My Bird Is Afraid Of Water!

Q: My neighbor gave me a 4 year old cockatiel a couple of weeks ago. She couldn’t keep him and knew that I have a cockatiel that I adore. Before I took Luca home with me, I asked a lot of questions about his favorite foods and toys and tried to get as much information about him as I could. I found out that he has never had a bath because he is afraid of water. I didn’t believe her when she told me this because my bird loves his baths, but when I tried to bathe Luca, he seemed terrified. I guess she was right. What should I do? He really needs a bath.

Kimberly G., Lawrence, KS

A: It makes me cringe to think how itchy Luca must be from years of built up dirt and dander on his skin and feathers. Some birds have been known to pluck out their feathers under conditions like these. You are right – this bird needs a bath!

It is not normal for a bird to avoid water. Aside from it being a life-giving substance that all living creatures covet, bathing is a much anticipated activity for a bird and it is a social event among flock members.

Given that bathing is as natural to a bird as preening, a bird would not be born with an aversion to water – it is a large part of the parrot environment. The very fact that Luca is alive will tell you that he is drinking water daily and, therefore, does not fear it.

It is far more likely that your new cockatiel has, over the years, developed a fear of the combination of water and humans – perhaps because his former owner was forceful and inconsiderate in introducing the process of bathing. He may like humans just fine, and he may like water as he should, but put the two together, and bad things might happen from his point of view.

What I would recommend to you is that you take the human element out of Luca’s bathing experiences. Give Luca the means to bath without being any part of it yourself.

Fill a small, shallow dish of water and place it in the bottom of his cage. Don’t feel inclined to show him what it is for. Just place there and walk away and allow him do with it what he wants. He will use it for bathing on his own, eventually, when he feels ready.

Once Luca has become comfortable in your company, you can place a larger shallow dish of water on the kitchen counter a distance away from you while he is out of his cage. He probably won’t use it for a while (hopefully he will be using the small dish in his cage) – its purpose is more to show him that you will not do wrong by him, or exert force, when water is around.

You might try adding some pony beads to the bowl or perhaps some spinach leaves or even ice cubes just to make it interesting and alluring. When he finally does make it over to the bowl, be sure to keep away and let him do what he will without interference.

These steps may seem small and inconsequential to you but they leave a big impact on a bird that is struggling with trust. Repeated good experiences will eventually overshadow the bad experiences of the past and he will come to associate only good things with you when water is in the environment.

This worked very well for my water-hating quaker when I first got her. It took some time, but the results were worth the wait. The other day she jumped into the stream of running water in the kitchen sink while I was washing tomatoes. She decided it was bath-time.

A word of caution for people with birds who don’t like to bathe…

Spray bottles are very often the culprit when it comes to bathing problems with birds. Some birds fear them because their owners have squirted them in temper as a punishment. It’s not hard to figure out why that bird would not see a spray bottle in a positive light and would confuse bathing with punishment.

Some birds object to them because water is being streamed directly at them. They may prefer to bath in a manner where they have more control over how they get wet – or how much they get wet. Allow a reluctant bird to be in charge when bathing.

A good way to introduce a spray bottle bath is by directing the spray stream upward and letting it fall down on the bird like rain. Allow your bird to walk in and out of the “rain” at will and never continue to spray on or over a bird that is trying to escape it. Your bird should feel he has the right to end a bath when he is finished – not when you decide it is time. This way, water won’t feel like it is something he is being subjected to.

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

7 comments

Rachel

My ten year old blue and gold macaw parrot has real trust issues because he was forced to do everything. The ppl would literally tell him if he didn’t step up they would "get the stick " . I don’t do that and try not to even say stick. Needless to say it makes everything I try to do ten times harder, one little mistake and I have to start all over gaining his trust. I’m trying a big pan in the bottom of his cage so hopefully it will work I’m so happy y’all are out there.

Rachel
Lauren

I think there are a few assumptions made here about birds fearing water because of mistreatment. I got my conure as a baby from the breeder, and he has always disliked any kind of water that’s not in a bowl. I got spray bottles and shower perches thinking that’s how I would bathe him, but he strongly dislikes those options. I even tried a humidifier with a gentle mist, but he only bathes in a bowl of water on his own terms. Sometimes he’ll accept a pie pan in the sink, but most of the time he prefers his water bowl in his cage.

Lauren
barbara DeFiore

After reading your article last night I placed a dish in my Quaker cage he flipped the first dish water dumped. but, the 2nd dish was larger & he jumped right in for a bath. thank you for the advice Patty it worked hurrah

barbara DeFiore
barbara DeFiore

my Quaker does not bath I’m going to try that small bowl in the bottom of the cage sounds like a plan

barbara DeFiore
Sandy Lawrence

My Indian Ring Neck once dived into the sink of washing-up water to have a bath! Luckily the water was not fresh and ultra hot. He still bathes in the spare sink and likes to have the tap running gently. Doesn’t seem to worry about the cold temperature of the water ( and we are in Winter here now)

Sandy Lawrence
Nancy Forrester

I have a Moluccan cockatoo whose former owner punished him for being loud with squirts of water from a spray bottle. Of course It made him louder and caused him to be phobic about water and bathing. i live in Key West, Florida a very parrot friendly place. He loves going outdoors and accompanying me around the island. We are entering the rainy season and if so much as one drop of rain hits him or falls near him the fun is over. The only times he enjoys water is when I run the vacuum cleaner. He somehow manages to dunk his head in the 5" water bowl in his cage and splash himself (mostly his head). The floor gets soaked. I have to remember to remove his water before I run the vacuum under his cage or I ruin the expensive filter on the vacuum. Anyone know what triggers this seemly exhuberant response to the vacuum cleaner? Maybe I need to carry a small portable car vacuum cleaner with me if we get caught in a shower!

Nancy Forrester
Jani

My CAG has never gone for bathing, despite many attempts to make it more tempting for her. We now make the spray bath a game, lots of loud whoops and shouts of ‘are you all wet wet WET’ which she then shouts at me when she wants a shower!

Jani

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