Birds are fastidious creatures; they spend
considerable energy preening and caring for their feathers. It’s not
conceit that drives this, but necessary upkeep.
Many of the parrots that we keep in our
homes have ancestors that lived in tropical rain forests where a daily
shower helped keep them in tip top condition. Even the cockatoos,
cockatiels, and budgies of Australia flock around places where standing
water will allow them to have a happy splash – and wash off the dust.
All of the birds here at
SevenParrots enjoy regular
bathtimes. Because we live in a traditional American house (here in
the Midwest), we find it easiest to use the shower. Bath bowls and such are
great, but nothing beats the convenience of the shower. So, from the very
start, each of the parrots has been introduced to showering, and we’ve had
success with it.
Considering the Bird’s Point Of View
As a child, I never learned to swim.
That is because I had a very insensitive teacher who lost patience with my
dislike of putting my face in the water – and who grabbed me and forced me
under. I don’t exactly recall the incident, but my mother does. She said I
screamed like a banshee and stomped out of that swimming pool terrified… but
furious at the same time. The water was cold, and I didn’t like it in my
ears, in my eyes, and up my nose. Mom was never able to convince me to go
back for lessons again – and I didn’t learn to swim until I was 43 years
That painful and frightening experience
is useful to me now because I think about how a parrot feels when first
introduced to the water. Our birds are naturally curious about water (if
they’re healthy and well adjusted, they are curious about EVERYTHING). If
allowed to explore things on their own, they discover the fun of it. Of
course, watching others (other birds and/or human flock members) enjoying
water helps set the right example. But if you force it, the bird will fight
you and (like me as a child) could actually develop a strong fear of water.
So, when I introduce my parrots to
showering, I pay attention to some basic things:
This, I think is the most important. If
we were all callously forced as children to dunk our faces underwater before
we were ready, there might be very few of us who would learn to enjoy
swimming and water sports. Like human children, parrots need to feel safe
and to feel somewhat in control of what is happening to them. Water
spraying from a faucet is an attractive thing to a little bird – but the
first time she thrusts her face into the stream, she’ll pull it out quickly
and snort a bit (water up the nostrils). If she can’t pull back and
“process” the experience (mentally), the reaction is bound to be: fear.
We have a special “shower perch”
constructed of PVC pipe and rubber suction cups. The suction cups keep the
perch secured to the side of the shower stall (or bathtub wall) and the
perch itself swings so that it can sit directly at an angle away from the
wall (when in use) or be swung to fit against the wall (when not in use).
The perch is positioned so that only the 2 inches of the tip are actually in
the water stream; the rest are away from the water. When the bird sits on
the perch, it is easy for him or her to move into the water and then back
out (and away). It gives the bird control over how much of their body is in
the stream at any given point.
Let your bird move into and out of the
water stream at will. The bird will enjoy it much more if he/she feels they
are in control.
When we introduce a bird to the shower,
we do it by placing him or her on a special shower perch which has an
appropriate diameter for the bird’s feet, and is positioned at a height that
makes the bird comfortable. None of my birds much wants to shower from the
bottom of the tub; they all prefer to be as high as possible because to
With my first
cockatiel (Siva) I used a wooden ladder that was long enough to extend from
one side of the bathtub to the other. I placed
the ladder at the far end of the tub (well away from the water) and let him
stand there and watch as I showered in the morning (careful to keep shampoo
and soap away from him, as such things are caustic to tender bird feathers
and skin). It took a few of these sessions, but eventually, his curiosity
got the best of him, and he ended up flying right up to my shoulder to see
what was going on. Unfortunately, he got a “face full” of shower spray
(which he didn’t like much) but once he’d flown to me in the shower, I knew
he was ready to experience more – and the next time I showered, I sat him on
a shower perch positioned higher and where he’d get the “splash/mist” off of
Bathing Jesse was a
different situation: she’s too big to have in the shower with me (35 inch
wing span, plus an equal space from beak to tail – she fills the shower!)
