Shower With A Parrot - - - by Liz Davies (aka "Mom")

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 old.

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:

  • Parrot Control

  • Comfortable Perching

  • Appropriate water temperature

  • The need to feel safe

  • Appropriate modeling and reassurance

  • Bathtime Behaviors

  • Things To Avoid

Parrot Control

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.

Comfortable Perching

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 them, height=safety.

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 my shoulders.

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) altitude.

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 comfortable.

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 Safe

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 escape path.

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 immediately. 

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 yourself.

Appropriate 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 aren’t good.

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:

Pakshi “You’re not going to believe what Mom did this morning in the shower”
“Wait… don’t tell me…”
“I’m sure I know…”
“Let me guess…”
All (in unison):
“Rubber Ducky!” (the sound of avian laughter)

: “It’s so lame…”
“Awe, humor them.  The humans just are so nervous around water, you know.”

Bathtime Behaviors

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.