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Name: Patricia S.
Status: educator
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Tuesday, August 06, 2002


Question:
I have a backyard full of birds all year round. This summer I have noticed a thrasher systematically kicking and poking all the pea gravel from between the slate pavers that form my walkway and then wedging him/herself into the space between the pavers. Once the bird has positioned himself, he tilts his head back and closes his eyes and opens his beak. He remains motionless in this position for up to a minute. Then he hops out and stands on the mulch under a bush and looks around. When one bird is finished, a second and sometimes a third takes his place in the trench. The little trench he has created for himself is dusty (we haven't had much rain at all this summer), but I would have thought he would spread out his wings if he were trying to "bathe" in the dust. What are these birds doing?


Replies:
Dust bathing is common in birds, but not as common as water bathing. Dust bathing in birds like thrashers may be a substitute for water bathing when water is not readily available. Often birds dust bathe in more open situations, where they flick dust with their feet and sometimes shuffle wings; perhaps this trench is the best dust source around and is too narrow for you to observe such behavior. Birds often shake and preen immediately after dust bathing. The purpose is not well known, but probably helps condition feathers and may discourage lice and other small skin parasites. See Terres, The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds, for detailed articles.

J. Elliott


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