Riamfada's first shower by Shan Lung courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing on Flicker
Several days of thunderstorms have caused my bird’s waterbowls to be suspiciously empty the last few days. I suspect there’s been massive bathing parties while I’m at work, so I’ve left bathpans at the bottoms of their cages…not that they’re being used… Apparently, there’s something irresistable about bathing in the drinking water.
Even the grey, shunner of unwanted water loves to get down in his water bowl. He also enjoys sitting in the shower and getting the occasional spritz, but mostly he likes to choose his own bathing moments. The Senegal and red-bellied are more likely to go for a good soaking, but Ty has his doubts about the necessity of bathing.
Every parrot is different though. Take for example this little guy here, with his head upright, neck stretches, eyes not quite completely round, he looks pretty okay about his shower. I’ve heard many grey owners, however complain that this is never the case with their own birds.
So should you make a bird who won’t bathe wash off the dust? Do birds need baths or not?
There’s no doubt that the bathing is a healthy habit. Feathers have a lot of detritus lurking in their layers and a good bathing washes the unwanted and unhealthy away. Rainforest parrots, who would be subject to frequent soakings in the wild whether they were willing or not, seem to be the most amenable and even joyful about a bath. Perhaps greys, who frequent a dryer habitat just don’t embrace a cloudburst in quite the same way. And on top of this, every parrot is an individual and the sum of their experiences. Some birds don’t find bathing a joyful experience and it only takes one bad experience with a misting or in the shower to shift this attitude toward pure hatred. All the same, baths are good. Should you make your bird bathe though? Absolutely NOT. The good news is that you CAN train you bird to happily take a shower.
How to Train Bathing
Start with a spray bottle set on a fine mist and introduce bathing slowly. Mist away from your bird, if he sits calmly and unconcerned, say “good” and reward with a treat. Mist a little closer and do the same. Continue until you are gradually rewarding your bird to sit calmly as the spray get closer. If at any time your bird looks uncomfortable or leans away from the water, back off and start from the last position he was comfortable in. You want your bird to learn that water is a positive and that sitting calmly gets him a reward.
Once you are right next to your bird with the sprayer, continue spraying and hold a treat where he can only get to it by getting into the mist just a tiny bit. When he leans in say “good” and let him have the treat. Make sure the “good” coincides with leaning into the water. This is the behavior you are rewarding. Then gradually ask him to go a bit further every time. Once he seems comfortable stepping into the spray and then getting a treat, stop holding the treat out. You want him to understand that the cue for stepping into the water is you spraying. You can show him the treat, but see if he will step in without being led. (You can always go back a few steps and lead him in if he doesn’t get it or forgets.) When he does step into the spray on his own, praise and reward.
From here you can approximate by lengthening the time in the spray and the number of times you spray in similar small steps until you’ve trained your bird to bathe. This may take one session or several months, but it’s worth the effort. Because he has made the decision on his own to walk into the spray for treats and because bathing has been paired with positives, a treat, or even just your praise and excitement if he isn’t interested in food, bathing itself will be a positive and welcome experience.
Good luck with your bathing beauty!