Bathing is carried out by all birds, although terrestrial, aquatic, and arboreal birds are slightly different due to their habits and structure. Bathing is usually carried out pre-flight, but some will bathe while flying.
It is thought that birds have nine different ways of bathing.
- Stand-in bathing – This happens when while the bird is in the water, either crouching or standing.
- Swim-bathing – This happens when swimming or floating in deep water
- Rain bathing – Using rainstorms to bathe
- Stand-out bathing – This occurs while the bird is still on land at the edge of the water
- In-out bathing – In-out bathing happens when a bird jumps into and out of the water repeatedly
- Dew bathing – Using foliage to rub against
- Flight bathing – This can be seen when birds dip into the water while flying
- Plunge bathing – Birds will plunge into the water from a perch, sometimes more than once
- Dust bathing – Dust bathing happens when a bird squats or lies in dust
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Why Birds Bathe
Birds need to keep their feathers, and especially the wings, in good order. A birds plumage is used for flight, insulation, camouflage and display purposes. Routine maintenance, including repairs of the structure and dressing with preen-oil, are essential to keep them in good order.
Removing unhygienic, damaging substances from the feathers is needed, whether this is from the environment such as dirt or from the bird itself such as stale preen-oil.
Care of the feathers is maintained by bathing, oiling, preening, drying, and plumage-scratching. However, bathing is one of the essential ways for birds to keep their plumage in top condition.
Birds will either moisten their feathers while bathing, dampening the plumage without soaking it. However, they may also opt to give themselves a thorough clean, soaking their feathers. Soaking their feathers takes much longer for them to dry, and they will only do this if they are sure they are safe. They will expose and close their feather tracts, squeezing water into their tracts and rinsing the skin and base of the feather.
Bathing helps a bird preen, allowing them to provide an even distribution of oil to their feathers. But bathing also helps a bird regulate its temperature and cool down.
Most birds will usually use one of the below methods to bathe but often use others to their advantage. A bird living in an drought area will often use the dew from trees to bathe, even if they usually use a different method.
Bathing continues through all seasons and occurs in freezing and hot conditions. Bathing occurs during different times of the day, with some species preferring to bathe in the morning while others in the evening.
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Stand-in bathing is the most common type of bathing among birds with many passerines. Stand-in bathing is when a bird is in the water cleaning themselves, rather than on land. They can either be crouching or standing, but many will use both to preen themselves fully.
Sparrows will use stand-in bathing to wash. They will ruffle their feathers to wet the plumage by lowering their heads and breasts repeatedly into the water while flicking both wings up and shaking the body from side to side.
They will then lie in the water, with their rear below the water and the head above, moving water across its back using one wing before moving over to the other. They can be seen ruffling their feathers and shaking their heads and wings.
Swim-bathing occurs while the bird is floating or swimming in deep water. Many waterbirds and seabirds, including grebes, gannets, penguins, divers, waterfowl, and boobies, use swim-bathing to clean themselves. Many can be seen to use ducking and rubbing motions, dipping their heads and necks under the water before rubbing the head against their sides, followed by several wing beats against the water.
They also clean their wings by barge-swimming when they move forward with their wings extended under the surface.
Grebes will dive completely under the water, using a series of kicks to submerge themselves. Once back to the surface, they will then wallow and may immerse themselves again. Other water birds such as geese and swans similarly clean themselves to grebes with plenty of wing thrashing and head ducking.
Swans will also roll onto their sides to clean while swimming, which is common in many gulls. Gulls are unlike swans, however, as they do not dive to clean themselves.
Rain-bathing is when a bird uses the natural rainstorm to its advantage. This can be seen in many birds from the rainforest, such as parrots, although woodpeckers and larks can often be seen showering in the rain.
Rain-bathers can often be seen with their wings fully extended, tails spread wide, and feathers ruffled. Some birds will use rain-bathing and their normal type of bathing, something that can often be seen in pigeons when it is raining.
Rain-bathing is often used as an alternative method to their main one if that is not available. However, their attempts are often incomplete, and they have to go back to their normal method to bathe thoroughly.
Dew or foliage bathing is another common type of bathing and is used as a second bathing method for many birds. Because foliage is found in forests and jungles and in urban and suburban areas, it is easy for birds to use.
Dew bathing is used by many birds and is very handy in times of drought. When there is less rain, dew is an essential water source. Many species will flit around the branches of trees or bushes, crashing into the tree’s canopy and knocking the leaves. This serves to knock the dew down onto them, showering themselves. Following their dew-bath, the bird will follow up by preening themselves.
Hornbills are a good example of a bird that uses foliage to bathe.
Stand-out bathing is also known as splash bathing and occurs when a bird is on land at the edge of the water. It is called splash-bathing because the bird will dip their head in and splash water on their heads and bodies before preening themselves. As with all these methods, they can be used by almost any bird. Although gulls usually use bathe themselves while swimming, they will also wash while standing on land.
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Flight bathing occurs when a bird dips into the water while flying. This can often be seen around large lakes where swifts and swallows are seen swooping down into the lake.
Some seabirds such as frigatebirds and terns only use flight bathing as a method of bathing. However, this is probably due to their habitat than any other reason.
Kingfishers can often be seen diving into the water, and while it is more often to find and catch food, this action also acts to clean themselves. They can often be seen diving more than once before retiring to their perch to preen themselves.
By propelling themselves into the water, the force of the water hitting them will remove dirt and other environmental trappings.
In-out bathing occurs when a bird jumps in and out of deep or shallow water. This is often repeated many times and can be seen in many bird species.
Dust bathing is unique as it does not include water in the bathing process. Instead, birds will lie down or squat in dust, using movement similar to a water bathing bird. They will flick dust onto their bodies before rising and fluffing up their feathers and shaking themselves.
It is thought that dust bathing is good for removing stale preening oil and excess water, as well as removing parasites.