Your bird’s feathers are vital to his good health: They keep him warm and cool as needed, repel water, and are strong enough to enable him to fly. In nature, a bird’s survival depends on good feather condition, and pet birds tend to take excellent care of their feathers as a result—they primp, preen, and bathe regularly to keep them in good condition. By providing frequent baths, helping your pet through his molts, and keeping his nails trimmed, you can assist him in keeping his feathers—and the rest of him as well—clean and healthy.
Canaries, finches, and other birds have the instinct to bathe themselves, so to bathe your bird, you don’t need to do anything beyond providing a shallow dish of clean, fresh water two or more times a week. Your bird may try to bathe in his water dish, but it’s best to provide a separate dish for bathing. (If he does bathe in his water supply, clean the water at least twice a day.)
Use a dish that’s difficult for your bird to flip over, and don’t overfill it—he only needs about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water in which to bathe. The water should be tepid, as birds prefer bathing in cooler water.
One fun way to bathe your bird is to offer a dish full of wet greens, such as spinach, baby lettuce, or kale. Wash the greens well and put them in a shallow dish. Your pet may enjoy snacking on the nutritious greens as he bathes in them.
After a bath, let your bird dry on his own in a comfortable temperature. Don’t use a blow dryer to dry him—some dryers have nonstick coating on the heating coils, and this coating emits fumes that can be deadly for a bird.
Molting occurs when a bird systematically loses feathers from all over his body (not all at once or in patches—bald patches on a bird are a sign of illness or stress), allowing new ones to grow. This process occurs once or twice a year and can last from weeks to months—although some birds can go through a “soft molt,” where they lose and grow feathers all year long.
A molt is an uncomfortable time for a bird because the emerging feathers can be uncomfortable or even painful. The following tasks will help you make this experience a little easier for your pet:
- Mist your bird: Misting your bird with warm water can help soften the emerging feathers and lessen discomfort. However, not all birds will appreciate a misting—if your pet doesn’t like it, don’t mist him.
- Observe him carefully: Watch your pet for bald patches or very thin feathers (so thin that you can see your bird’s skin). These are not normal signs of a molt and usually indicate a health problem. Take your bird to the vet if you notice either of these things.
- Adjust his diet: Molting birds need more nutrition to maintain their weight, health, and feather quality. Offer a protein source such as hard-boiled eggs, as well as green foods such as well-washed collards, romaine, spinach, kale, or watercress.
If you provide your bird with rough landing surfaces, such as concrete or sand perches, you may not have to trim his nails at all. However, if you notice the nails becoming too long (they should be about the shape of a gentle half-moon), it’s time to intervene.
You can take your pet to an avian veterinarian or a bird shop groomer to trim the nails for you if you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself. If you’d like to clip them on your own, you’ll need a small nail trimmer (designed for babies) and styptic powder or gel to stop the bleeding if you cut too close to the quick (blood supply).
Trimming your bird’s nails is a job for two people: one to hold him properly and the other to actually trim his nails. (To hold your bird properly, grasp him in one hand with his back in your palm and his head between your first and second fingers.) Only cut a small amount of nail at a time to avoid cutting the quick. You can easily spot the quick, which looks like a red line, in light-colored nails, but with darker nails, you may want to trim them near a lightbulb, which will allow you to see the quick more easily.
If you accidentally cut the quick, the nail will bleed. Apply styptic powder or gel to stop the bleeding. Press a small amount into the bleeding nail and apply gentle pressure for a few seconds.