Why birds dust bathe
Dust, or sand, bathing, helps birds in maintaining their plumage in good condition. The dust absorbs excess oil on the feathers to prevent the feathers from becoming greasy. The dust may also help to remove dry skin and feather parasites.
Birds that live in arid regions are commonly seen dust bathing, while in moister areas birds tend to bathe in water, although dust bathing may also be seen where water is present. The frequency of dust bathing varies by species, time of year, and local climatic conditions.
How birds dust bathe
Birds dust bathe by finding a patch of fine dry sand. They scrape the sand to form a slight hollow, and lower the breast to the ground. The wings are shaken, usually with the feathers ruffled, so that the dust is spread across more feather surfaces. The video below illustrates these points.
African Pipit dust bathing at Strandfontein
Birds that dust bathe
Some of the most frequent dust bathers are sparrows, game birds, hornbills, mousebirds, larks and thrushes. Globally hundreds of bird species have been recorded to dust bathe.
At least 33 Southern African bird species have been recorded to dust bathe. Some interesting species that dust bathe are the Bearded Vulture, Knysna Turaco and Red-billed Oxpecker. The list below is from Roberts Birds of Southern Africa 7 (Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ, Ryan PG 2005, John Voelcker Bird Book Fund). There will be many more species, however, that also dust bathe.
|Orange River Francolin|
|Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill|
|African Grey Hornbill|