Making The Bathroom Shower a Safer Place for Birds

Galah AKA rose breasted cockatoo

This blog topic comes at the suggestion of one of our readers, who, while trying to determine the origins of her birds mystery illnesses, took note of some alarming information she happened upon that might concern many of us. Thanks Michelle!

Many of us put our birds directly into the shower for bathing. It’s a very convenient arrangement – the shower is an enclosed, tiled area that limits a bird’s freedom in the bathroom and it expels water to clean up the inevitable messes. Sometimes the bird itself is that inevitable mess.

Among the countless bird products that are available today is the shower perch. It is basically a lightweight perch that is waterproofed, textured for grip and attached to suction cups that affix to the shower wall.

Umbrella cockatoo on a shower perch

I keep my bathroom bird proofed all the time. This means that all cosmetics, toothpaste and hair and skin products are safely tucked away. Electrical appliances are unplugged and out of reach (cords too!) I am careful with which cleaners I use, and I do not store any dangerous chemical in the bathroom at all. The toilet lid is always kept closed.

The reason I go to these length is because I often use the bathroom as a play area for my small birds. When I am at my desk, I allow them to go into the bathroom that is located about 20 feet away. The room is safe enough for them to play in without constant supervision and close enough to me that I can hear what is going on in there. Of course, the thing I hear the loudest is silence. We all know what that means.

Those are some of the more obvious problem areas for bathroom bird-proofing, but there are some other safety aspects that might not automatically spring to mind: 

Curtains and rods: The curtain rods are usually the highest landing point available in the bathroom and therefore make ideal perching for a bird. But if yours is made of metal, as most of them are, have you ever given thought to why they don’t rust in a place where water and humidity is prevalent? It is most likely that it has been galvanized – a process that prepares metal for exposure to moisture and weather conditions by coating it with layers of zinc – a heavy metal that is very toxic to birds.

My solution is to wrap the rod with vet wrap. If you get shower curtain hooks with rollers, they will slide right over the vet wrap when you close the curtain to take a shower. Because I don’t want my birds chewing on the curtain hooks, the curtains and liner…or the wall and grout, for that matter. I add this when they are playing in the bathroom and remove it when they are gone: 

The white towel prevents access to the wall and the purple towel hides the curtains and hooks

Many shower curtains and liners are treated with antibacterial and anti-fungal chemicals that will off-gas considerably. When I replace a curtain or liner, I keep mine outside until the smell dissipates completely and then run it through the washer before I hang it.

Mold and fungus: These can grow rampantly in a warm and moist environment like a bathroom and would target the same area that your bird is bathing in. Occasionally, the bathroom might require some heavy duty cleaning. Use steam. Don’t let anyone tell you that their dangerous chemicals are the only solution. Steam is scientifically proven to eliminate mold and bacteria and is completely safe for your birds.

An area to be aware of when considering the hiding spots for molds is the edges of your shower curtains and liners because those parts that rest against walls, tubs or other sections of the curtain will take the longest to dry and keep the condition for mold growth optimum for longer. After a shower, extend your shower curtain a few inches short of either wall to allow it the air space it needs to dry properly. Most shower curtains can be machine washed, by the way. Check the label for instructions.

Check hard to reach areas in shower stalls like hinges and door jams, and the runners on sliding doors.

Watch for mold growth in areas surrounding the tub (inside and out), sink, toilet and especially UNDER the sink where there are often leaks or condensation that we would be completely unaware of. Mold tends to creep and spread insidiously and will eventually find its way to other parts of the bathroom. Clean the areas for potential growth with steam often.

Showerhead: News reports in the last couple of years have outed shower heads as carriers of bacteria and disease. When disease is present, it will take the highest toll on the smallest and the weakest victims. Our birds fit into the smallest category along with our children. It is hopefully now understood that we should be cleaning showerheads regularly – not only to remove the inevitable mineral deposits but also to eliminate the bacterial growth.

It is a fairly simple procedure. Many showerheads screw off and allow you to clean them by soaking them overnight in a bowlful of vinegar. If your showerhead is permanently attached, this quick video will show how to clean it without removing it.

Vinegar has the power to kill most molds and bacteria but not all. A blast of steam into the nozzle will finish the job. Pour the leftover vinegar into the shower drain to help clean it as well.

photo from aconehourair.com

The water heater: So now that we have the showering area in tip-top shape, let’s think about the water itself. It doesn’t make sense to let our bird bathe in water that isn’t top quality. Is the water coming from your water heater safe?

Water comes into your house through a main water line and then splits off – some water will go to the water heater and some will bypass it to go directly to your cold water faucet. Your hot water heater is a fairly straight-forward instrument. It is a metal cylinder with a thermostat that regulates the temperature to which the water inside is heated. A line out runs to the hot water faucets.

Inside the tank is a device called an anode. Its sole purpose is to prevent the corrosive effects of water to the inside of the tank which would greatly reduce the life of a water heater. The anode is layered with what is referred to as a “sacrificial metal” that’s sole purpose it to attract the corrosion to it. It is slowly devoured, sparing the inside walls of the tank.

However, the anodes are sometimes comprised of toxic metals which leech into the tank water as they decompose. Houses with older water heater models will usually utilize aluminum anodes, or zinc anodes (which are actually made of more aluminum than zinc but still contains small amounts of very toxic cadmium).

Newer water heater models typically use a less toxic magnesium anode, but these are not always appropriate in areas with hard water or if there are odor problems.

Anodes can be replaced, so one solution is to install an anode that does not use a sacrificial metal at all but utilizes small electrical charges to prevent corrosion in the tank. They are known as power anodes or impressed current rods. This may not be affordable to all homeowners and renters do not have the benefit of choice.

I am not wishing to be alarmist with this information or frighten you about something you can’t control. When taking our birds into account, though, all knowledge is good knowledge – now when we set our birds in the shower we will be encouraged to lower the temperature gradually to use as little water from the water heater as possible and always prevent your bird from drinking shower water.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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