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Jessi walks you through the 3 hygiene essentials for parrots: bathing, nail trims, and beak health.

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We get some great questions from our viewers and I love being able to answer them with videos where I can explain the answer.  We had a great question from Liv S, who asked, "What's the grooming routine for parrots?  Do you have to clip their nails and are you supposed to sand their beak?"  I'm glad you asked!  There are several grooming or general hygiene practices that all parrots need, and that's what I'm gonna teach you today.


In the wild, most parrots live in an environment that's very humid with lots of plants.  Their feathers and skin are regularly cleaned whenever it rains.  Many parrots have a natural oil that coats their feathers that helps protect them from getting soaked.  They will slip their feathers against their bodies and the water will roll right off, but if they fluff their feathers out, the water can penetrate past the oily barrier into their downy feathers and their skin.  This helps wash away excess build-up and keeps their skin and feathers in tip-top shape for flying and keeping them warm.  Parrots can also rub against wet leaves if they don't feel like standing directly in the rainfall or they can find a small pool of water and splash it all over themselves with their wings.

Parrots that don't live in humid environments usually don't have oil that coats their feathers.  Instead they have what's called power down.  Cockatiels, cockatoos, and African greys are some examples of parrots that have powder instead of oil.  If you're caring for any type of parrot in captivity, it's very important that you help them stay clean.  If their feathers become too oily or something gets stuck on them like old food or feces, it can prevent them from forming a good seal with their feathers, which can let in cold drafts and they can get sick.

One common reason for excess oily build-up on their feathers is from frequent petting by their human caretakers.  Humans have oils on their skin and we transfer that oil onto anything we touch.  The more we touch them, the quicker they get dirty.  Having dirty feathers can also make them feel like they need to groom more, which can lead to feather-destroying behavior, like chewing the tips of their feathers or plucking them out.  

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Their skin can also become dirty from dander build-up, which gets itchy and that can lead to the same problems of skin or feather-destroying behaviors, so the best way to prevent all of this is to offer them different ways to stay clean on their own.  

Many parrots will enjoy a splash in a wide and shallow dish of water.  Other parrots love the stream of water from a shower.  Some like a simple mist from a mister, and others will only use wet leaves hung on their home to keep themselves clean.  If your parrot doesn't clean themselves voluntarily, then you need to be prepared to help them do it, because not cleaning them isn't an option.

Please never use any kind of soap on a bird.  Not only does it strip the oil from their feathers completely, but the fragrance in most soaps is toxic to birds, and if any residue from the soap is left behind, it's also toxic and they can ingest it when they groom their feathers.  If your bird is scared of the water bowl or the shower or the mister, then you'll need to slowly introduce them to theh idea and to the objects and then give them a treat for participating.  Use whatever you need to to get them to participate in cleaning themselves.  It can take a while, but it should become a fun and enjoyable experience for both of you.

So, while you're making sure they stay clean, you also have to watch their nails and beak.  In the wild, their nails would be worn as they move from tree to tree or perch on the sides of a cliff or termite mound.  They use their nails to forage and manipulate seeds and nuts with hard shells.  In captivity, they aren't using their nails as much as they would in the wild, so they won't wear down as quickly.  Some parrots can go long periods without nail trims, but most need their nails trimmed regularly.  How often?  Depends on each individual.

You can tell when your parrot's nails are too long by seeing how their feet rest on a flat surface.  Their toes should touch the ground all the way to the tip and then their nails should curve up and rest against the surface or hover just above it.  If the tips of their toes are lifted off the surface or the nail is turned to the side, it means it's too long and it needs to be trimmed.  I do not recommed trimming your parrot's nails on your own unless they are trained or comfortable enough to do it willingly.  

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We have a few parrots that accept nail trims while perched on my hand, like Zoe the Amazon parrot and Zapper the Alexandrian parakeet.  I trained them to ignore the clippers and they're happy to participate as long as they get lots of attention from me.  Some parrots take a lot longer to become comfortable with the process.  If your parrot isn't comfortable with voluntary nail trims, you need to bring them into an avian vet for a trimming appointment.  

Going to a vet can be incorporated into your training plan.  Either you or your vet should work with your parrot to get them comfortable laying on their back.   For example, Lulu the half-moon conure won't hold still for a nail trim while perched, but he is comfortable with me holding him on his back.  This requires a lot of trust and even if they lay on their back, they might not cooperate for a full nail trim, so your vet may need to restrain your parrot during the nail trimming appointment. 

