How to Wash a Bird

Starting to hear, “Polly wants a bath,” shouted from your parrot’s cage? Keep reading to learn how to clean him up without damaging his feathers or upsetting his pride.

Birdie Cleaning 101

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One dirty or dusty bird
  • A misting bottle, shower nozzle, or sink
  • Dawn dish soap (only in extreme cases – see “a note on soap”)

Note: If this is your first time washing your bird, he may be a little uncomfortable with getting sprayed with water. You may have to work him up to it gradually. It is best to begin by leaving a bowl of water for him, or gently running the tap, and seeing if he’ll go to it on his own, especially if you know or suspect that your bird has an aversion to water. You can also try using treats as positive reinforcement, by placing them in or near the bowl or sink. If your bird gets too upset upon getting wet, stop and try again later.

Warning: Read before using tap water!

Please be aware that all ‘newer’ water heaters have a zinc rod installed in them to slow the corrosion process caused by other minerals in the water. Therefore, ZINC IS PRESENT in all warm/hot water that comes from any tap in your home which can be lethal to your birds. If you must use tap water, only use cool or cold water after letting it run for a few minutes to clear out any residual zinc, then let the cool water warm up to room temperature before use.

First, get your bird wet

Depending on how close you feel to your feathered pet, you can a) fill the misting bottle with cool water and spray him down, or b) have him jump in the kitchen sink (either empty or half full of water) and spray him or let him bathe. Your simply need to get your bird’s feathers fairly damp (though not necessarily dripping wet). Then he should take the initiative to take care of the rest of the cleaning on his own.

If you’re using the misting bottle…

Don’t aim the bottle directly at your bird when you spray. Though he probably won’t peck your eyes out, you can bet that he won’t be too happy. Instead, angle the bottle upwards so that the water gently falls on his feathers.

If you’re using the shower…

Be sure to have the showerhead setting on an intensity that your bird will be comfortable with. Just because you like the water pounding on your back does not mean it will be massaging for your bird. Also, do not make the water cold, even if you like your showers that way. It can be hard for your bird to warm up when he’s wet. And finally, make sure you don’t get any of your soap or shampoo on your bird as you shower. It could be damaging to his feathers or skin.

If you’re using the sink…

Always use the sprayer hose if you’re going to directly wet your bird. Don’t hold him under the tap; just let the water run so that he can make his way there of his own volition, or let him splash around in the standing water, like he would in a bird bath. Be sure to put the stopper in the sink so he won’t slip into the drain.

*Never leave your bird in the shower or sink unattended.

Washing your bird outside

If you have an extremely large bird, such as a macaw, he may enjoy being sprayed with the garden hose. Again, aim it above your bird. But only do this on a warm and sunny day, and make sure he can’t get out of your yard.

Now, dry your bird

This step is easy. Your bird will most likely dry himself. He will puff out his feathers and shake (his version of a dog shaking after a bath). Never use the hairdryer on your bird. Depending on the hairdryer’s materials, it could emit damaging fumes. If your bird seems to need some help in the drying department, you can wipe him gently with a kitchen or bath towel.

A note on soap

In most cases, you won’t need to use any soap when washing your bird. Water and his own desire to be clean should be enough. Skip this step unless your bird has somehow gotten oil on his body and there is no other way to get it out. Even then, it is recommended that you consult with your vet first.

If you are faced with an extreme circumstance, such as Polly landing on an open can of motor oil and spilling it all over his feathers, it is okay to use a mild dish detergent for hand washing on him. However, the only brand that seems to be universally recommended is Dawn (mild and unscented). So go with that one, or ask your vet for advice on what else you can use.

Once you’ve settled on a soap, you need to fill your sink about halfway with warm (but not scalding) water. Add about a teaspoon of dish soap and mix it into the water with your hands until there is a good lather. Then immerse your bird and gently work the oil out of his feathers with your hands. Key word: gently. And try to avoid getting soap on his face. Then rinse all of the soap off with another sink full of warm water.

