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Wild Bird

Rub-A-Dub-Dub: How Do Birds Bathe?

11 Aug , 2016  

Never underestimate a good bath – even for birds. If you feed your backyard birds, you’ve probably seen them stop for a bath a time or two, even if you don’t have a traditional birdbath. Watching birds socialize and take their turns at the bath can be an entertaining sight, but have you ever wondered why birds bathe or what they’re actually doing to get clean?


Why Birds Bathe

why do birds bathe bluebird flyingBefore we dive into a bird’s process of bathing, you might be wondering why baths are important in the first place. While cooling down can be a draw to the water in the summer, the primary function of bathing is just what you might guess: maintaining feathers.

Most birders know that feathers are a significant lifeline for our flying friends. In addition to providing the ability to fly, feathers help to insulate and waterproof a bird’s delicate body. While feathers are periodically replaced – every few months to a year – they need to be well maintained while they remain. Flying, mites, bacteria, and other factors all wear down feathers in the time before they are replaced.

However, regular bathing and preening helps to keep these vital feathers in optimum condition for longer periods. Additionally, since clean feathers allow birds to be agile fliers, bathing could also be considered an important aspect of survival – birds that are more adept at flying can escape predators with much more ease.


Splish-Splash the Birds Are Taking Baths

Have you ever noticed that when birds are in the water, they tend to splash around a lot? This is due to the lightweight build of most birds. Their hollow bones prevent them from being able to submerge themselves fully in the water.

In addition, deep water would cause the birds to become soaked, which would prevent them from flying properly. This is one of the reasons birds prefer baths that are shallow – they splash around until their bodies are just wet enough – and opt for taking many short baths rather than one long bath.

During their bath, birds can raise up some of their feathers on certain areas of their bodies as they splash the water. They work the splashing water down into their skin, helping them get a thorough bath and remove any parasites that may be buried down beneath their feathers.

Bird feathers also feature crevices where dirt can build up. This is where the preening process comes in handy. By applying a bit of oil from their preen gland, which is typically located near the tail, birds are able to “unzip” and “zip” their feathers with their beaks after removing the dirt. Preening oil keeps feathers soft and flexible for flying, but too much can also cause feathers to clump. Water helps to wash off some of this oil.


5 Ways to Make Your Birdbath More Appealing

Now that you understand why and how birds bathe, it’s time to implement your own backyard birdbath oasis. While birds will bathe in just about any water they can find – puddles, ponds, birdbaths and sprinklers – there are a few things you can do to prepare a tempting bathing area for your feathered friends.

  • birds bathe hummingbird birdbath drippersMeasure the depth: Water should be no more than ½ to 1 inch deep at the edges, and no more than 2 to 3 inches deep in the middle.
  • Provide dripping water: Birds love the sight and sound of moving water. Consider adding a mister or dripper, commercial or homemade, so the water drips into the bath where birds can enjoy.
  • Add stones or branches: Arrange objects such as stones and small branches in the deeper parts of the water so birds can stand on them if they just want a drink.
  • Place it near trees: By doing this, not only will you be providing your feathered friends with shade to keep the water cool, but it will also create a nearby space to preen.
  • Keep it clean: Birdbaths should be cleaned and water should be replaced every few days. This will prevent buildup of dirt, droppings, and algae, while also reducing potential mosquito populations.
  • Heat it up: Believe it or not, birds still want to bathe in the winter. To prevent freezing, consider adding a heater to your backyard birdbath. As an alternative, you can also place a shallow dish of water outside every day, and refresh it when it freezes.


Do you have more questions about bird bathing? Let us know in the comments below! Also, be sure to share pictures of your bustling birdbath on your next visit to our Facebook page.

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The WBJ Blog Team By

The Wild Bird Journal Blog Team's primary goal is to provide you with all the information you need to feed and assist the birds that visit your backyard. If you have a question, don't hesitate to leave a message for us in the comment section. We're always happy to help you and your feathered friends!

4 Responses

  1. Mary S Browne says:

    Is there another way to help the birds with bathing than having a bird bath that needs to be cleaned every day or so? I can’t always do it, but would like a bird bath. Is there a way to have a box of soft soil that they would like to “bathe in” near their bird feeder?

    • The WBJ Blog Team The WBJ Blog Team says:

      Hi Mary, thank you for your great question! There are options other than traditional water baths. Some birds, such as sparrows, enjoy taking dust baths – but not all birds do this. If you want to make a dust bath for your feathered friends, take a look at these instructions for some general guidelines.

  2. Kathy says:

    Hi, I have a question to ask. I live an apartment with a nice sized patio. We already placed a tray with water in it on our railing and have greatly enjoyed watching the birds taking baths and even lining up and taking turns. We then decided to put some food out in our bird feeder but the naughty Robins were throwing all the seed out, so we then decided to leave it in a tray on the ground of our patio. We were loving watching them feed, even bunnies. Then a Turtle Dove came, then another and another, and before you know it we were feeding a dozen Doves. It got to where they were fighting over the food and was getting ugly and had to remove it. Was this normal behavior?

    • The WBJ Blog Team The WBJ Blog Team says:

      Hi Kathy, glad to hear you’ve been getting a lot of happy visitors with your bird bath. That’s a great question! This is pretty normal behavior for Doves. They are typically ground feeders, but also enjoy tray and platform feeders since they offer a similar experience. This feeding style can also lead to some competition. If you still want to feed your robins and other birds, we would suggest a bird feeder with individual feeding ports. You may not be able to completely rule out birds tossing seed on the ground – however, if you have room, you could place something on the ground below to catch the seed. Otherwise, sweeping the area below every few days should keep things tidy.

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