Parrots: Humidity and Bathing

With very few exceptions, the vast majority of parrot species in the wild live in very humid environments with frequent rainfall. Their respiratory system, skin and feathers are designed to live in very wet climates. When exotic birds are not provided with this type of environment in captivity, birds can develop inflammation in their respiratory system and painful skin conditions, and/or start plucking their feathers. Some birds will even start mutilating their skin. For this reason, it is very important to provide a humid environment for your bird. There are two ways to achieve this.

Humidity levels and humidifiers for pet parrots

Unless you live in an area that is already naturally humid year-round, it is important to purchase a humidifier for every room in which your bird will live and play. It’s best to purchase a humidifier that has a built-in hygrometer (the instrument that measures ambient humidity) and can be set to run at a specific humidity. The reason for this is that molds start growing in the home environment at 60 percent humidity, so ideally you would keep the humidity as high as possible for your bird without exceeding the level at which molds will start growing.

Purchasing a humidifier that will allow you to set it at 55 percent humidity will ensure that your bird lives in as humid an environment as possible without mold growing. Birds living or staying in outdoor aviaries can live with higher humidity, of course.

Bathing parrots

In addition to providing a humid environment, you must also provide a way for your birds to bathe themselves. Regular baths or showers emulate the frequent rainfall they would experience if living in their natural habitat, and are crucial for skin and feather health. Once a week is the minimum recommended amount, but some birds need more frequent baths than that. Generally speaking, once daily or every other day would be ideal for most birds.

There are several ways to bathe a bird:

  • Providing an automatic misting system
  • Spraying them with water from a spray bottle
  • Taking them in the shower
  • Providing a shallow dish with warm water

If your bird is not already accustomed to getting baths or showers, it is crucial that you not force him to do so in a way that scares or angers him. Since baths are such an important part of birds’ lives, you do not want him to view bathing as something that is scary or dangerous. This is also why it is NEVER acceptable to try to punish a bird by spraying him with water.

The easiest approach is to offer each bathing method listed above one at a time and see if your bird naturally gravitates toward one particular method. If he already enjoys bathing in a certain way, that makes your job much easier. If your bird tries to avoid or escape every bathing method, you can pick one or two that work best for you and train your bird to accept — and eventually enjoy — bathing by using a training technique called systematic desensitization. The basic idea is to start with the closest thing to bathing that your bird currently does and reward the bird with something she really likes every time you expose her to this limited version of bathing. Then, gradually increase the bathing behaviors through baby steps, making sure to keep each baby step pleasant and rewarding.

For more detailed information on how to systematically desensitize birds to bathing, read the “Scrub-a-Dub-Dub” section of The Bird Owner’s Manual.