Birdsafe California Bird Nerds


Antics might mean bath time - or courting

Almost daily, my 3-month-old lutino cockatiel (tentatively identified as female) will turn her back to us, lean way over on her perch, and spread her wings and tail. I read that this can be her way of asking for a bath. I've tried spraying her and giving her a dish of water, but both seemed to be of little interest. Is it possible that I haven't found her bathing preference, or could she be telling us something else?

Lee Anna, Bothell,

Many wild parrots will behave in the way you’ve described when it rains; our captive birds do the same when we mist them. However, parrots usually fan their feathers in response to a shower, not in anticipation of one.

It’s possible your bird is responding with bathing postures to something that reminds her of a shower, such as the sound of rain hitting the roof. She could even be associating the shower sound with anything loud, such as a vacuum cleaner or washing machine.

However, I doubt she has learned to "ask" for the shower by posturing, especially since she’s still so young. The fact that she turns her beak up at the shower you try to give her after the display seems to confirm this.

A cockatiel expert tells me his young male birds put on the same display as your lutino. Many young animals rehearse displays they’ll use later in life during courtship or territory protection, and suspect this is what’s going on with your bird, too.

So, in sum, your cockatiel probably isn’t telling you anything - or asking for anything, either. But keep an eye on her and document any aggression, affection or other behaviors you see alongside the feather fanning. If you come up with a pattern, write back and we’ll explore this further.

Steve Martin World-renowned animal trainer Steve Martin established one of the first free-flight bird shows in the country at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. His international consulting company, Natural Encounters, Inc., now helps zoos all over the world train all types of animals using positive reinforcement. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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