One question many bird owners wonder is whether it is necessary to bathe their feathery pets. In general it is best not to attempt to actually wash your pet bird – most healthy birds will groom themselves and keep their coats clean and in good condition. Many birds enjoy their own birdbath, whether with water or sand, while others even enjoy gentle showers, especially if this would be part of their natural grooming activity in the wild.
However, few birds will tolerate being forcefully washed and the stress could even be fatal, not to mention the potential for catching a chill. Having said that, there are certain instances, such as with pet birds kept for showing, where bathing the bird on a regular basis might be necessary.
Rules to Remember
The most important rule is to always use clean, plain water – never anything with soap, detergents or even the “bird shampoos” marketed in pet stores. This is because these products can destroy the natural oils that birds use to preen their feathers with. Also, it is important to only bathe your bird during the warmest time in the day because wet birds can become easily chilled and in birds, this can be a serious health hazard. By bathing your bird during the warmest time, its feathers will have a chance to dry completely before nightfall and the dip in ambient temperatures.
Another thing to keep in mind is to never saturate your bird’s feathers with water because this can cause rapid hypothermia (loss of body heat) as well as flight impairment. Birds in the wild never allow their feathers to become soaked and pet birds, unless in extreme circumstances, should never be soaked either. It is a good idea also to check the temperature of the water the bird will be using and make sure that it is neither too hot nor too cold. Many birds like their baths lukewarm or at room temperature.
Different Baths for Different Birds
There are different methods for bathing birds, the choice being dependent largely on the preferences of the individual bird as the crucial thing is to make sure the bird is happy and unstressed. Some birds, for example, really enjoy the sensation of a shower or being under a fine mist whilst other love dunking their heads into a pool of water. The best thing is to offer your bird several options and see which he seems to enjoy most.
- Showers – it may sound incredible but some birds actually enjoy joining their owners in the shower (parrots are renowned for this) and there are now even specially designed avian shower perches and sprayers available in pet stores. To introduce your bird to this method, allow him to watch you in the shower first and be very patient – do not force him to join you until he is ready.
- Mists – other birds prefer a fine mist and this is especially true of species which originated in warm and humid climates. Use warm water in a new, clean spray bottle (to make sure there are no toxic chemical residues) and spray them gently – as well as cleaning their feathers, the moisture will help to rehydrate their nasal cavities.
- Dip Baths – for many birds, dipping themselves in a pool of still water is the way to go and this is the traditional “bird bath”. Some birds may find a large pool of water threatening and may prefer you cupping some warm water in your hands; he may feel safer bathing in his owners hands.
A good general rule of thumb is to offer a bird a bathing opportunity once a week. However, if you notice your bird trying to bathe in his drinking water often, this is an indication that he needs to have the chance to bathe more frequently than you are offering. Birds that come from humid, tropical areas and rain forests will also need more frequent bathing as they are used to daily rain showers and more humid conditions.
Finally, when birds go through their moults, they will appreciate bathing more as it will soothe the itching resulting from new feather pushing their way through the skin. Bathing will also encourage preening, which further helps the bird to shed old feathers.
For those who are planning to show their birds (e.g. chickens) and need to get their birds into show condition through extensive bathing and grooming, it is best to contact their local species fancier club and get expert guidance and advice.