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African Grey Bathing:
Method and Technique

Donna Hefton

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The African grey parrot has genetically developed for millions of years in some of the most humid and lush forests on Earth. When one considers the annual rainfall measurements in the countries these birds inhabit, one may begin to understand their biological need for water, moisture, and the frequent shower. To illustrate this I will ask you to compare rainfall calculations in some of the areas where the grey parrot has developed to those in which we now keep them as captive-bred companions. Rainfall West Coast of Africa:

Equator to 10° North
Recorded variation:100" per annum
1" in 5 minutes/ 4" in 1 hour
20" per day rare but occasionally double
Rainy season: May - October

Country of origin average annual rainfall:

Liberia: 100" - 5"Sierra Leone 80" - 105"Congo river basin: 100"
Cameroon: 163"400" on the west side of the Cameroon Mountains

U.S Average annual rainfall:

New York: 42"Chicago: 35"New Orleans: 57" Los Angeles: 14"

Now you may possibly see what we have been overlooking in dealing with these animals. Frequent showers and an increase in the amount of moisture makes an African grey feel better in our environment.

Simply because your grey was captive bred does not eliminate 35 million years of genetic evolution in environments such as those mentioned above. The need for frequent showering of these birds is essential and fundamental for their care and well-being. The lack of, or infrequent showering may be the probable cause of feather plucking in these birds, followed only by psychological problems due to weaning trauma, environmental changes, and the lack of understanding of the species. Using the process of elimination I would first begin a frequent showering regime to see if the lack of showering is the reason behind the feather-plucking problem.

"My grey hates showers" is what I commonly hear from many grey companion people. Having developed Showerbird and studying the bathing behavior of psittacines for nearly half a decade, I have learned one of the most important aspects of bird bathing behavior and that is that they all do it differently. Essentially no two birds bathe the same way. This is not too unlike their human counterparts, some people brush their teeth before they shower, others afterward. It's a personal thing. Some companions of greys tell me that their grey loves the shower and is exuberant during the process, others say that their grey will have nothing at all to do with bathing and even seem to fear it. I have to tell you a secret...greys bathe differently from nearly every other parrot I have encountered. To those that flap and play I must say BRAVO! For those that don't I will explain what I've observed. The wild grey will simply sit on a branch and let the water fall on him, shaking his head to relieve himself of the accumulated water, horizontal in posture to get the back wet, then under the canopy of the trees when he's had enough. And that, as they say, is that. No big deal. Even if your grey friend is from captive-bred parents he will still carry with him this genetically programmed method of bathing. It is the human caretaker that expects more than the grey is emotionally equipped to give. We want exuberance, we want to see this grey get into the shower like an amazon or a macaw. If your grey is not the "flapping" type it is not likely that this will happen. Therefore we find that our expectations lead to disappointment and we conclude that the grey hates the shower. This is not usually the case and should be reexamined by the careful and concerned grey keeper.

Fear is another matter entirely in the grey showering process. If a grey is frightened of bathing, great care and instruction with an intense amount of emotional support should be given these sensitive little birds to encourage them to bathe properly. If your grey leaps screaming from the perch to avoid getting wet and acts as if you are scalding him with hot oil every time you attempt to bathe him, you will have to rethink your methods and gently coax and instruct your grey to bathe. When asked about Showerbird I always suggest that the bird be placed on a T-stand in the tub or shower area because of the water output/volume. Some grey people say that they can not even get their bird to go into the bathroom of their homes out of fear of this area. Perhaps it is just unfamiliar territory? Gentle coaxing is the order of the day in this case and this is what I suggest you do to teach your bird that the area is safe and that nothing there will "eat" him or her. You must become the "parent bird" and give this bird the reassurance that the area is okay to be in.

Step one: Let's go see the pretty birdie in the mirror.

Greys love the mirror and you can watch the face patch "blush" as they look at themselves. A great way to initiate taking a shy bird into the bathroom area is to distract it from your ultimate intention of bathing it. Greys seem to have a great sense of "self" or self recognition and will enjoy their own reflection as long as you make a big deal about it. Tell your grey how pretty he is and kisses for the bird lets him know that this can be a pleasant place to be in. Follow this routine for several days before continuing on to the next step.

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