*Your bird will be none too pleased with the soaping and rinsing activities and you may need to recruit a friend to gently hold him still and reassure him while you cleanse his feathers. If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning your bird in this manner, take him to the vet or another animal professional.

Cleaning beaks and feet

Again, your bird should take care of most of this cleaning on his own through regular preening. However, you may want to give your bird a treat that helps him keep his beak sharp and in shape. And an appropriate perch should keep Polly’s nails in good order. If they get too long or sharp, pick of a nail clipper for birds and give them a trim.

Keeping your bird clean

Most birds like to stay clean, so they will enjoy a bath every couple of days, but definitely don’t go more than a week between cleanings if you want your bird to stay healthy and happy. Also, be sure to clean his cage on a regular basis.

Comments

  1. Kim says:

    Please be aware that all ‘newer’ water heaters have a zinc rod installed in them to slow the corrosion process caused by other minerals in the water.

    Therefore, ZINC IS PRESENT in all warm/hot water that comes from any tap in your home. I only use filtered cold water that has come to room temperature to bath/mist my birds. They love to get wet and used to take showers with us, however, 12 years ago after my favorite cockatiel died was when we learned of the ZINC problem. We had indeed installed a new water heater, our water dept. tested our water from the kitchen tap and it was “off the charts” for ZINC. The cause of my bird’s death was ZINC POISONING…had to give the other 4 cockatiels and the cockatoo chelation shots for several weeks to rid their systems of the heavy metals.

  2. XZ says:

    I dried it with a hairdryer; I guess that’s why he died 3 days after. :( But I didn’t burn him – it was way far from him. :(

  3. Vonda says:

    Is it okay to mix a little bit of baby oil to a misting bottle so that their feet will be a little moist?

  4. Diamond says:

    Thanks, this is a very good piece of information. Thanks for everything; I’m getting a bird tomorrow!

  5. Crista says:

    I have a new baby lovebird and when I feed her formula, it gets all over her chest. How can I clean it off?

  6. Malissa says:

    Hey. My lorikeet just had a bath. She was still a bit wet, so I put the heater on low and it was far away from her. Will this harm her or is it okay??

  7. Melanie says:

    Malissa,
    The top concern with using heaters around birds is the possibility of toxic fumes from any Teflon or polymer coating used in or on the heater. Check that the heater you are using is not made with PTFE.
    Fuel-burning heaters can harm your bird with toxic fumes or soot particles in the air.
    The next concern is that by drying out the humidity in the air, it could dry out your bird’s skin and cause your pet to feel itchy or require a second bath.
    In the future, bathe your bird in the morning or afternoon when you can let her perch in the sun briefly to dry (near a window).

    Source: BirdTricks.com – Bird Safe Heaters
    Source: BirdChannel.com – Keep Your Pet Birds Warm and Safe This Winter
    Source: GlobalCrisis.info – Most deadly hazards for pet birds

  8. KP says:

    Hey all,
    I just read an article from an actual bird vet who says that it is okay to use a blow dryer on your bird and that mild soap is okay to use when there is oil on the feathers.
    Obviously, you shouldn’t do either one in excess.

    WARNING: Read reply below by Melanie.

  9. Melanie says:

    KP,
    That is both true and not true.
    Most regular hairdryers can kill your bird because the coils are coated with PTFE (Teflon). You may be able to safely use a ceramic hair dryer since ceramic is clean-burning, however you still need to be wary of exposing your bird to excessive heat. Overheating can quickly cause shock, seizure and death in birds. Another problem with blow dryers is that the air can dry out your bird’s skin, which will cause your pet to become itchy or dusty and require a second bath. Also, you need to be sure that the room where you blow dry your bird is free of any dust, which the blow dryer could push into the air. If you use the lowest setting on a ceramic hair dryer only briefly in a clean room and hold it a good distance away from your bird, your pet should be fine.