Parrots do not have a diaphragm like humans, which means that if they are squeezed or restrained in the wrong way, they can't breathe.  I do not recommend trying to restrain your parrot on your own.  It's a huge risk to them if you don't know how to do it properly.  I'm a trained professional, trained by a vet, which is why I'm able to do it safely. 

If your parrot does not willingly lay back and relax while being restrained like Lulu, the last option is to use a towel to restrain them so they don't injure themselves or the vet during the procedure.  This is Steve the cockatiel.  He does not like having his nails trimmed.  He also doesn't let me touch him, which is why he has pin feathers, 'cause he won't let me groom him off.  We're in the process of training him to accept nail trims voluntarily.  He does not like the nail trimmer.  Here you go.  Good boy, but in the meantime, his nails grow and he needs them trimmed, so the only way to trim his nails is to use the towel.  Please do not try the towel method at home.  It's really easy to do wrong.  To learn this restraining method, it takes a lot of practice under direct supervision to learn how to do it safely and correctly.  He needs his nails trimmed now, so let's go ahead and do it.  Alright bud.  I know, shh, shh, shh.  Very gently hold him.

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Now, it looks like I'm just holding him in a blanket in any which way, but my fingers are placed in the exact places that they need to be to make sure that he can continue to breathe but I also restrain his wings so he can't get them out and hurt himself or turn his head in the wrong direction.  While it looks like I'm just holding him in a blanket like that, I'm doing it in a very specific way.  

Alright, buddy.  One last little nail here and we're all done.  Ready?  Ohh.  All done!  You're okay, dude.  I know.  That's super rude.  I'm sorry we had to do that.  Would you like some treats?  He's like, no, I'm really upset with you now. 

So restraining is not the best way to be able to do it, but when you need to trim their nails, it has to be done, which is why we work really hard to get them to do it voluntarily.  Alright, let's let Steve head on back.  You did a good job, buddy.  I know, I'm sorry.

Most parrots in captivity will need their nails trimmed at some point, but there are ways to reduce how often they need it done.  By providing  a variety of perches of different sizes, shapes, and textures and getting them moving around their space as much as possible like foraging for food throughout the day, they will wear their nails down on their own.  

Another hygiene must is beak care.  Parrots in the wild keep their beak in good health simply by doing their natural behaviors.  Foraging for good, building a nest by carving a hole in a tree trunk or termite mound, and cleaning their beak when they need to.  In captivity, most parrots never have an issue with an overgrown beak.  They will use their perches or cage bars to clean excess food off their beak, which helps buff the sides.  They will chew on toys and wear down the tip and they will grind their top and bottom mandibles together and keep them aligned and just the right length.  

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However, some parrots won't do these natural behaviors.  If they don't play with toys like chewing on wooden blocks or woven perches, then they aren't going to wear the tip down, and if they don't grind their beak in the correct way, it can get longer on one side than the other, causing a malformed beak.  Some people get concerned if their parrot doesn't buff the sides of their beak smooth because they don't think it looks as clean, but having texture on the sides of their beak is OK.  It's completely natural and it doesn't need to be corrected.

It's best if your parrot can take care of their beak on their own and you can help them out with this by offering them a variety of chewable toys to choose from.  If they ignore the toys, then hide some treats in or on them to encourage the parrot to engage with the toy.  Eventually, they will learn it's fun to destroy things with their beak, especially if there's a treat involved.

If your parrot's beak isn't lining up properly, you'll need to take them in  to see an avian vet who can help realign their top and bottom mandibles using a dremel.  This is not something that can be done at home.  It's too easy to take too much off or shape it in a way where they can't eat anymore.  You can also accidentally hit their tongue, which is incredibly sensitive.  Never try trimming a parrot's beak at home.

So if you provide your parrot with a way to bathe, a variety of perches and toys, and help them out when they don't keep up on their hygiene themselves, you're on the right track to making sure all their grooming needs are met so they can be a happy and healthy bird.  I'm glad Liv S. wrote in with this question so I could share all of this information with you.  Thanks for asking, Liv.

At Animal Wonders, we have 14 parrot-type birds and each of them has a different preference for hygiene and grooming.  I love hearing what other parrots like, so if you have a bird, let me know how they like to stay clean and maybe it will give others ideas on what they can try with their own bird companions.

Thanks for watching.  If you would like to learn more about animals and what we do at Animal Wonders, you can go on an adventure with us every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel, AnimalWondersMontana.  Thanks, guys.


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