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Bird Grooming Tips

Pet birds regularly preen and self-groom, but there are still grooming tasks that responsible bird owners need to do to keep their feathered friends looking their very best. Grooming can be stressful and uncomfortable for a bird, however, and knowing how to do these tasks quickly and easily will make the process better for both bird and owner.

Why Birds May Need Help Grooming

While wild birds are able to keep their bills, talons and feathers in excellent condition through their daily activities, the life of ease and comfort pet birds have makes it more difficult for them to stay well-groomed. The natural wear that keeps bills and talons in the proper shape for wild birds is not the same as for pet birds, which are offered soft, bite-size food that doesn't need to be pursued, caught, cracked, shelled or otherwise manipulated before nibbling. Pet birds are also not subject to seasonal climate cycles, migration patterns and other facets of wild bird life that help keep them in great shape. Instead, pet birds may have inadequate or uneven wear on their bills and talons, overgrown feathers and poor conditioning. Fortunately, it is easy to help keep your pet bird looking great.

Grooming Your Bird

There are several essential grooming tasks that can keep your bird in peak condition. Not all birds will require every type of grooming assistance, however, and novice bird owners should seek the advice and guidance of a professional groomer or experienced bird veterinarian to learn the best grooming techniques to suit their bird's individual needs and personality.

The typical tasks needed to groom a bird include…

  • Talon Trimming
    A bird's talons are essential for a firm grip while perching, manipulating food or walking around a cage. When talons are too long, the bird may develop an unbalanced gait or lameness, and long talons may cause scratches or other injuries. They can also snag fabric and cause stress if the bird feels trapped. Trimming talons is easily done with small nail clippers, removing just the tips of the talons to blunt and shorten them. Another option is filing the talons with a rotary file that will automatically cauterize the tips if there is any inadvertent injury.

  • Bill Trimming
    A bird's bill is continually worn down as it manipulates its food or uses its bill for climbing and gripping. In captivity, soft foods do not wear down the bird's bill, and an overgrown bill can make it more difficult for a bird to eat or preen properly. A small file can be used to even out the bill shape or slightly reduce an overgrown tip if needed. Providing harder foods or toys for a pet bird to gnaw will also help keep the bill in proper shape.

  • Wing Clipping
    Small pet birds such as canaries that do not leave their cages may never need their wings clipped, but larger birds such as parrots and macaws that enjoy time outside their cages will need regular clippings. Clipping the wings shortens the outermost flight feathers to make it more difficult for the birds to fly to greater altitudes or further distances, but they can still glide effectively and land safely.

  • Baths
    Birds do not need to be regularly bathed, but they will enjoy the opportunity to bathe themselves. Misting your bird lightly with a spray bottle will trigger their preening instincts, or you can provide a shallow water dish they can splash in. The water should be kept fresh and clean, and no soaps, conditioners or other chemicals are necessary.

  • Dusting
    Many birds, including some popular pet bird species, enjoy dusting – rolling and "splashing" around in ultra fine dust or sand. This helps absorb body oils and keeps skin and feathers in good condition. You can easily provide dust for your bird to use, but be aware that it will be messy process as the bird enthusiastically raises a cloud of dust while it preens.

Regardless of the type of grooming your bird may need, it is best to never attempt any trimming, bathing or grooming if the bird is stressed or sick. Doing so will only aggravate the bird and can make its symptoms worse. Instead, delay grooming for a few days, or do it only in very small sections to keep stress as minimal as possible – such as clipping only 1-2 talons per day rather than struggling to do all of them at once.

Keeping Clean

One of the easiest ways to help your bird stay groomed is to be sure its cage is clean. Remove soiled bedding, spilled food, shed feathers, feces and other debris every day, and be sure there are plentiful toys for the bird to use to keep its talons and bill in good shape. With just a little extra help, your bird will always look its best!