you can’t take your bird outside that day, try placing it near the window to soak up the warmth through the glass. It may not get the rays that will help its skin create vitamin D, but the warmth is always nice. Of course, so long as it isn’t too cold or draughty, your bird will be fine drying off indoors out of the sun too. Always remember to provide shade (and water) for your bird to retreat to if it starts getting too hot in the sun.

Don’t worry if your bird shivers for a while, birds will often shiver even if its 30 degrees outside. It is a natural behaviour that helps dry out the feathers rapidly so flight is achievable quickly. Sometimes it can take several hours for a drenched bird to completely dry.

Some birds love to be dried with a hairdryer (and some don’t), but it does drain the moisture from the feathers and skin which can defeat the purpose of the bath, so don’t use this method too often. When Keiko, my macaw, has a shower she gets completely soaked and during the winter I’ll sometimes dry her to about a third-dryness with the hair dryer before leaving it to happen naturally the rest of the way. This basically stops ME feeling nervous about her sitting around wet for half the day. When using a hairdryer be sure to do it from a distance and to keep the dryer moving so you don’t overheat or burn your bird. (Remember water is an excellent conductor of heat!) Allow your bird to move in and out of the dryer’s wind path at its will. Be especially careful of your bird's feet which can easily be burned.

How Wet and How Often?

Try to offer a bathing opportunity to your bird every day to begin with. The trick is to offer, not force. Your bird will let you know how often it would like to bathe by jumping in at every opportunity, or shying away except on Sundays.

Keiko likes to sit on top of the shower every day I wash. Or more specifically, she likes to open the shower door, swing down to the shower perch attached to the door, have me close the shower door, climb back on to the top of the shower to begin again, all the time squealing and chatting. I keep a mister in the shower because she either doesn’t like the temperature or the heavy droplets of the actual shower. I offered it to her every day for the first few months by spraying beside her for a little while. She would either start jumping in and out excitedly or would just sit there, feathers flat against her body, staring at me like I was crazy to make the suggestion. Her first few baths were rather clumsy and taken a bit suspiciously but Keiko has now settled into a routine of a light shower in the middle of the week and a heavy drenching at the end of the week. Nevertheless I still offer the occasional dish of water and other types of baths so that she can explore alternative methods of getting clean.

Some people shy away from the idea of drenching a powdery bird like the cockatoo or grey, but they will benefit just as much from a good soak as other birds.

Bathing Safety

Birds get pretty active during a good bath and in their wet condition they’re more susceptible to injury if they fall or stumble. Provide as much space to move as possible. And to provide sure footing for your parrot think about roughing up a perch with something, placing a towel over a metal towel rack or sitting a towel half way into a dish of water. 

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If you feel up to it you could make your own specialised showering perch that is nice and long for your birds strutting and flapping.

Reluctant or Beginner Bathers

If your bird is a beginner to bathing take it slow. Some birds take to it immediately but others need a little time to cotton on to the joy, especially if they haven’t had anyone, bird or human, to teach them! Introduce your bird slowly to the idea in a safe environment. If your bird is reluctant don’t force a drenching on it for its own good, just allow that it might be a few months, even a year, before your bird becomes the paragon of cleanliness you want it to be. Birds don’t want to be grotty any more than we do; they will come round to the idea of bathing.

Different Ways of Bathing:

There are different ways to provide a bath to your parrot, some of which are detailed below:

Rain Substitutes – some birds love the heavy drops that come from a shower head, kitchen sink spray tap or the outdoor sprinkler. Be sure to provide something for sure footing, for example lay a tea towel or rubber mat down in the sink and provide a secure method to get in and out for your bird. The laundry sink can be good for the bigger birds or for putting a t-perch in.

Leaf Bathers – Nestling and rummaging around in wet foliage is considered the bee’s knees by some birds. Caiques especially are renowned for this behaviour and will often go through the same motions on a towel or in your hair. Try lots of different foliage and don’t discount dousing bunches of silver beet or basil with water before placing in the cage at breakfast time!

