Some species of birds “bathe” in substances other than water. Often dust or sandy soil is the material of choice, but rotten wood and weed particles are also used. Dust baths, also called dusting or sand bathing, are part of a bird’s preening and plumage maintenance that keeps feathers in good condition. The dust that is worked into the bird’s feathers while it kicks its feet and beats its wings in the sand will absorb excess oil to help keep the feathers from becoming greasy or matted. The oil-soaked dust is then shed easily as the bird fluffs its feathers and shakes itself vigorously. Usually some feathers come out as well, and it’s often possible to determine what species of bird has taken a bath by the feathers left behind. The pictured dust bath is sprinkled with Wild Turkey feathers. Ornithologists feel that regular dusting may also help smother or minimize lice, feather mites, and other parasites.
Hundreds of bird species have been recorded as dusters. Those that take regular dust baths include sparrows, pheasants, turkeys, thrushes, thrashers and wrens. (Thanks to Jody Crosby for photo op.)