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The Basics of Bird Grooming

Your guide to bird grooming

Birds, like all pets, require some attention from their pet parents to keep them at their healthiest. While most birds are self-sufficient and can naturally handle their grooming needs, there are times you'll need to lend a hand—or wing. Taking some time to check on your bird’s grooming and step in when needed can help keep their feathers shiny and healthy, their nails the right length and their wings clipped for safety outside the cage. While you likely won’t have to do too much regular grooming, a little TLC from you can go a long way.

If you are ready to tackle at-home bird grooming, read on to learn more about each of the aspects of bird grooming.

Birds don’t need baths in the traditional sense, as they naturally preen, or straighten and clean their feathers with their beak. However, this process is activated with water, so you will need to provide that to help facilitate this natural practice. For a proper bird bathing experience, your bird needs:

  • Clean water
  • A bath dish, bird bath or spray bottle
  • Feather conditioner or bird shampoo (optional)
  • Sand or grit (used only for certain types of birds, like quail)

Keep the following in mind:

  1. Use small amounts of water: ½ inch in a dish for small birds and 1 inch for larger birds. Talk with a Petco specialist or your veterinarian about your bird’s specific bathing needs.
  2. Don’t leave a bathing dish in the cage unattended: Remove it after their bathing session.
  3. Consider conditioner: While it’s not required, adding a small amount of bird-specific bath spray to your pet’s bathing water dish can help keep feathers in top condition and may help relieve skin irritation.
  4. Consult with a professional: Again, different birds have different bathing needs, so direct your questions to a Petco store partner  or your veterinarian.

For safety's sake during socialization and routine habitat maintenance, a pet bird's feather's should be clipped. When new bird feathers grow in, they are filled with blood, which dissipates once it has fully grown. New feathers, with a shaft that appears darker in color, should never be cut, while the clear or white shaft of a fully grown feather can be cut. Never attempt to clip your bird’s wings yourself, unless you’ve been taught by an expert. A new, or blood feather, that is accidently cut and not addressed properly can result in serious injury and/or significant blood loss.

If you’ve already received expert training and know how to clip your bird’s wings and how to remove a blood feather in the event it is accidently cut, you’ll need to ensure you always have these essentials on hand to maintain the practice:

  • A sharp pair of scissors
  • Hemostats or tweezers to pull out a blood feather if it’s accidentally cut
  • Blood-stopping powder
  • Sterile cotton swab

With your supplies on hand, keep the following in mind for wing-clipping sessions:

  1. Practice with an expert first: Most birds do not enjoy having their wings clipped and must be handled in a calm and gentle manner. Have an expert teach you in person how to hold your bird through this process to prevent injury and what to do in the event of an accident before you try this at home.The more often you clip their wings the more you’ll both get used to the process so that things can go quickly and smoothly. When you feel confident enough to try this at home without the expert, consider having a partner help with the process, especially since it can be difficult to hold your bird appropriately and trim at the same time.
  2. Clip the correct feathers: Before you start clipping, do a thorough search to find the blood feathers so you can avoid them. You only want to clip the primary flight feathers to keep your bird grounded.
  3. Have hemostats or tweezers, blood-stopping powder, and a sterile cotton ball readily available to quickly stop the flow of blood if a blood feather is accidentally cut and/or appropriately removed. As removing a blood feather is painful and can result in injury if not removed properly, it is imperative an expert or veterinarian teach you how to do this safely. Flour and cornstarch can be used in place of blood-stopping powder.

If you have not been taught how to clip wings and remove a blood feather by an expert, your veterinarian can complete the task for you and will likely be happy to provide instruction if you’re interested and confident enough to try it at home.

Nail trimming isn’t the easiest task, but doing so helps keep your bird comfortable and helps you avoid scratches. Nails are naturally worn down in nature, and while some pet bird perches help to grind nails down naturally, because a domestic bird lives indoors, they sometimes need a little pet parent assistance. If you notice a change in your bird’s perching behavior, they seem to be favoring one foot over the other or they appear to be having trouble getting around you have gone too long without a trim and a visit to your veterinarian is in order where they can teach you how to maintain healthy nails through routine trimmings so problems do not arise. Like with wing trimming, you’ll need to learn this skill from an expert  before you try it on your own. When you’re ready to trim, gather:

With supplies on hand, remember the following:

  1. Have a helper: As with wing clipping, it’s often easier to trim your bird’s nails while someone else holds your bird for you.
  2. Clip sparingly: A little goes a long way when it comes to nail trimming, especially since you’ll need to avoid “the quick,” which is the nerve and blood supply of the nail. If your bird’s nails are light-colored, you’ll be able to see the quick running through the nail. It’s harder to spot in dark-colored nails, so be extra cautious. Have blood-stopping powder on hand to stop any bleeding that might accidentally occur.
  3. Be patient: Most birds don’t like having their nails cut, so have some patience. Also keep in mind that it might take a while for your bird to get used to movement with their shorter nails.

Remember, just like with clipping their wings, your veterinarian is a great resource to help trim your bird’s nails, get them to a more manageable length if they are overgrown and provide in-person training on how to perform routine trimmings if you are up for the task.

Pet birds are typically able to keep their beaks at a healthy length on their own simply through chewing and playing, but sometimes they need a little help. Trimming a bird’s beak is never something a pet parent should take on as the process is complicated and can cause your bird a great deal of harm when done incorrectly. If you notice anything unusual about your pet’s beak, consult your veterinarian immediately. To help your bird maintain a healthy beak, provide them with plenty of opportunities to chew with chew toys and cuttlebones.

Our birds provide us with so much entertainment and companionship that the least we can do is help them stay safe and properly groomed. Remember to always allow an expert to walk you through the harder grooming tasks before attempting them yourself. When you’re ready, Petco has all the bird grooming and bathing supplies you’ll need.