    Source: The Mickaboo Bird Rescue Companion – Teflon and Birds: What You Need to Know
    Source: BirdTricks.com – Bird Safe Heaters
    Source: Brook-Falls Veterinary Hospital & Exotic Care, Inc. – Bird Wellness Guide
    Source: Exotic Pet Vet. Net – The Top Ten Bird Killers
    Source: Wingwise – Illness and Injury: Common Bird Injuries
    Source: Pet Education.com – Teflon Toxicity (PTFE Toxicosis) in Birds: Signs and Prevention
    Source: BirdTricks.com – Dangerous Air Borne Contaminates

  10. Heather says:

    My bird flew into my Sentsy wax melt burner. He is a white albino cockatiel that I have had for 18 years. He is acting fine, but is covered in wax. The wax is caked all underneath. Today is Sunday and I have no local vets open that work with birds. The only pet store is PetSmart close by and when I spoke to the animal hospital, they said they don’t really know much about birds. I’m worried about him and so scared cleaning it because it’s not coming off easily and I don’t want to pull feathers but I also don’t want him to get sick. Someone please help me :( . I can’t sleep and am just so worried that he is going to get sick or something. He is sleeping and seems fine, just looks horrible :( . I don’t know what to do till Monday when the only doctor in my area that works with birds is open…

  11. Melanie says:

    Heather,
    The easiest way to remove hardened wax is by melting it so it can be soaked into a piece of paper or cloth. On a carpet, you would use a paper bag and a hot iron. On hair, you would use a towel and hair dryer. But neither of those would work for a tiny bird belly and I would worry about the hair dryer possibly containing Teflon or scorching your bird. So here’s some adaptations of that idea:
    1) Warm water might be enough to soften the wax if there’s just a little bit left.
    2) Sunlight can melt/soften the wax in just a few minutes. If you could bring your bird’s wire cage outside or in front of a window, or bring your bird to a warm patio, that might work. (Just make sure that your bird has water, stays supervised and also has access to shade if needed.) Scrape off the soft wax with the solid side of a comb and then use a cloth to soak up the remaining wax.
    3) A bird diaper – you can make one out of a sock and shoelace. Placing the diaper on your bird while it is in the sun would let the wax absorb into the diaper and also prevent the wax from dripping onto your bird’s legs or perch.
    Also, if the complete wax removal takes a while, you might want to take breaks so your bird doesn’t get stressed. You could use the diaper to keep your bird from grooming between cleanings if needed.
    Lastly, I’m guessing that your bird will be in the mood to do some self-grooming after this. :) You can make a cage-sized bird bath out of the small terra-cotta planters and dishes. That is probably what your bird thought the Sentsy looked like. :) Good luck!

    Source: HowToCleanStuff – How to Remove Candle Wax Stains
    Source: HowToCleanStuff – How to Remove Dread Wax from Hair
    Source: BirdChannel – Cockatiels and Temperature Fluctuations
    Source: PetDIYs – DIY Sock Duckling Diaper
    Source: PetDIYs – DIY Planter Dish Birdbath

  12. Lina says:

    I’m looking for advice; how to take my bird to the bathroom?! (As he is still afraid of me and does not step up on my hand.) I don’t want to force him. I have had him for two months so far and he is an eight-year-old African grey, and not tamed as well. Is there any way how could he have a bath?

  13. Murray says:

    I am a wheelchair person who is active around the house and shed. My hands are always dirty and stained from rolling everywhere. I have an indian ringneck that is yellow and she is getting stained ’cause I have her with me most of the time. Is a soap bath the better way to clean her?

  14. Melanie says:

    Murray,
    The plain water bath will usually be enough to remove any dust, but if it isn’t, a soap bath should do the trick.
    Another option is to get/make a cup holder for your chair that she can use to bathe on the go or a stationary bird bath that she can use while you are busy chopping vegetables, etc. Something like this: Insight Bird Bath could probably be modified fairly easily to attach to your chair (maybe if you zip tie a wire cookie rack to one of the chair handles?) and would decrease the likelihood of any water splashing out on the go.

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