Parrots (and most birds in general) are clean animals who groom themselves as a matter of routine each day. You will often notice your pet preening his feathers—running his beak through them, cleaning and organizing them to keep them in good condition. In fact, birds are so vigilant in their grooming habits that it’s often a sign of ill health if your pet’s feathers look dirty or disheveled.
However, preening alone doesn’t get your parrot perfectly clean. You will still need to offer him regular baths, help him through his molts, keep his nails trimmed, and clip his wings (if you choose to do so).
Parrots need to bathe regularly to keep their feathers clean and their skin moist. Most will happily bathe themselves if provided with a shallow dish filled with clean water. The dish should be shallow and difficult to tip over and should contain about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of tepid water. Never use soap, shampoo, or other detergents to bathe your bird—he only needs clean, fresh water. If you’d like, you can occasionally bathe your bird in the kitchen sink or even in the shower (as long as you provide a sturdy shower perch supported by suction cups).
Your bird will dry on his own, but you can also provide him with a spotlight lamp (ideally, one intended specifically for birds or reptiles) that will warm him as he preens himself after his bath. Don’t use a blow dryer on your parrot—some dryers have nonstick coating on the heating coils, and this coating emits an odorless fume that can be very dangerous for a bird.
When birds molt, they shed their old feathers (which become ragged and less useful over time) to allow new ones to grow. Molting can occur as often as once or twice a year and can last for weeks or even months until the new feathers have fully emerged.
This experience is stressful for a parrot because the emerging feathers may cause discomfort or pain. However, you can help your bird through his molting process by performing the following tasks:
- Mist your bird: Frequently misting your parrot with warm water helps soften the new feathers and lessen the discomfort they cause. Only mist your bird during the day and in temperate weather so that he has time to dry before evening.
- Observe him carefully: Keep an eye on your parrot’s feathers during molting; look for bald patches on the body or places where the feathers have become so thin that you can see his skin. If he exhibits either of these conditions, take him to the vet.
- Tend to broken or injured feathers: New feathers that get damaged or broken tend to bleed—especially on the wing feathers of a clipped bird. If this happens, pull the feather straight out from the root with one quick motion, which should stop the bleeding immediately.
A parrot’s nails grow constantly, just as a human’s do, so it will be necessary to clip his nails at least three or four times a year. You can reduce the number of clippings necessary by providing a perch made of concrete, sand, or a similarly rough material in his cage, which will help file down his nails.
If you don’t feel comfortable cutting your bird’s nails yourself, you can take him to a veterinarian or a local bird shop that performs grooming tasks. If you’d like to do it yourself, you’ll need two things: a small nail trimmer designed for humans and styptic powder or gel to stop the bleeding if you cut the nail too close to the quick (blood supply).
You may need help from another person to trim your parrot’s nails so that one of you can hold him properly and the other can trim the nails. Or you can try to clip just one nail a day when your parrot isn’t expecting it—this will prevent him from becoming stressed by the experience but will drag the process out over several days. Only cut a small amount at a time to avoid cutting the quick. If you accidentally cut it, apply styptic powder or gel to stop the bleeding.
To prevent a parrot from flying very high or very far, some owners trim the lower half of the primary flight feathers (the first ten feathers from the outside of the wing). The procedure is painless and common among pet bird owners but is also subject to debate among others, as there is evidence that wing clipping can frustrate a parrot and even result in some health problems if he isn’t active enough in his daily life following the clip.
To Clip or not to Clip
When a parrot loses his ability to fly due to clipping, it can result in neurotic behavior, such as self-mutilation. However, clipping your bird’s wings may be vital for his safety—a free-flighted bird is more prone to injury or escape.
The decision to clip your bird’s wings is yours to make. If you do clip your parrot, give him plenty of attention and exercise outside of the cage. You should also provide a particularly large enclosure—anything you can do to create the sense of freedom he would normally experience through flight will be beneficial.
If you don’t clip your bird, you must thoroughly pet-proof your home. Make sure that there is absolutely no way for your parrot to escape or injure himself, and never allow him outside of his cage unsupervised.