When I first tried bathing Jesse, I did it with a very short (12” high)
table top perch stand (which I placed on the floor of the shower stall). I
put Jesse on the perch, and pulled down the shower head (it’s a hand-held
type) – then I tipped the head so the water would flow upward toward the
ceiling, and turned the water on at a very low pressure (the water bubbled
up from the shower head like a small fountain). I held it in front of
Jesse and encouraged her to try tasting it. Then I wet my hand with the
water and rubbed the wet hand into her neck and breast, talking to her the
whole time about what a “good girl” she was – and saying “isn’t this
NICE?!” She wasn’t terribly thrilled with it all – but it was a short
session, and as soon as she began to show real discomfort, we ended it. I
believe that it would have been much more fun for her if she hadn’t been
sitting so low in the shower stall. It reassured her to see me there on my
knees with her, but she clearly wanted to be sitting at a safer (higher)
Appropriate Water Temperature
A parrot in a jungle rainstorm is not
going to get the scalding water temperatures what we typically enjoy in our
morning shower. When starting the water for your bird’s bath, aim for a
“lukewarm” temperature. That’s a tad warmer than cold tap water, but not
the same temperature you would want for your own bath. Remember that the
feather shafts coming from a parrot’s skin are going to transmit the water
temperature into the bird’s body – too much heat is going to be much more
uncomfortable for them than it would be for us.
The water should be warm – but just
barely. When in doubt, its better to err on the slide of “slightly cooler”.
Remember that hot water tends to dry out
the skin. For you and me, as humans, that’s not such a bother – but we have
oil glands all over our bodies, and our skin will replenish it’s oil and
moisture quickly (at least until we reach “a certain age”). Parrots don’t
have the same anatomy – and a hot shower will strip their feathers and skin
of the precious natural lubricants that they need to be healthy and
For some of our parrots, we do take them
into the shower with us when we bathe – but we don’t put them in the direct
stream of water. Instead, they sit on shower perches or other flat surfaces
to the side, where the only water they get is that which is splashing off
our shoulders. This allows them to get pretty wet, but protects them from
the direct heat of the water immediately out of the tap. And if we feel
like a really HOT shower, the birds don’t join us… we keep the temperatures
lower if they are with us in the shower stall.
The Need To Feel
Going into a small,
confined space like a shower stall or bathtub isn’t terribly natural to a
parrot. It’s even less so if we put the bird in the tub and then yank a
dark or very patterned shower curtain over and
thereby restrict their escape route.
“Polly” needs to feel
that she has some control over what is happening, and that (if some
marauding hawk should suddenly swoop through the ceiling) she has a clear
We have a shower stall
that uses a standard shower curtain rod and curtain. And we use clear (not
frosted, but totally clear) curtains in the shower. Our birds can see
through the curtain, and light comes in easily, keeping the bathing area
well lit, and everything in the vicinity easy to observe. Whatever you can
do to improve the bird’s ability to see and “escape” (those bathroom ceiling
hawks are such a problem, you know…), the more safe and comfortable your
bird will be.
||These days, when Jesse
takes a shower, I put her in the shower stall, turn on the water, pull the
curtain closed, and leave her there for a while. She’s perfectly content to
play in the water, flap and squak without me.
But this “solo showering” developed only after Jesse had quite a few
very “happy” experiences in a row, and had clearly grown to truly love
her bath times.
When I first started closing the
curtain, I stayed right there were she could see me – and if she showed
any reluctance or anxiety, I opened the curtain and took her out
Trust is EVERYTHING.
The other birds, however, aren’t so daring, and they demand that one of us
be in the shower stall with them.
Another way to help
develop a sense of comfort for the bird is to allow him/her to travel to the
bathroom on their own. When I’m in a hurry, I carry the birds into the
bathroom – but I know they enjoy it a lot more if I set them on the floor
and let them follow me on foot. It seems to give them a sense of
empowerment, and more of a sense of “I’m doing this because I want to”.
You’re going to think this is a wacky observation until/unless you do it
Modeling and Reassurance
It’s going to get a
little weird now, but bear with me, OK?
