Why Do Birds Take Dirt Baths? (Everything Explained)

Last updated: 7 July 2022

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Why Do Birds Take Dirt Baths? (Everything Explained)

If you have not witnessed a bird bathing, you are at least likely familiar with the term bird bath. Many avid birders provide visiting avians a place to bathe in their yards, alongside feeders, perches, and other habitat necessities.

Most bird baths are associated with water; however, did you know many species also partake in dust baths?

A dust bath may seem contradictory - aren’t the birds just making themselves dirty? The answer is quite the contrary, though. Like water baths, dust baths are a vital part of a bird’s grooming or preening process. A bird will coat its whole body in dust and, as it bathes, the dust gets worked into the feathers also coating the skin.

The dust absorbs excess oil and removes dry skin, helping to keep the feathers from becoming too greasy or matted. Clean feathers are important for flight and insulation.

If a bird’s feathers become greasy or matted it cannot fly as efficiently or maintain its body temperature. It is also believed that regular dust bathing may help reduce mites, lice, and other parasites.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at how and when birds take dust baths, as well as how you can provide this opportunity for the avians in your backyard.

House Sparrow having a dust bath

House Sparrow having a dust bath

How do birds take dirt baths?

Generally, birds take dust baths by first creating a wallow. They do so by using their feet to scrape out an indention in fine, dry dirt or sand. Then, a bird will lower its breast to the ground and roll or rock back and forth to get the wallow just right.

Once this is done, the bird fluffs up its feathers and begins to flap its wings in short, quick movements. The vigorous flapping covers the bird's body in dust, while the fluffed feathers allow the dirt to reach the skin - ensuring full coverage. The bird may even rub its head and face in the dirt.

This dusting dance may be repeated several times until the bird is satisfied with its bath. Once finished, excess dust is shaken off and the bird will generally move to a perch.

If you have never seen dust bathing behavior before, it may seem alarming at first. It’s easy to think a bird may be sick or injured, but it is important not to disturb activity. Just sit back and observe, dust bathing can be quite the sight.

Ostriches are another species that commonly take dust baths

Ostriches are another species that commonly take dust baths

When do birds take dirt baths?

A bird may choose to take a dust bath at any point, regardless of the season. Timing is largely determined by when the bird feels it is necessary to clean its feathers. However, in hotter, dryer habitats, birds are likely to take dust baths more often. This could be due, in part, to a lack of access to water sources.

Which birds take dirt baths?

Several bird species take dirt baths. Although, some may do so more frequently than others. Sparrows, wrens, larks, and thrushes are among some of the most regular dusters in the songbird family. Sparrows use this bathing method especially often.

Game birds also enjoy frequent dust bathing. These species include wild turkeys, quail, and ring-necked pheasants. Chickens are also frequent dust bathers and raptors partake in dusting as a regular part of preening routines, as well.

Since water sources may be fewer and farther between, dust bathing is particularly common amongst bird species living in arid environments.

Chicken having a routing dust bath

Chicken having a routing dust bath

How to make a bird dust bath?

Much like offering a traditional water bird bath for your visiting avians, you can also create a dust bathing area in your yard. This is an excellent way to attract a variety of species that use dusting as a regular part of their preening practices.

Creating a dust bath can be as simple as leaving an open area of exposed dirt in your garden or landscaping. You can also create an attractive dust bathing area by either clearing a site of all vegetation and other debris or by adding dirt or fine sand in an open, sunny location. You will need to make sure the dirt is fine, dry, and free of clumps.

The dust bathing site should also be large enough for several birds to wallow at once. Removing any nearby vegetation that could conceal a predator is an important step as well.

Spurfowl taking a bath in the dust

Spurfowl taking a bath in the dust

Birds will not be attracted to an area where they do not feel secure landing on the ground. A few shrubs or trees near the location are fine. Dust bathing birds will enjoy a place to shake off and perch after their bath.

Besides watching the birds partake in this fun ritual, creating a dusting area can be fun also. Feel free to make the space unique by adding a decorative border or lining it with rocks or low ground-cover plants. Get creative! The dust bath does not have to be just a patch of bare earth.

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