Why do Birds Roll in the Dirt

Why do Birds Roll in the Dirt

Birds are a delight to have as pets. They look beautiful and have an amazing sing song voice. Since, you have a bird as a pet; you may have also noticed that your bird may have a habit of rolling or playing around in the dirt. You may have wondered the first time around whether something was wrong with your bird, however, after seeing it a few times, especially when other birds in the area exhibited similar kind of behavior, you may have caught on that it is definitely for a reason.

When the birds are rolling around in the dirt, it is because they are taking, what is called a ‘Dust Bath’. Sand Bathing or Dust Bathing is a behavior exhibited by animals with a purpose likely for removing parasites from feathers, fur or skin. You may see the avian species taking dust baths on a normal basis and some animals as well, as they use dust bathing as a way for transmitting signals to the ground marking their territory.

Why does a bird take a dust bath

A dust or sand bath is part of a bird’s process for plumage maintenance and preening which helps in keeping the feathers of the bird in top condition. The dust that works its way into the feathers will help absorbing excess oil which otherwise would make the feathers matted or greasy.

The now oil soaked dust is shredded, so that the plumage can be kept clean and is made more flexible for flight as well as efficient insulation.

Another reason birds take dust baths that the dry skin, as well as other debris, can be removed by the excess dust and birds also take dust baths regularly so as to minimize feather mites, lice and other parasites that may find a home within a bird’s feathers.

Multiple species of birds have been seen dust bathing however the frequency of their dust bathing varies from each other and also depends on the local weather conditions as well as the time of the year.  

Birds like the ring necked pheasants, wild turkeys, California quail take regular dust baths. Birds, especially in regions that have less access to water also commonly resort to dust bathing.

How does a bird take a dust bath

As mentioned above, birds that belong to regions having less access to water and also where the climate is especially hot resort to dust bathing.

A bird while taking a dust bath begins with scraping its feet in fine, dry and crumbly sand or durt to create a wallow. It then lowers its breast to the ground and rolling, rocking or swaying the sand to make an even hollow depression. It then vigorously wriggles its body and starts flapping its wings.

This above process disperses loose sand substrate into the air and the bird then spreads one or both of its wings and allows the sand substrate to fall between its feathers and reach the skin.  The bird will also sometimes start rubbing its head on the ground so that the sand can reach across the shorter feathers on its head and cheeks. This process may be repeated several times until the bird feels it’s covered in sufficient dust and before perching make shake off any excess dust that is left behind. The bird after dust bathing will start its preening process to keep itself well groomed.

Dust bathing by birds can occur at any-time and anywhere, especially when a bird find a suitable patch of sand or dirt and feels it necessary to keeping its feathers well groomed. Some birds dust bathe in groups and some alone and it is exciting to watch birds collecting in a particular area to dust bathe as some have to wait in line until the others are done.

Setting up dust bathing in your garden

If you have a bird, you will definitely not keep it in a cage at all times. You may want to let it out a few times in your garden, you may also have spruced up your garden to have a small birdhouse and a water bird bath as well but providing for a dust bathing area for your bird can also be something that you can add to your garden and ensure that your bird finds solace in your garden.

Setting up a bird bath and things to keep in mind-

If you already have an area that your bird has started using as a source for dust baths, then continue preserving that area specifically for you bird’s use.

If not, then build a dust bath by taking soil that is free of plants, clumps and rocks in a bird bath or in a specific area and to contain the dust within give it a decorative border or ring it with rocks and remember to place it in an area where it is sunny. All you will have to do is ensure that the dust bath you make is sufficient enough for your bird to take a dust bath comfortable according to its size.

It is very essential that you get rid of any clumps, rocks or plants in the dust bath and also ensure that there is a safe place, like a bird house for your bird to resort to your bird feels threatened. Also ensure that it is in a clear space so that no predator like cats can surprise your bird while your bird is taking a dust bath.


The behavior of birds playing in dirt or birds rolling in dirt is absolutely normal. It is their way of keeping themselves well groomed and free of any parasites. It is an essential for birds and we can also take a little pleasure in watching them do so as they look completely adorable while doing it.

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