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Home > Birds > Why Do Birds Take Dust Baths? Vet-Approved Guide on Avian Behavior

Why Do Birds Take Dust Baths? Vet-Approved Guide on Avian Behavior

small bird taking a dust bath

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’re walking through the park or sitting on your front porch and notice a bird flapping in the dirt frantically, your heart may drop. Many of us animal lovers would stop what we were doing and rush over to make sure the bird is okay only to see it fly away as if nothing happened. If you’ve experienced this and been left wishing you could do more to help the bird, don’t fret. The bird you saw isn’t in any danger—it is simply taking a dust bath! Dust baths are part of the feather-cleaning process that is natural to birds called preening.

Knowing that dust baths are an intricate part of a bird’s routine may leave you scratching your head. Why do birds take dust baths? Do they find dust feels clean to them? Is it necessary? These questions are common for those who’ve witnessed this behavior. Let’s learn more about dust baths and why the birds in your area need them.

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What Is a Dust Bath?

You may think humans are the only ones on the planet that care about their appearance. This isn’t the case. Birds also care about their appearance. This is why they are known to preen and plumage their feathers. Now, don’t blame birds for being superficial—they aren’t. Preening and keeping their feathers healthy is crucial for their survival. This keeps their feathers aligned, helps waterproof their bodies, rids them of molted feathers, and even removes parasites that can cause disease. Dust baths are a part of the preening process that most of us didn’t realize birds need.

By rolling in the dirt and experiencing a dust bath, birds can remove excess oils from their feathers. If these oils stay on the feathers, they can become matted and greasy. These unwanted greases and matted feathers can make flying more difficult and affect a bird’s aerodynamics. Once the dust soaks in and attaches to the oils, birds then shake it off and the oil goes with it. The same can be said for debris, dry skin, and even smothered parasites like lice.

a natal spurfowl taking a dust bath
Image By: Jurgens Potgieter, Shutterstock

How Do Birds Take a Dust Bath?

Birds don’t dive into a pile of dirt and flop around. A dust bath is much more intricate. To start the process, a bird will scratch the ground with its feet to create a wallow of fine dirt. It will then use its breast to deepen the wallow by rolling or rocking in place. Once this is done, the bird will begin flapping its wings. Similar to how they clean themselves in the water, this flapping spreads the dust all over their body. The tail is often spread and the feathers fluffed during this process to allow the dust to reach down to the bird’s skin. Finally, the bird will rub its head and neck into the dirt. This action will help them coat the smaller feathers on the neck and even coat the cheeks.

When this process is finished, a bird will relax in the dirt for a few moments to catch its breath. Then, they’ll repeat the process until they are satisfied with the coating of their body. After they are satisfied, the bird will shake off the excess dust and then return to their perch. This allows other birds in the area to visit the wallow and take a dust bath of their own.

How Often Do Birds Take Dust Baths?

The frequency in which a bird takes a dust bath depends on the bird. If the bird lives in an arid climate, or the summer months are taking place, more dust baths are expected. This is due to water being harder to find and regular bathing being more difficult. In most instances, however, dusting occurs when the bird feels its feather needs attending to and dirt can easily be found.

Dusting may happen several times a day. Once a good wallow is made, you may find that birds will visit the same spot. In some instances, birds may even take dust baths together. This often happens if the birds are in the same flock and have found an area where dusting can be done easily.

Making a Dust Bath

If you want to help the birds in your neighborhood stay healthier, providing them an area to take a dust bath is a perfect way. It can be difficult for birds to find fine soil, without clumps, to wallow and make their dusting area. If you have a spot on your property that you feel would be perfect, clear it and make it more accessible. If the birds have already visited this area, try to keep it protected so they can continue using it.

If you don’t feel there is a good place on your property for birds to dust, making one in a sunny area is an option. As we mentioned, the soil should be fine, free of debris and clumps. The wallow also needs to be near a tree or other type of perch the birds can use in the event of a predator approaching. You can add extra protection to this area by using a border or even rocks found around the property. This will make the birds feel safer and give the bathing area a charming look for onlookers to enjoy.

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Conclusion

Dust baths are an important part of life for birds. While this process helps keep the bird’s feathers healthier, it is also fun for bird lovers to witness and enjoy. If you want to make the lives of birds easier, add a dusting area near your home for them to access. You’ll experience hours of fun watching the birds while they benefit from your assistance.


Featured Image Credit: Andi111, Shutterstock

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