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Giving Your Parrot a Bath by Sally Blanchard

(reprinted with the permission of the Companion Parrot Quarterly (fka --Pet Bird Report)

Baths and Showers are Essential!

In the wild, excellent feather condition is essential to the survival of any bird. In addition to flight, feathers provide insulation and temperature control, waterproofing and protection from the elements and are used both for camouflage and 'advertising'. It is instinctive behavior for our pet birds to keep their feathers in good condition and bathing encourages them to preen. Poor feather condition can be caused by malnutrition and disease but is often the result of bad hygiene caused by a lack of bathing opportunities. Most wild parrots bathe often and many come from rain forest areas with high humidity. Bathing or showering is also beneficial to the skin, body tissues and the respiratory system.

A highlight of a bird-watching trip that I took to Costa Rica was watching a small group of Yellow-nape Amazons bathe in a small waterfall pool. Ducking in and out of the falling water, furiously splashing in the pools, prancing about with spread wings and screeching with delight, they were an exaggeration of my pet Amazons at home during bath time. If your parrot seems afraid, work slowly and gently to pattern him to accept 'bath time'. Misting, spraying, bathing and occasional 'drenching' are important parts of a daily routine to keep our parrots in tiptop shape.

  • Bathing is often a part of a wild parrot's daily routine. Parrots take their showers and baths in rain showers, small waterfalls, and streams or in the pools of water that form among the leaves in the tree canopy.
  • Large sopping wet leafy greens such as collard, turnip, mustard or kale can provide a fun bathing experience while providing good vitamin A nutrition if the bird decides to eat them!
  • Some parrots, like Lories and Caiques, enjoy a good drenching. Once they become used to it, if the owner is careful about the eyes, ears and mouth, these birds can be held under the faucet for their baths.
  • One of the major causes of 'environmental' feather plucking in parrots is infrequent bathing. Humidity and moisture are essential for good skin and feather condition.
  • Many small birds will bathe in shallow bowls or 'bird baths' available in pet shops. Keep the water shallow and make sure that the bird can climb out if he needs to.
  • Most parrots love taking a shower with their owners. If you want to take your parrot into the shower but don't want to hold onto him there are several companies that make shower perches for parrots! Editors Note: The problem with this is that our bathrooms contain so many chemicals and when steamed up they can potentially cause toxins for our birds. Also the water coming out of your shower is most likely not purified, containing chlorine, ammonia, benzene, etc. All of these chemicals are not natural for your bird and in some cases can lead to feather picking and respiratory problems. At Parrot Island you can purchase a pressure mister that works wonderful and can be filled with purified water. For more on this subject, talk to any of us at Parrot Island. Don't get me wrong - for socialization I think it is fine to take your bird in the shower with you once in a while just for the pleasures of time together but for the most part use the purified water method.
  • Some parrots like to take baths in their water bowl, especially when their owner is vacuuming. Perhaps the roar of the motor is like the sound of a rainforest downpour.
  • It is best to use clean, fresh water to give your parrot a bath or shower. Additives or commercial preparations are not necessary unless 'prescribed' by your avian veterinarian. Water can be room temperature to warm but not cold or hot. Editors Note: It is recommended to use purified or RO water for your bird's bath as well as drinking water.
  • If your parrot seems afraid of being sprayed, buy a small glass plant mister and use a gentle mist from above. Once he is used to this, gradually switch to gentle spraying from a larger bottle. All birds need showers or baths. Letting your bird remain afraid may eventually be harmful to his feather condition and health.
  • Drying a parrot with a blow drier works very well if the bird is used to it. Some parrots get quite excited if they are blow dried after their bath or shower. Check the heat level frequently to keep it warm and not hot! On warm days, most parrots can 'drip dry' safely but on cool days the blow drier can help. Be sure that the area under the wings is dry. Editors Note: When blow dying your parrot make sure the dryer is on a low setting and do not dry them completely as this can dry out their skin and cause irritation. Also bathing should be done early in the day so that your bird is completely dry when he or she goes to bed for the night.
  • Mattie Sue Athan 'prescribes' FREQUENT DRENCHING SHOWERS for parrots for their physical and psychological benefit. Editors Note: Quality Avian Veterinarians recommend a good drenching one day and a quick spritz for a few days in between. Remember in the wild, bathing is not a choice for your birds, they just get wet. The worst thing you can do is not bathing your bird regularly regardless if you think they like it or not.
  • Misting a parrot on a daily basis is very good for their feathers and respiratory systems. Some birds are afraid of the bottle. Often it is the red nozzle that threatens them so buy a bottle with a blue nozzle instead. Hide the bottle in your clothes so the water comes out of your shirt. Misting parrots is so important that owners need to be clever enough to find a way to get their bird to like it. My African Grey hated the squirt bottle until I turned it into a game. I come up to her with the bottle behind my back. She knows it's there and says 'Gonna getchew!' I pull the bottle out and squirt her and she goes 'POW POW - oh oh ya got me!'
  • Approaching your parrot from the front in a friendly manner will make it possible to accustom him to being towel dried after his bath or shower.
  • Parrots don't need to be given a 'real' bath with soap unless they have become very dirty or greasy. The law of the jungle is to 'preen until your clean' and a very dirty bird may pluck to try to get his feathers clean. Put the bird on a folded towel in the sink. Soak him with a spray attachment being careful not to get water in his ears or nostrils. Once he is sopping wet, rub a quality gentle dishwashing detergent into his feathers. Then make sure he is rinsed completely! Towel dry him as much as possible and place him in a warm room. A blow drier can be used but be very careful that it does not get too hot by frequently placing your hand in front of it as you dry the bird. Editors Note: At Parrot Island we have specialty shampoos that can be used on your parrot. We recommend these shampoos being used only a few times per year. Frequent bathing should be done with plain purified water. Adding things like aloe, etc. to your birds bathing water only puts something unnatural on their feather. Birds with picking disorders often pick more to rid their feathers of any additives.

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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