Bathing really is for the birds

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2003

Anyone who has a birdbath in their back yard can testify to the joy with which the feathered denizens of their neighborhood splash and preen.

Clean creatures by nature, birds relish bathing in water. It cleans them of old feathers and dust and they seem to find the overall experience refreshing. However, many owners neglect this important area of their pet bird's care.

Just like their wild counterparts, domestic birds need their time in the tub. Pet birds can be bathed anywhere from three days a week to more. Some species will show more of a preference for bathing than others, but common species like cockatiels and budgerigars (parakeets) usually like to take baths.

"I give him a little pool every two to three days except when he's molting," said Elizabeth Desmidt of Sterling. Her mother got her interested in birds when she was a girl, and she has kept birds into her adult life. Her pet canary named Jonathan enjoys his baths.

"He loves it," said Desmidt. "He gets in there and splashes around. He'll use his water dish if I forget to put his bathing bowl in."

Large, flat, shallow dishes are best suited for bathing vessels and should be in addition to the bird's normal drinking bowl. The bowl should be sized to allow the bird to hop and splash around comfortably, but heavy enough to avoid tipping. Place the bowl in the bottom of the cage away from food and seed that could grow bacteria if splashed by water. Clip-on birdbaths can be purchased from pet stores for those birds that won't frequent the cage bottom. A lukewarm water temperature is advised and the bathing bowl should be removed after about an hour, before the water can cool or the bird starts to drink the dirty water.

If it's not possible to have a bathing dish for your pet bird due to the size of the cage, or if your pet is too finicky to use a pool, then spritzing the bird with a spray bottle will often do the trick. Water should again be lukewarm and sprayed in a fine mist at a distance of about 18 inches away from the bird. Most birds will flap their wings, and peep and chatter cheerfully.

"I do it on a regular basis, at least once a week," said Harry Johnson of Sterling. Johnson has a large collection of birds including Indian ringnecks, cockatoos, African gray parrots, yellow-nape parrots and macaws.

"I mist them down with a spray bottle until they're soaked down," Johnson said. "It's healthy to do. It keeps them clean and they enjoy it."

If you have never bathed your bird before, start slowly so it can learn that this new experience is safe. Initially, bathing may be frightening to the bird. If so, cease spraying immediately and try it again in a few days.

Large birds like parrots can even learn to enjoy the bathroom shower or during summer months, a spray from the hose or lawn sprinkler.

Johnson said he puts some of the bigger macaws in the shower and they love it under the streams of flowing water.

Regardless of the method you choose to bathe your bird, keep in mind that wet birds are vulnerable to catching cold, especially in the colder months. Keep birds warm and away from drafts and breezes for the first hour after bathing. Always allow the bird's wings to dry by nightfall. Some birds even enjoy the soft, warm heat of a blow-dryer on a low setting.

So give bathing your bird a try. It may just be the perk your pet has been looking for in its weekly routine.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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