Bathing Our Parrots

It is important that we bathe our birds, for their health as well as our own. This article discusses the bathing methods that worked for me and my birds along with suggestions on how to introduce your birds to the concept.

I don't profess to be a bird bathing expert by any means, but I have managed to convince four birds--two greys and two lovebirds--that the shower is a good thing. With that success and after seeing a few threads on the topic of bathing, I figured I was obligated to share on the subject.


Why Should I Bother Bathing My Bird?

You might be asking, why are we so concerned with bathing our birds? As with yourself, bathing is just a normal part of good hygiene. With respect to your bird, it promotes healthy feathers and soft skin. It can be especially beneficial during a molt, by helping to soften the keratin covering their newly emerging feathers.

To fully understand the importance of bathing our birds, we have to put things into perspective. Wild greys come from areas of Africa which straddle the equator. These areas are known to be among the most humid places on Earth. I once read a comment from a relief worker describing his arrival in the Congo. As the doors opened on the airplane, he felt a sudden surge of humidity rush into the cabin. He likened the feeling to that of a bathroom after a hot shower.

However, many of us choose to raise these creatures--whose millions of years of genetic evolution predisposed them to extremely wet climates and frequent showers-- in comparatively dry climates. We keep them in the comfort of our wonderfully air conditioned and drier-than-a-desert homes. That's right, many homes have a humidity level as low or lower than the Sahara desert. It's sort of like sending a man to the moon without oxygen, heat, or a pressurized suit. Well, maybe not that extreme, but our birds need moisture in order to fit comfortably into our very unnatural environment. To them, it just feels better.

Lack of bathing can also be one cause of feather plucking. As with ourselves, dry skin can be irritating. In the Winter, it's not uncommon for our skin to dry out to the point that it cracks. Unlike our birds, we have a multitude of solutions to this issue. We slather our hands in skin cream and our lips in balm. If we didn't have these alternatives, we'd likely scratch our skin right off and this is exactly what your bird might do under the same circumstances.

Bathing your bird can also be a benefit to you and those around your bird. A shower can greatly reduce the powder down common in some species, such as our greys. Less powder down means less chance of irritating people with allergies. It can also reduce odors, making your birds a bit more pleasant to be around. Bathing is also a great time for you and your bird to bond.


How Often Should I Bathe My Bird?

The general consensus is that you should bathe your bird at least once a week and daily isn't too often. Many species of birds bathe daily in the wild and if you ignore this need, they're likely to turn their water dish into a bathtub--which, by the way, is a good sign that your bird would appreciate a bath.

To your bird, there is no direct correlation between the bathroom and bathing. The bathroom can be a scary place if you are a bird. It's our job to train the youngsters to bathe and in the process convince them that the bathroom isn't so scary after all.

Of course, there are many ways to bathe your birds. Spray bottles, half-filled paint roller trays, lawn misting sprayers aimed high over head to name a few. If after much time and patience your bird just can't come to grips with the shower, please find at least one method that works.

I prefer the shower, since to me, it provides an ideal environment and about as close as I can get to replicating a rainforest in my home. The method you choose isn't so important, but a clean and healthy bird is, so use whatever method works for you. At the end of this article, I'll provide some alternative ideas. The methods may change, but many of the concepts stay the same.

Before we get into how you might go about bathing your bird, let me just say that you should never shower a sick bird. When a bird experiences a drop in body temperature, it must expel energy in order to warm itself, leaving less energy to fight an illness. The experience may also cause undue stress, which can have adverse affects on a sick bird.


How Do I Convince My Bird That Bathing Is Fun?

Greys aren't particularly fond of water, but with a little patience, you can condition your bird to enjoy a bath, or at least to tolerate it.

It's natural for them to bathe often in the wild, but that's likely something both learned by observation of other birds and forced upon them by nature. Hence, it's up to us to condition our birds to enjoy bathing and water.

Don't rush or pressure the bird into showering. All you'll likely accomplish is convincing them that showers are scary and the bathroom is that place where scary stuff happens. You want to make showering a positive experience. You may have the best luck if you can start when they are young. Just wait until they are fully feathered and capable of safely perching without falling. A fall into the tub is not something you want associated with splashing water.

Start by introducing your feathered friend to the bathroom. Sit a perch in the bathroom over a few days and allow your bird to observe you enjoying your shower. If your bird seems fairly accepting of the shower, you can move them closer or allow them to perch on the shower curtain rod. It's a good idea to wrap an area of the rod with vet wrap to give them some grip. A roll of vet wrap is around $2. I found mine at a local horse supply center, but you can also order it online.

When it comes time to allow your bird into the shower, a shower perch is a great idea. A t-stand will work, but will likely get in the way. The shower perch's suction cups will allow you to mount it far from the water in the beginning and closer over time. Most models fold out of the way when they aren't needed.

Again, don't rush your bird into showering. You don't have to soak your bird to the skin in order for the shower to be beneficial. As before, start slowly, allowing your bird to just relax in the humidity. You might want to avoid getting them wet at all their first time or two in the shower, helping to solidify the experience as a positive one. As you progress, avoid placing your bird directly under the water, you are much better off deflecting a light mist of water over your birds head from a distance, using the back of your hand.

If you're lucky, you may have a situation like I did with my most recent grey. She really likes to be held and she couldn't take sitting on the shower perch any more. She flew straight to my arm, which was directly under the water. She was more concerned with being close than she was with the water running down her back. She had observed me showering from her perch over the course of several days and had decided that it just wasn't that scary after all.

