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Bathing Basics For Your Pet Bird

A parrot behavior expert shares her tips for bathing pet birds.

By Sally Blanchard

Bongo Marie, a grey
Getting your pet bird to bathe is easy, once you figure out how it likes to take a bath.

When my late great grey Bongo Marie came to live with me back in the mid 1970s, she was afraid of everything. She was very a very sick wild-caught parrot so I had to medicate her and that didn’t help her learn to trust me. After we finished the medicine, I couldn’t even make eye contact with her or she would throw herself off of her perch and do that classic wild African grey growl as if I was going to kill her. I learned to lower my head and not look at her when I walked by her cage. Gradually, I could look at her as long as I lowered my head after the eye contact. Everything was presented to her gradually, and during the next six weeks or so she began to trust me. 

She was quite dirty when she came to me, and I had tried to towel some of the dirt off of her when I medicated her. I couldn’t imagine her accepting a shower. Once she would step on my hand and sit on my chair arm and watch TV with me, I started working on teaching her to enjoy being showered. I noticed right away that she seemed very alarmed by the squirt bottle I had and wondered if it was the red nozzle. The next day I went shopping and found a squirt bottle with a blue nozzle, and she seemed OK with that. When she was sitting with me, I squirted myself in the face with a fine mist spray and laughed. I did that several times over a few days and then I sprayed to the side of her so only the finest mist hit her. The first few times she shook her whole body but she didn’t seem afraid. 

Each time she sat with me I would spritz her a little bit more but never with the squirt bottle pointed directly at her. Each time I would be a bit silly and tell her I was going to get her and laugh. After a week or so more she relaxed and was no longer threatened by the presence of the previously dreaded squirt bottle. I would always spray to her side giving her an invitation to move into the spray if she wanted to and eventually she did want to.

I really don’t remember how long it took before she welcomed the shower when she was on her T-stand and then actually asked for a shower by saying “gonna getchew” and laughing. Within a year or so, it turned into a great game that Bongo Marie would initiate. When she was on the top of her cage or the T-stand, I would approach her with the squirt bottle behind my back, I would say, “I’m gonna getchew.” She would then lean forward from her cage and I would bring the bottle out and direct the spray right at her and she would say, “Ohh, ohh, ya got me.” If she wanted to play the game with me, she would be the one to say, “I’m gonna getchew!” and I would get the water bottle to play.  We played this game for more than 20 years until she died.

Other Ideas
My friend Shari Beaudoin of Parrot Island in the Minnesota found a great toy at a kid’s store. It is a molded plastic toy water park with moving water that is about 2 feet by 2 feet. All of her parrots from the hyacinth macaw to the caiques love to play in it, but her vasa parrot, Gadget, loves it the best. Sometimes she puts greens in the sink with a little bit of water and her caique, Scooter, has a great time with supervised play in the sink.

My African grey, Whodee, loves the flat pan with greens and he loves being sprayed so much you would think he was part Amazon. When I lived in California, his cage was next to an area that divided the living room and the family room. I put a fountain with a square of slate that was hinged at the top on a shelf there. Water ran down the slate and into rocks at the bottom so it added humidity to the area.

At that time, I discovered that Whodee was a Houdini escape artist. One day he stretched himself over to the fountain and climbed to the top where he got the piece of slate swinging. As he swung it with great enthusiasm, the water either went into his cage or behind the TV set. My mother screamed, “You need to put Whodee back in his cage!” By the time I got there from my office, Whodee was already back in his waterlogged cage looking very innocent with a sort of “Who me?” look.

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