Learn to sing the song
“Rubber Ducky”. (“Rubber
Ducky, you’re the one..
you make bathtime
LOTS OF FUN!!!”)
Then, when you are
ready to introduce your parrot to the shower – sing it. The closer your
voice sounds to Kermit the Frog, the better. Why? The tempo is perfect,
the song is silly and fun, and just singing it
will put you in the right frame of mind to make “bathtime
lots of fun”. Bathtime, to a well adjusted
parrot, isn’t a chore – it’s a delight. If you can sing “Rubber
Ducky”, you’ll be putting yourself into the
right mindset – and I can almost guarantee you’ll relax a bit more than
normal… and the bird will pick up on that.
You don’t want to get
all tensed up during bathtime. The results just
Don’t let yourself
think about the water that is about to be flung all over your bathroom.
Don’t worry about how you’re going to be more soaked than the bird will be
when it’s done.
Relax! Be ‘in the
moment’ and let yourself be 3 years old again. You’ll enjoy it more and the
parrot will too.
When it’s bath time,
talk to your birds (just as you would a child) and say things like “Oh,
let’s get all scrubby dubby CLEAAAN!” Yeah… it
feels goofy, but they respond. Keep telling the bird that he/she is a “Good
birdeee!” no matter what is actually happening.
Remember: it’s not about you, it’s about the bird.
Scene: the Davies household, midday. The humans of the flock are not
around and the avians can now safely and
privately chat… let’s listen in:
“You’re not going to believe what Mom did this morning in the shower”
Bubba: “Wait… don’t tell me…”
Aussie: “I’m sure I know…”
Forte: “Let me guess…”
All (in unison): “Rubber Ducky!” (the
sound of avian laughter)
“It’s so lame…”
Jesse: “Awe, humor them. The humans just are so nervous around
water, you know.”
|Jesse flaps and
squaks when she's bathing. At first I thought
she was crying out in fear and flapping to get away - but I just stood there
to see if she'd try to come out of the shower and she didn't. Happy
vocalizations just add to the fun.
Paskhi usually indicates his
pleasure (or lack of) by vocalizing in different ways in the shower.
Although he always is ASKED to join me (never forced), he sometimes accepts
the offered hand-boost into the shower, only to complain loudly
(ear-piercing shrieks) once we are underway. If he’s happy, he chirps,
grunts, and twitters (sounds like a bumble bee talking, actually). And
sometimes when I offer to take him into the shower, he simply refuses
(stepping slightly to the side of the offered hand) and prefers to sit on
the bathroom sink and chatter at me as I shower.
Bubba is frequently a
sullen bather. He’s never really developed a love for the shower, but if we
take him there with Aussie, he tolerates it well enough. Bubba seems to
want to bathe in standing water (I say this because he dunks his head into
his water cup) – but we’ve never been successful in getting him to actually
climb into a bird-tub (even when Aussie would jump in right in front of him
and splash around with gusto).
Aussie is also fun to
watch. For a bird that comes from one of the driest, hottest climates on
the planet, this little guy sure does know how to enjoy a good scrub. He
flips his wings up, and then will push his head, neck, and wings down as far
as he can (standing on the edge of his perch) as if he’s trying to stand on
his head. He’ll push all his body feathers way up – all in the attempt to
catch every drop of water possible and channel it toward his body.
Considering the desert climate of his ancestors, this behavior makes sense –
but it’s still hilarious to watch.
Things to Avoid
Soap is fine for you
and me, but it’s generally not a good idea for your bird. If you
shower with the bird (as we do sometimes), keep him away from soap, shampoo,
shaving cream, hair spray, cologne, and other products.
I’ve used blow dryers
on my birds, but always keep the heat settings on “cool” and keep the dryer
a bit of a distance from the bird (especially their faces). Some blow
driers emit chemicals and fumes harmful to birds – so be very careful before
you do this.
Time the baths as
early in the day as possible (we never bathe a bird after noon Always be
careful to allow several hours of drying before bedtime approaches.