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?
Before 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.
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.
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.
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 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!