Whether red, green, or blue, parrots are known for having beautiful feathers. So, you’d want to maintain their feathers by washing your 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 themselves.
Your parrot needs access to cool, clean water every day, but it can wash perfectly well without shampoo.
Washing your parrot with shampoo or soap can strip natural sebum from its feathers. Unfortunately, this can interfere with vitamin D3 absorption and undermine bonding/mating.
Do Parrots Clean Themselves?
Parrots are self-sufficient birds. Even in a home setting, pet parrots don’t need much help 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 in two ways – bathing and preening.
How Do Parrots Bathe?
Some parrots bathe by submerging themselves in water, whereas others rub themselves on the dew/moisture that lingers on vegetation.
Many parrots will also use a rain shower as a good opportunity to freshen up.
According to Sprep, wild parrots spend a lot 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 pick through their feathers, remove dirt and debris, and align them.
According to Science Direct, preening also helps to distribute secretions from the uropygial (preen) gland onto the parrot’s feathers. Essentially, this helps to ‘waterproof’ the feathers.
Preening is a natural way for your parrot to keep its wings healthy. You should avoid putting soaps and shampoos on your 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 isn’t just about keeping clean; it’s central to a parrot’s 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 ingestion.
Research from Nature found that budgies distributed pheromones on their feathers through preening, making them more sexually attractive to mates. So, if you’re trying to breed your parrots, you wouldn’t want to wash off these natural pheromones.
Similarly, research shows that parrots use preening to bond with each other. This is particularly important in baby parrots, as they tend to preen their siblings.
According to Academic OUP, preening establishes a social order and can help develop a shared vocal signature. It would be a shame to interfere with something so important.
Perhaps most importantly, preening helps parrots ingest vital vitamin D3. A parrot’s preen gland releases vitamin D precursors, which are spread over its feathers.
Then, when sunshine activates these precursors, Vitamin D3 is created. The parrot ingests vitamin D3 through preening, and washing off this natural sebum could undermine this process.
When You Might Need to Wash Your Parrot
There are a few occasions when you might need to manually wash your parrot, such as:
- If oil has got on the feathers.
- If the paint is spilled on the feathers.
- Severe parasite infestations.
These instances are rare, so it’s unlikely that you would need to wash your parrot manually. That said, you must provide your parrot with water access so it can bathe itself each day.
Can You Wash Parrots with Soap?
You should never wash your parrot with commercial soap.
According to VCA hospitals, soaps contain chemicals and harmful ingredients to birds. This includes so-called “natural” soaps, as many contain essential oils that are toxic to parrots.
Some pet stores sell bird-safe soap, which you could use on your parrot.
However, according to Omelet, there’s no need to use soap on your parrot 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 away natural oils, so you’d 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.
If the stain is more engrained, you should use bird-safe soap or consult your vet.
Helping a Parrot to Bathe at Home
Parrots will bathe and preen of their own accord, so owners need to help facilitate this natural behavior. To do this, you can try a few different methods:
Provide a Bath
Find a tub or purchase a parrot bath and fill this with water. According to Watch Bird, most Psittacine parrots prefer cool water.
Parrots will usually jump straight into a pool of water, but if reluctant, try splashing the water or bringing some toys into the water. You can also reward bath time with a treat to reinforce this behavior.
If your parrot seems reluctant to preen, it could be because the atmosphere is too dry.
In the wild, rainfall usually signals a bird to start preening, so you can recreate this by spraying plain water onto your parrot.
You should use only water in the spray bottle. Again, cool water tends to work best as rainwater is cool.
Some owners will let their parrots enjoy a shower for a few minutes each day. Shower water mimics rainfall, and most parrots will love it.
If you do this, it’s important to 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 per day.
You shouldn’t need to manually wash your parrot very often (if ever).
If your parrot has something messy on its feathers and doesn’t seem to clean it by bathing/preening, you could try to wipe the stain with a damp and soft cloth. However, you must be gentle.
How To Promote Clean and Healthy Feathers
As well as providing access to clean, cold water, there are some other things you can do to make sure your parrot has healthy feathers, including the following:
- Provide access to sunlight, as when parrots “bathe” in sunlight, which prompts preening behavior.
- Foraging opportunities – This stops parrots from picking out their feathers because their energy is spent elsewhere.
- Feed your parrot a healthy diet – Ensure that your parrot is getting enough calcium and other vital nutrients. Certain fruit and veggies should make up a portion of your parrot’s diet, as the vitamins and minerals will keep the feathers healthy.
Change your parrot’s water daily. Your parrot shouldn’t keep bathing in the same stagnant water as it’ll likely harbor bacteria. Indeed, many parrots prefer trickling water to stagnant water.