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Battle Lines and The "Truce"
An interesting phenomenon has been observed, by some, in the bathing of their birds. In speaking with Eb Cravens of Hawaii on the bathing behaviors of his birds, he remarked that he has noticed that normal aggression among his birds would cease during bath time. To further test this observation I applied this theory to my flock at home. In my household we have what I have termed "beak wars". It is never pleasant and always expected. In bathing the birds together I was able to observe a "truce" of sorts while the water was falling. Prior to the introduction of the water I could see the battle lines being drawn, everyone getting "big" and establishing territory. When the water began to fall you could almost see the white flags being flown to indicate the truce. I suppose that bathing is such a fundamental aspect of their lives that not even the on-going "beak wars" will keep them from reaping the full benefit of falling water. An interesting finding, to be sure.
The Little Feet
What does one do with the medium to small species of psittacines in regard to adequate perching during the shower? This question is posed to me by many who have budgies, lovebirds, parrotlets, pionus, lories, and such. The traditional shower perches, T-stands, tension rods, and other devices available simply do not provide adequate perching ability to the small-footed species. The large diameter of these items do not seem to fit these smaller species and many companions of these birds are left to search for a method of allowing their birds to perch safely during the shower process. The best method I have discovered actually allows one to shower many smaller psittacines in a communal setting (of which they prefer, actually). Remember those lingerie and clothes drying racks that our mothers used to use? Made of wood, collapsible, constructed to be placed in the bathtub, and consisting of smaller wooden dowels, they are perfect for those sweet little feet. If you have multiple numbers of different or same species you would be able to bathe them all at the same time utilizing the tier placement of these dowels. It truly is a wonderful apparatus when utilized for bathing the smaller-footed species.
In speaking with Phoebe Linden of the Santa Barbara Birdfarm on the subject of juvenile and adolescent parrots, the topic (of course) comes around to bathing. Her knowledge and insight into the behavior, care, and psychological profiles of these young creatures never ceases to amaze me. My question has always been 'why do those that acquire a young fledgling wait so long before they begin teaching their fledges to bathe?' I hear from so many people that the breeder told them not to bathe their bird until after it is a year old! And we wonder why some of our parrots are resistant to the bathing process when we finally get around to introducing it to them. In the wild, the parent birds begin to socialize their young to bathing at a very early stage. It becomes inevitable due to the immense rainfall in their environments and the young observe the parent birds communing with their environment right from the start. Linden has observed her hens actually wetting their breast feathers and bringing the water right into the nest to their young to bathe them. Makes sense when you think about the needed moisture for their skin, cleansing, and socializing them to the process.
In a captive-bred situation we become the parent bird to our hand-fed birds and the responsibility of the instruction in the fine art of bathing is now in our hands. Observant breeders of the psittacines will begin early bathing of their babies by placing them in a secure area on a towel and lightly misting or introducing water drops by hand. This is done prior to the ability of these babies to perch adequately and provides the introduction of water into the bird's "environment". Linden uses this method and believes that early socialization to bathing is essential to good bathing behavior as the bird matures. Just think of how many of our "problem bathers" could have been introduced to bathing at an early age! Perhaps we would never have heard the statement "my bird hates baths!"
If you have or are planning to introduce a young bird into your household it would be wise to begin early instruction of bathing. If the young bird is not able to perch securely without the risk of falling you would be wise to place it on a table and mist it gently. A bird that falls from a perch during bathing may always equate the falling from the perch with the water introduced, thus it becomes the water's fault. In this case the bird may be resistant to the bathing process and to correct this situation may take many, many patient months. Never give up. Always be gentle, supportive, and attentive to the reaction the bird is displaying. Re-think your methods and slow down. With patience you will be successful in this endeavor.
The Fundamental Aspect of Care
Since looking closely at the particular habit of bathing, researching the rainfall data, and seeing so many poorly feathered parrots, I have come to the conclusion that we have omitted one of the most fundamental aspects of their care. We have been instructed to "occasionally mist them with a spray bottle". What does that mean exactly? I say soak 'em and soak 'em good. Daily bathing is optimum if your schedule allows for it and as frequently as possible is the next best thing. The data is coming in, the results are surprising, and the birds are looking great! Perhaps we have done a great disservice to this animal in keeping it as we have for the past several hundred years. We love them, respect them, and strive to learn more about them. We may have finally realized what they have been missing through our ignorance of their most basic need. Get the water running, start spraying, provide a pool, check the temperature, and watch them go. After all, they try to tell us what they need when we run the vacuum cleaner by diving into their water cups. It sounds like rainfall to them. They may have been wondering why it has taken us so long to figure this out. Of course, all they had to do was say, "Want shower?"! Now that we can understand.
Author's note: During recent travels to Florida I was able to survey several bird shops and found them to be using a "bird spray bath" that was claiming to contain aloe vera and natural preen gland oil. Fragrance was also listed in the ingredients. I cannot stress enough that only clean water! be used to bathe your birds. Oils, chemicals, fragrances, and colorings are not healthy for application to a bird's plummage. My vision of someone milking the uropygial glands of parrots for the "preen gland oil" and applying aloe vera to something as intricate as the design of the feather conflicts with good common sense. For the health and safety of your birds you should avoid commercially prepared bird bath sprays. Water, as nature intended, seems to do the job quite well indeed.
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