Sweetum Baaaaaaaath!? Sweetum, my four-year-old African Grey boy, always communicates what he wants. His requirements are the same as those of other birds, whether they are under our care or not. In the dead of winter, with snow on the ground and ponds frozen, I watch cardinals, jays, and finches bathe in the stream behind our home. They do it because they need it and have a choice. Our parrots have no choice. They have a drinking dish or a water bottle, but not much else. Some bird caregivers report that their birds despise bathing and, as a result, they give up trying. The bird’s ongoing dislike to water demonstrates how inadequately he or she was educated. Bathing with birds, like bathing with our own children, does not always come naturally—as with human children, we must always be the benign instructors.
Bathing is physically and psychologically significant for our birds, as necessary to their mental and physical well as “daily bread,” socializing periods with us, 10 hours of undisturbed sleep, and a clean cage. Bathing removes dandruff or feather dust from the skin, hydrates it, and just makes them “feel good.” Dirt, like people, invites skin disorders, sickness, and sadness. Bathing is essential, and it is our job to offer the opportunity and means.
While they all need to wash, the frequency and severity of their baths will vary according on individual preferences, ambient humidity in the home, and species needs. We know that Eclectus parrots, for example, need more frequent bathing than other parrots owing to the design of their feathers. Eclectus are known to like swimming and have been seen soaking under yard sprinklers, in bathtubs, and attempting to get into their drinking bowls. They should be applied directly to the skin. Cockatoos, for example, who create a lot of dander, need to be washed regularly and thoroughly—most of them like the process. The golden rule: everyone must wash at least twice a week!
Many birds seem to have to learn to bathe, and although some show a sensitivity to specific noises, such as vacuum cleaners, which typically stimulates an instinctual bathing behavior reflex—the actual bath is a another issue entirely. I have a male Eclectus rescue that goes absolutely crazy when he hears the vacuum cleaner but refuses to play with the spray bottle. While there may be other reasons from his “past” life, the presence of the bottle causes him a great deal of worry. Inca, my blue-headed Pionus, adores the Vaporetto but despises the bottle! I recommend that we always follow our birds’ preferences—there is typically a simple method; it is up to us to discover it.
There are many methods to introduce kids to the art of bathing. I bring mine with me into the shower. I have a pair of suction cup shower seats on the wall that swing out. Even when they were young, I placed them on the perch out of reach of the water, exposed them to humidity and light mist, and just let them observe me as I bathed my “wings.” At best, it served as an introduction, and at worst, it provided us with an opportunity to engage. I’d eventually take them off the perch and place them under the shower, low down at bath tub floor level, so they wouldn’t be harmed if they fell off. My birds despise spray bottles and flee whenever they see one. I’ve always been intrigued by how gentle they get in the shower. When I receive a rescue, it’s generally a bird I’ve never seen before that is nervous, and the shower calms them all down. I’ve never been bitten in the shower, and everyone always gets well soaked. So the shower is the greatest option for me. Sweetum now enjoys joining me in the shower. We hold lengthy chats as he babbles, whistles, and looks. After a time, his eyelids shut and he falls asleep!
Fill the sink with about an inch of water and initiate them that way—or, if the bird is not too large, use a shallow bowl and fill it with about an inch of water… and for some, the old spray bottle works quite well—as long as they don’t get sprayed in the face but rather from above—as long as they don’t get sprayed in the face but rather like rain.
There are several methods for teaching our psittacines to bathe, as long as we remember that patience and gentleness are required in all circumstances. Some people take to bathing like “ducks to water,” while others need extra care. It is our responsibility to find out what works best for them.
IMPORTANT: As a general rule, we should only use fresh water, whether warm or cold. There is one exception: aloe may be used to bathe a feather picker. Aloe soothes itchy skin and its flavor discourages picking. We should also avoid letting them go “nighty-night” while they are still wet, particularly if their surroundings are at human temperatures. Being wet as it gets dark is very much the norm and no big concern in their “home,” which is nearly always extremely warm and humid and where it regularly rains in the evening and at night—but it is a lot warmer there.
Please give them regular showers; your feathery friends would appreciate it.
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