Should I use any soap or shampoo when bathing my bird?
-Karen F., Hanover, MA
No. Not only is it unnecessary to use anything but water when bathing your bird, it is counterproductive to a bird’s natural cleansing process. Most birds have a preen gland (uropygial gland) which is located at the the base of its tail. When a bird is preening, it pinches this gland which then excretes an oil that is spread throughout the feathers. This oil gives helps to keep feathers in proper condition.
In waterbirds, the preen gland excretes more oil giving them their waterproofing. The oils also have anti-parasitic effect, helping wild birds keep lice at bay and an antibacterial effect that keeps down feather degradation. The action of the bird running its beak through the feathers distributes these oils, keeps feathers in position and removes any dirt and debris.
Using soap or shampoos will wash away these oils and the feathers condition will deteriorate. It will also dry out their skin. Itchy birds have been known to pluck. I know that there are bird “shampoos” on the market, please don’t buy them. It’s just another way of getting bird owners to spend yet more money, and they will prove to be harmful to your bird.
Bathing your birds often will inspire them to preen and distribute these oils. I bathe my birds at least three times a week, never less than two. Some birds prefer mist or spray baths others prefer to take a shower in our bathrooms, others still like a nice bowl of cool water to take a dip in. If your have small birds, try adding some fresh parsley or kale leaves to the water. They love to roll around in the greens. Be prepared for a mess, though, my quaker can spray water 8-10′ with her little wings!
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.