Don't dismay if that's not your luck. My other three wouldn't even consider such a thing. Start with a moderate goal of acceptance and an ambitious goal of birds singing in the shower. Out of my four, I have only one that sings while showering. To me, this is a pretty good indicator that he's enjoying his bath. Matter of fact, he only starts to sing after the water is directed his way.


How Do I Bathe My Bird?

So let's get down to how to actually bathe a bird. Be sure to use clean water and no detergents or soaps. Your birds feathers are coated in a special preening oil produced by their bodies and using anything other than plain water can strip these oils resulting in unhealthy feathers. If your bird gets into something nasty and you absolutely must use some sort of cleanser, they do make special bird shampoos designed to not strip feathers of these vital oils. However, I can't personally vouch for any of them. I recommend consulting your vet before using any product on your bird.

Set the water at a comfortable temperature for your bird. Either too hot or too cold can be dangerous, causing burns, shock, or rapid loss of body temperature. You'll likely find that lukewarm water is preferred by your bird, but it most likely boils down to what they've become accustomed to. A bird's body temperature is around 104 degrees fahrenheit--about 5.4 higher than your own--so what feels good to you may not be as enjoyable to them.

Be careful not to overwhelm your bird's nostrils with water. If you shower with your bird, be extremely careful that you never get any of your shampoo, soap, or other chemicals anywhere on or near your bird, especially in the eyes, nostrils, or beak.

Once bathing is over, keep your bird warm and away from drafts while they are wet. It can take several hours for them to dry, so be sure to bathe them well before their bedtime. If the weather is warm outside and you have a safe outdoor environment for your bird, they might enjoy drying in the warm sunlight. Of course, always make sure that they have the option of seeking shade.

I've heard from many people that their bird just loves the hair drier. Unfortunately, this has the possibility of being counter productive by drying out your bird's skin. It can also be dangerous, since many hair driers contain PTFE coatings, which can be toxic to your bird when heated. You might also simply burn your bird by accident with hot air. So, in general, I'd recommend allowing your bird to dry naturally. They tend to enjoy their water soaked skin anyway. If you do decide to dry them yourself, I suggest gently dabbing them with a towel.


What If My Bird Refuses To Bathe?

There's always the possibility that no matter how hard you try and how much effort you put into carefully introducing your bird to the shower, they may never come to accept it. However, I think these cases are rare, especially if you start young. I wasted no time introducing all four of mine to the shower and all of them enjoy it--though one of them won't admit it!

I try to shower my fids at least once a week and twice if possible. On days when I just don't have the time for a proper shower, I resort to the spray bottle. If you find yourself in the same situation, or find that your bird just refuses to shower, the spray bottle is a completely acceptable alternative. Just bear in mind that even though the spray bottle does exactly what the shower-head does, to your bird it looks different and therefore is different. This means that just like showering or any other new concept, you'll need to introduce the spray bottle slowly and carefully.

If you go this route, make sure the sprayer and bottle you use is new. A bottle previously containing any form of chemical stands a high chance of containing chemical residue, even after a thorough cleaning. Even small traces of some chemicals can be hazardous to your bird.

The best spray bottle will be one that creates a good mist--instead of a splattering or direct stream. The mist will coat your bird evenly and they may find it less offensive than being hit by large pellets of water. It can also help if you spray the mist into the air above your bird, allowing it to gently settle on their feathers.

Clean water will get the job done just fine, but my personal preference is to use a product designed to assist in maintaining healthy skin and feathers. I've tried a few and am currently using AVIx Bird Rain. It's made by the same people as Harrison's bird foods. There are many other products to choose from, but no matter which you decide upon, always consult your vet before use.


Alternative Methods

Since each bird's temperament, personality, likes and dislikes, vary like flavors of coffee, you may find that showering as described above just won't work for your situation. If so, you might try one of these alternatives, which I've gathered from posts by other forum members.

This first method appears to be more successful than one would think. Start with a clean tub filled with around one to two inches of cool water. Remember, when cleaning the tub, make sure absolutely no chemical residue remains. If this is a bathtub, pull any shower curtain outside of the tub wall, so that your bird can't climb it. If there is a toilet nearby, close the lid, just to be safe.

Place a few water-safe toys in the tub and then using the same careful introduction as with showering, introduce your bird to this new environment. If the tub slopes, you might want to place them in the shallow end and allow them to venture into deeper water on their own.

If they take to playing in the water, you may not have to do anything more. They'll likely bathe themselves during the activity. If not, you might try playing with the toys yourself and "inadvertently" splashing water around your bird. Over time, hopefully they'll learn to bathe themselves. Just remember to always keep an eye on them while they're in the water.

A second method involves placing your bird in a small and empty travel cage so that they can not get away and are less likely to injure themselves. Using a misting bottle, spray them through the bars, until they are well coated. This method is sort of a last resort for birds that refuse to bathe. They're not going to like it, but just maybe, over time, that will change.

The methods discussed in this article are just a few that have worked well for me and others. Again, the method you use doesn't matter, just find the one that works for you. You have many resources in the people of this forum and each of them can offer you advice and ideas for new and creative ways to bathe your feathered friends. Never hesitate to ask if you have questions. As always, we encourage you to share your own experiences on this or any other topic.