Birds and their bathing behaviour

posted in: Feathers-maintenance | 1

Bathing in this post includes bathing in open water, leaf bathing, bathing in the rain and sand bathing.

Birds bathe to keep their plumage in good condition. Feathers tend to be covered with sand particles, etc., and these need to be removed by bathing in water (open water, leaf bath and rain). Feathers covered with stale preen oil are easily removed by sand bathing.

This post attempts at summarising the many reports posted here on birds involved in the different aspects of bathing. The idea was triggered by aviculturist Lee Chiu San, who commented on my earlier post on Pink-necked Green-pigeons (Treron vernans) gathering in the open to soak in the rain LINK.

This is what Chiu San wrote: “It is known among aviculturists that most pigeons and doves will not bathe in standing water. That is, they do not splash in puddles, shallow dishes or conventional bird baths. But it has often been observed in outdoor aviaries that they will refresh themselves by soaking in the rain and rubbing themselves against wet surfaces such as leaves.”

But this does not mean that pigeons and doves never take water bath, as seen HERE and HERE where a Spotted Dove (Stigmatopelia chinensis) was documented bathing in open water.

Below is a list of what we have posted on birds indulging in sand bath, leaf bath, rain bath and water bath.

Paddyfield Pipit taking a sand bath. Photo by Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS.

Birds taking sand bath
Bee-eaters: Little Green (Merops orientalis)
Bulbuls: Yellow-vented (Pycnonotus goiavier)
Buttonquails: Barred (Turnix suscitator)
Falcons: Peregrine (Falco peregrinus)
Hornbills: Oriental Pied (Anthracoceros albirostris)
Miners: Noisy (Manorina melanocephala)
Pipit: Paddyfield (Anthus rufulus)
Tree-sparrows: Eurasian (Passer montanus)

White-eye taking a leaf bath. Photo by YC Wee.

Birds taking leaf bath
Barbets: Lineated (Megalaima lineata)
Bulbuls: Yellow-vented (Pycnonotus goiavier)
Flowerpeckers: Orange-bellied (Dicaeum trigonostigma); Scarlet-backed (Dicaeum cruentatum)
Munias: Scaly-breasted (Lonchura punctulata) [wb]

Sunbirds: Brown-throated (Anthreptes malacensis); Copper-throated (Leptocoma calcostetha); Crimson (Aethopyga siparaja); Olive-backed (Nectarinia jugularis)
Tailorbirds: Common (Orthotomus sericeus); Rufous-tailed (Orthotomus sericeus)
Tit-babblers: Striped (Macronous gularis)
White-eyes: Oriental (Zosterops palpebrosus)

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters taking a rain bath. Photo by Wang Luan Keng.

Birds taking rain bath
Bee-eaters: Blue-tailed (Merops philippinus)
Bulbuls: Red-whiskered (Pycnonotus jocosus); Yellow-vented (Pycnonotus goiavier)
Green-pigeons: Pink-necked (Treron vernans)
Hawk-eagles: Changeable (Spizaetus cirrhatus)
Kites: Black-shouldered (Elanus caeruleus)
Mynas: Javan (Acridotheres javanicus)
Sunbirds: Crimson (Aethopyga siparaja)

White-breasted Waterhen taking a water bath. Photo by Dr Leong Tzi Ming.

Birds taking water bath
Babblers: Grey-headed (Stachyris poliocephala); Short-tailed (Malacocincla malaccensis), White-chested (Trichastoma rostratum)
Bee-eaters: Blue-throated (Merops viridis)
Bulbuls: Black-capped (Pycnonotus melanicterus); Cream-vented (Pycnonotus simplex); Ochraceous (Alophoixus ochraceus); Red-eyed (Pycnonotus brunneus); Yellow-vented (Pycnonotus goiavier)
Bush-hens: Isabelline (Amaurornis isabelline)
Cormorants: Little Pied (Phlacrocorax melanoleucos)
Crakes: Red-legged (Rallina fasciata)
Doves: Spotted (Streptopelia chinensis)
Fantails: Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica)
Fish-owls: Buffy (Ketupa ketupu)
Flamebacks: Common (Dinopium javanense)
Fulvettas: Mountain (Alcippe peracensis)
Flycatchers: Yellow-Rumped (Ficedula zanthopygia)
Grebes: Little (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Gulls: Black-backed (Larus dominicanus); Red-billed (Larus novaehollandiae)
Kingfishers: Black-backed (Ceyx erithaca); Collared (Todiramphus chloris); White-throated (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Laughingthrushes: Spectacled (Rhinocichla mitrata)
Leafbirds: Orange-bellied (Chloropsis hardwickii)
Magpie-robins: Oriental (Copsychus saularis)
Munias: Black-headed (Lonchura malacca); Scaly-breasted (Lonchura punctulata); White-headed (Lonchura maja)
Mynas: Common (Acridotheres tristis); Javan (Acridotheres javanicus)
Paradise-flycatcher: Asian (Terpsiphone paradisi)
Robins: Siberian Blue (Luscinia cyane).
Sandpipers: Wood (Tringa glareola)
Shama: White-rumped (Copsychus malabaricus)
Shags: Pied (Phalacrocorax varius)
Sparrow: Russet (Passer rutilans)
Starlings: Asian Glossy ((Aplonis panayensis)
Terns: Little (Sterna albifrons); Whiskered (Chlidonias hybridus); White-Winged (Chlidonias leucopterus)
Tit: Cinereous (Parus cinereus)
Tit-babblers: Pin-striped (Macronous gularis)
Waterhen: White-breasted (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Whimbrels: Whimbres (Numenius phaeopus)
Whistling-thrush: Formosan (Myophonus insularis)
Waterhens: White Breasted (Amauornis phoenicurus)
Waxbills: Common (Estrilda astrild); Red-rumped (Estrilda rhodopyga)
Weavers: Baya (Ploceus philippinus)
Woodpeckers: Banded (Chrysophlegma miniaceus)

Of these, only Yellow-vented Bulbul was documented in three types of bathing – leaf, rain and water baths. Three species of birds were seen indulging in two types of bathing – Scaly-breasted Munia and Striped Tit-babbler (leaf and water) while Javan Myna (rain and water) and Crimson Sunbird (leaf and rain).

We need to enlarge on these lists and thus we call upon citizen scientists to keep an eye on birds bathing when out in the field. Thanks.

YC Wee
5th September 2018

The above account is a very basic study of the bathing behaviour of birds. Anyone interested in a more detailed study of bathing behaviour can check this LINK.

  1. Pattie

    I feed pigeons out in my yard, and have several shallow water pans. Dont tell me pigeons don’t like to sit, splash, roll, and lift and fluff their wings and feathers. Doves too. I watch them every day, and after they bury themselves in the sand and gravel and soak up the sun.
    Its like they are all on vacation at a lake resort😄

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