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It might sound strange, but dirt helps birds scrub themselves clean. Birds of all sizes (like the Eurasian Skylark seen here) often scrape a depression in the ground and flick dirt onto their bodies, shimmying to shake it off. Experiments showed that birds use dust to prevent oils from building up on their feathers and to remove dandruff — much like humans using shampoo in the shower!
The Value of a Dust Bath
Written by Richa Malhotra
This is BirdNote.
From House Wrens to Wild Turkeys, birds of all sizes like to scrub themselves clean using… dirt. Call it what you will — “dirt bathing,” “dust bathing” or “dusting” — it’s part of a bird’s self-care routine, especially during summer. Birds may take a dirt bath alone, in pairs or in a flock. And they’ll chase away other birds from their favorite patch.
[House Wren song, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/174047631, 0.07-.10]
Typically, a bird shuffles its feet to scrape a depression in the ground. Sitting on its belly with feathers ruffled, it flicks dirt onto its body. Now, a nice rub of the neck in the dust. And then a good shimmy gets rid of it all.
[Sound of ruffling feathers]
Individuals may peck at the dirt to loosen it, before or during the bath, which could last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
[Sound of a domestic hen pecking at dirt]
Experiments show that frolicking in the dirt is good for a bird’s plumage. When access to dirt was cut off for the Northern Bobwhite
[Northern Bobwhite call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/63289481, 0.02-.04],
oil started building up on its feathers.
After Japanese Quails dusted for about two weeks, they had less dandruff.
[Japanese Quail call, https://www.xeno-canto.org/592845, 0.00-.04]
In other words, dirt is like shampoo for birds.
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Production Manager: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Digital Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. House Wren ML 174047631 recorded by D. Slager, Chickens clucking recorded by Chris Peterson, Northern Bobwhite ML 63289481 recorded by T. Johnson, Japanese Quail Xeno-Canto 592845 recorded by A. Torimi.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2021 BirdNote June 2021 / July 2023
Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# dustbath-01-2021-6-14 dustbath-01