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.