Misting – many birds prefer the fine mist from a plant watering bottle or for a bit more volume and oomph (not to mention easier on your hands) you can purchase a new insecticide spray bottle from the hardware shop for just a few dollars (don’t use any that have ever actually come in contact with insecticide!). Be sure to rinse the bottle a few times before each use and empty it afterwards for hygiene.

Dish of water – Many birds will simply leap into their water dish for a bath and will love the opportunity to bath in something a bit bigger. When providing a dish of water be sure it isn’t too deep for your bird. Consider laying a folded tea towel a little over the edge of the bowl into the water for a muddy-bank simulator, as many birds show a preference to “in-ground” pools where getting in and out of the water doesn’t involve struggling over a fence.

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Many people find paint trays from the hardware shop make excellent bird baths. Be sure that the dish is heavy enough not to tip when your bird starts getting active!

Other Considerations:

Is it safe to get wet?

Remember that a bird finds it much harder to fly when its feathers are wet, and could be reluctance to get in this state if it perceives any potential danger around. (Remember - the perceived danger can also include you if you are still getting to know one another). Some birds will feel much safer getting their first few baths inside their cage and some birds won’t bathe unless you’re there acting as a guard or sentinel against predators.

Is it social?

Many parrots in the wild bathe in loud raucous groups, so think about the social aspect. Sometimes turning the music on, chatting loudly or doing the vacuuming can be quite a stimulant! Some birds simply respond to the sound of rain or you filling the bath.

Sitting on top of the shower whilst YOU bathe can be a lot of fun for your bird, and whilst it doesn’t have to do anything so icky as get under the water itself, it will benefit from the moist atmosphere. Doing this every day not only provides a great bonding time but will go enormous lengths to keeping these fine parrots in good feather while you slowly bring them round to the idea to the pleasures of a good soak.

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I need space!

Whenever possible give your bird lots of space. Most birds in the wild will jump in and out of a pool of water or duck under a sheltering branch every few seconds to take a break from flapping about in the rain. Don’t follow your bird around with the water; let it move in and out at its own will.
 
I don’t want to drown!

If using a spray bottle or movable shower head to bath your bird, avoid spraying it directly into your bird’s face, especially the ears and nostrils. Spraying upwards and letting the water fall on to your bird can be a good way to avoid this. Of course some birds can’t get enough of the water and will be leaning in trying to grab it or drink it! So long as it can remove itself from the water when it needs to don’t worry - your bird knows what it can handle.

For bowls of water be sure to not make it too deep. Round about ankle depth is a good max to start with, but you will learn what works best for your bird over time.

It’s oh so messy!

Finally be prepared for a mess. Keiko’s mid-week light shower is pretty tame and tidy but in the weekend during her drenching shower, she pretty much utilises the entire bathroom for the fun. We start in the shower where intermittently (in between my own ablutions) I’ll get the spray bottle out during which she struts around on the shower perch, climbs on and off my hand and dangles from the top of the shower wall waving her wings and shuffling her tail feathers. As you can imagine - with a bird the size of Keiko -  this involves me being flapped in the face a few times. Then, much to my relief, we’ll move to the portable towel rack (covered with my used towel for sure footing) in the bathtub, where Keiko will proceed to flap wholeheartedly jumping in and out of the spray onto the bathroom sink, then my arm and back to the water. She’ll lean in and grab the nozzle of the water every second round trip, squealing excitedly. After all of this crazy action not only is Keiko drenched and dripping but so are the walls, ceiling and floor.

Conclusion

If you are just starting out with your bird and bathing the main thing is to take it slow, provide as many opportunities as you can and to do your best to demonstrate the joy in it. Bathing your bird can be a chaotic affair and if there aren’t a few mishaps or disappointments you’re a very lucky person. Be assured that eventually you will settle into a routine that suits both bird and human, and not only will your bird’s overall health be so much the better for it but the bond between the both of you will be too.

 

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