Wildlife Column: Birds actually enjoy a good bath

In the hectic world of competition and survival, being in tip-top condition is vital for a bird. This means not only feeding but also maintaining feather and plumage condition. In part this is a matter of cleansing and keeping essential oils in the feathers to help them function for warmth and for flight.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 12:00 am
Starling bathing taken by Prof Ian Rotherham.

However, it is also important to reduce the body-load of parasites such as feather mites and the like. This is why we see birds spending so much time bathing in various ways, from dust-bathing house sparrows to wet-bathing starlings as pictured. These various treatments and techniques help keep feathers in good condition and the bird fit to meet the challenges of survival. Watching the birds at the bird bath with a small foundation it was clear that they all take part from the magpies that rule the roost when it comes to the bath-time queue, to the collared doves, the house sparrows and of course the starlings. Indeed, it is also the case I think, that the birds actually enjoy a good bath; and why not? The same starlings returned several times during the day and genuinely appeared to be having fun. I suspect the experience also helped cool them down on a day with oppressive temperatures of around 27 degrees.

In my own wildlife garden, the birds will use the two bird-baths but many prefer to go into the shallower end of the pond and bathe there. This process involves a lot of splashing, of shaking of wings, and then splaying out of wing feathers and tail feathers to achieve effective, all-over coverage. Again, the same bird will return a number of times on any one day.

Bathing is often combined with taking a long, cool drink at the same time.

In recent weeks both the great spotted woodpecker and the nuthatch have come down to drink from the bird-baths. Throughout the year it is vital to keep these water-supplies topped up and clean in the wildlife garden as they are essential to the success and indeed survival of your local birdlife.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer & broadcaster on wildlife & environmental issues has a blog at https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/ and is on Twitter @IanThewildside