Bathing Birds

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Does my bird need a bath?

Bathing is very important for feather maintenance and skin hydration. It keeps feathers free of dirt and encourages birds to preen (groom) their feathers, helping to preserve their wonderful, natural luster. In the wild, a bird may bathe during a rain shower or in a puddle, lake, or stream. Some birds nuzzle playfully in wet grasses and vegetation.

The dry air in our homes created by central heating and air conditioning is not conducive to the maintenance of healthy feathers and skin, so pet birds should be encouraged to bathe at least three to four times a week.

How often should my bird be bathed?

Birds should be offered a bath daily. Whether they opt to bathe every day depends on the bird. Many birds enjoy bathing every day, while others prefer to bathe only occasionally. Birds should be encouraged to bathe often, as their feathers and skin will look healthier if they bathe frequently. Start by offering a bath to your bird once or twice weekly. You may notice that your bird has a preference about the time of day it likes to bathe. Try to offer the bath or bring your bird into the shower at the time of day it chooses to bathe.

How should I bathe my bird?

Your bird will do most of the work if you supply lukewarm water. Some birds enjoy splashing in a dish of water and may try to submerge themselves in their drinking cups. There are also special bathing chambers that attach to the side of a small bird's cage and keep water from splashing about the room. Make sure you clean these bathing stations every day to prevent bacterial buildup on their surfaces.

"Your bird will do most of the work if you supply lukewarm water."

A shallow sink of water is another convenient place for birds to bathe. Many birds like to frolic under a gentle trickle of water from the tap while dipping their head and fluttering their wings in the water. Your bird may enjoy showering with you, sitting on a special perch that sticks to the tile with suction cups at the back of the shower. Direct water pressure from the showerhead may frighten or even hurt your bird, so a perch farther from the direct spray, where the bird can be splashed gently, is generally ideal. Some smaller birds, such as finches and canaries, will wet themselves on the moisture dripping from freshly washed vegetation, such as carrot tops or leafy greens.

You can also use a clean spray bottle, such as a plant mister, to gently mist your bird, simulating rain. Your bird may dance excitedly with its wings in the air and tail fanned out as it turns frequently to catch as much of this light 'rain' as possible. You might even tire of spraying the bird before the bird tires of being sprayed!

If your municipality uses chlorinated water, provide your bird with bottled water for bathing instead. Commercial bathing solutions containing chemicals, soaps, or other ingredients SHOULD NOT be used on birds. As they preen their feathers, birds ingest whatever is on the feathers, and many ingredients that might be safe topically are not if they are ingested. Only water should be used to mist birds. Consult your veterinarian for directions if you need to remove something from your bird's feathers.

"Commercial bathing solutions containing chemicals, soaps, or other ingredients SHOULD NOT be used on birds."

Should I dry my bird?

Bathing in the morning may provide a better opportunity to dry. A sunny, warm room, free of drafts provides the bird with a comfortable setting to dry out and preen without getting chilled. Some birds enjoy being dried with a gentle warm hair dryer, but great care must be taken not to overheat the bird. Do not force your bird to be dried this way if it is frightened by the dryer.

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