Ask Lafeber


October 8, 2021

Baths and nail trimming

When it comes to showering / nail trimming a rescued bird that is super duper phobic and aggressive, are these things essential to stay on top of? Or should they be skipped until the relationship is worked on? Some parrot “experts” tell me I have to force the bird to bathe /get it’s nails trimmed as they say these things are essential to the bird’s health, but others tell me its best not to damage trust and so to hold off on these things. Thank you so much for doing these btw!


Hi Cassandra,

Bathing is definitely not essential to health, in general. Different parrot species bathe in different ways in the wild, depending on their environment. They typically will not get completely soaked with water like a captive parrot might. A lot of owners will spray their parrots and soak them down. This is OK as long as it isn’t done too often, and depending on the species. But in the wild, being soaked makes a parrot easy prey since it can’t fly when soaking wet. Powder species should not be sprayed regularly or soaked. Their power serves as protection for the feathers and isn’t as easily replaced as oil is for parrots with oil preen glands. In a clean home, a parrot is going to preen itself a lot each day, and will stay clean naturally. There is certainly no need to eve force a bath on a healthy, clean parrot. You can try to teach a bird to enjoy being misted with a spray bottle. Set the water spray on mist, and spray in the air, over the bird, where the water falls down on the bird, like a light rain. Many parrots really enjoy this and will then go to their water bowl and bathe some more. Some birds enjoy the shower. For some reason, many parrots will bathe when they hear the vacuum cleaner, or hear it raining outside.

As for nail trimming, there is a difference between need and comfort. In most cases, the nails get too sharp for the owner’s comfort, but really aren’t too long. Unless the nails are too long, and are getting caught in the toys or cage bars, or hindering movement, then the nails do not need to be trimmed if this is a bird that can’t be handled anyway. But if it’s a tame bird, and sharp nails are keeping him from being handled, then the nails should be trimmed. However, unless the bird was trained from a young age, most parrots do not like nail trims. So it’s best to take the bird to a Vet or bird professional for them to do the grooming, and then the bird does not associate the nail trim with you. It’s best to stand where the bird can’t see you, if you plan to observe. And don’t try to talk to him and comfort him. It’s not likely to make a difference and he will associate your voice with what is going on. I’ve groomed birds since the mid-1980’s, and I’ve never had a bird lose trust in the owner as long as the owner stays out of sight and says nothing. Once the grooming is finished and the bird is back in his carrier, the owner can come forward and comfort & “rescue” the bird and this has always made the difference. He associates us with being the “bad guys” and the owner comes to the rescue. If your guy can’t be handled, then you might look into a grooming perch to help with the nails. The only kind I recommend are the textured or concrete type that have no loose residue. You need to buy a size larger than his regular perches, so that the nails make contact with the perch. The perch should be placed where he uses it to step up to another perch or to access food, but never as his main perch or as his highest perch. These perches work best after a nail trim, to prevent the nails from getting so sharp. Most birds that are not handled will only need a nail trim once or twice a year if they are otherwise healthy.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,


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