Whether red, green, or blue, parrots have beautiful feathers. So, you’ll want to maintain their feathers by washing the parrot, but this is seldom necessary.
Parrots rarely need to be washed with soap because they can adequately clean themselves by bathing in plain water and preening their feathers.
A parrot needs access to cool, clean water daily, but it can wash itself without shampoo.
Washing a parrot with shampoo or soap can strip natural sebum from the feathers. Unfortunately, this can interfere with vitamin D3 synthesis from the sun and adversely impact bonding and mating.
Do Parrots Clean Themselves?
Parrots are self-sufficient birds. Even in a home setting, pet parrots don’t need much assistance from their owners to clean themselves.
The only input they need is access to fresh water. For now, it’s enough to say that parrots clean themselves by bathing and preening.
How Do Parrots Bathe?
Some parrots bathe by submerging themselves in water, whereas others rub themselves against the dew/moisture that lingers on vegetation.
Many parrots also use a rain shower as an opportunity to freshen up.
Wild parrots spend lots of time bathing in lakes and natural springs. Baby parrots (chicks), in particular, love bathing in water.
How Do Parrots Preen?
The main function of preening is to keep it clean and parasite-free. Parrots use their beaks to align their feathers and remove dirt and debris.
According to Science Direct, preening also distributes secretions from the uropygial (preen) gland onto the parrot’s feathers. Essentially, this ‘waterproofs’ the feathers.
Preening is a natural way for a parrot to keep its wings healthy. You should avoid putting soaps and shampoos on the parrot’s wings as this might rub off the natural ‘waterproof’ sebum.
Why is it so important not to interfere with preening behavior? Well, preening keeps parrots clean and is central to their physical well-being.
Why Else Do Parrots Preen?
In addition to keeping clean, disease-free, and waterproof, preening plays a role in mating, bonding, vocal development, stress relief, and vitamin D3 synthesis.
Research from Nature found that budgies distributed pheromones on their feathers through preening, making them more desirable to mates.
If you’re breeding parrots, you don’t want to wash off these natural pheromones.
Similarly, research shows that parrots use preening to bond with each other. This is particularly important for baby parrots, who often preen their siblings (which is vital for adult life).
According to Academic OUP, preening establishes a social order and can help develop a shared vocal signature. We should never interfere with something this important.
Perhaps most importantly, preening enables parrots to get vitamin D3. A parrot’s preen gland releases vitamin D precursors, which are spread over the feathers.
Then, when sunshine activates these precursors, Vitamin D3 is created. The parrot gets vitamin D3 through preening, and washing off this natural sebum undermines the process.
The body can’t absorb calcium if a parrot doesn’t get enough vitamin D3. This leads to weak and vulnerable bones and increases the risk of egg binding (dystocia).
When You Might Need to Wash Your Parrot
There are occasions when you might need to manually wash a parrot, such as:
These instances are rare, so it’s unlikely that you’d need to wash the parrot manually. Instead, provide a parrot with water access to bathe itself at leisure.
Can You Wash Parrots with Soap?
You should never wash a parrot with commercial soap.
According to VCA hospitals, soaps contain chemicals and harmful ingredients to birds. This includes some natural soaps, which contain essential oils that are toxic to parrots.
Some pet stores sell bird-safe soap, which you can use on a parrot. However, there’s no need to use soap unless its wings are soiled with oil, paint, or another thick substance.
Can I Wash My Parrot with Shampoo?
Most shampoos are formulated with a lathering agent, creating foam that would be difficult to rinse off. Shampoos also strip natural oils, so you risk washing away the sebum vital for healthy feathers.
Some people make homemade parrot shampoo from apple cider vinegar and water. While this is unlikely harmful, it is usually unnecessary because plain water is fine for daily bathing.
Use bird-safe soap or consult a vet if the stain is more ingrained.
Helping A Parrot To Bathe At Home
Parrots will bathe and preen of their own accord, so owners must help facilitate this natural behavior. To do this, you can try these methods:
Find a tub and fill this with water. According to Watch Bird, most Psittacines prefer cool water.
Parrots will usually enter a pool of water, but if reluctant, try splashing the water or bringing some toys to the water. You can also reward bath time with a treat to reinforce this behavior.
If a parrot seems reluctant to preen, it could be because the atmosphere is too dry.
Rainfall signals a bird to start preening, so recreate this by spraying plain water onto the parrot.
Use only water in the spray bottle. Again, cool water is preferred because rainwater is cool.
Some owners let their parrots enjoy a shower for a few minutes a day. Shower water mimics rainfall, and most parrots will love it.
If you do this, remember that the bathroom may have some hazards for parrots (ceiling fans, razors, cleaning chemicals), so proceed with caution.
How Often Should I Bathe My Parrot?
Parrots like to wash and preen themselves daily, so provide access to a bath/shower daily. Parrots spend 2-24% of their time washing, so they need access to water at least once daily.
You shouldn’t need to manually wash a parrot often (if ever).
If a parrot has something messy on its feathers and doesn’t clean it by bathing/preening, you could try to wipe the stain with a damp and soft cloth. However, you must be careful.
How To Promote Clean And Healthy Feathers
As well as providing access to clean, cool water, there are other things you can do to ensure a parrot has healthy feathers, including the following:
- Provide access to sunlight – When parrots relax in sunlight, this prompts preening activity.
- Foraging opportunities – This reduces the likelihood of parrots picking out their feathers.
- Feed the parrot a healthy diet – Ensure the parrot gets enough calcium and other nutrients. Certain fruit and veggies should comprise a portion of the parrot’s diet.
Change the parrot’s water daily. A parrot shouldn’t keep bathing in stagnant water because it’ll likely harbor bacteria. Indeed, many parrots prefer running water to a stagnant water source.