Dust bathing in birds

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.

African Pipit dust bathing (see video below)

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.

Mousebirds (Speckled, White-backed, Red-faced) are species that love dust bathing

 

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
Red-necked Spurfowl
Swainson’s Spurfowl
Common Quail
Common Peacock
Helmeted Guineafowl
Kurrichane Buttonquail
Red-billed Hornbill
Damara Hornbill
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Silvery-cheeked Hornbill
African Hoopoe
Little Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
White-backed Mousebird
Speckled Mousebird
Red-faced Mousebird
Knysna Turaco
Blue Korhaan
Namaqua Sandgrouse
Bearded Vulture
Secretarybird
Sand Martin
Red-breasted Swallow
Olive Thrush
Bearded Scrub-Robin
White-browed Scrub-Robin
Red-billed Oxpecker
House Sparrow
African Pipit
Dieter
Dieter is a qualified Bird Ringer and trainer, registered bird guide, and Weaver expert. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.