Parakeets have a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours" philosophy when it comes to keeping clean. Parakeets who like and trust each other exchange quick grooming sessions that keep otherwise hard-to-reach feathers clean and neat. A human can perform this social grooming activity, called mutual preening, with a pet bird.
Purpose of Mutual Preening
Parakeets thoroughly enjoy mutual preening. They close their eyes and bow their heads while being groomed as if they're getting a world-class spa treatment. They get into it because preening clears up dead skin and other debris that can make your parakeet itchy and dusty. It's also a great opportunity for them to bond with other parakeets and humans who help them with grooming.
If you've ever seen your parakeet groom herself, you know she can use her beak to preen just about every part of her body. The only part of her body she can't reach with her beak is her head. Though she can scratch head itches with her feet, she needs a friend's help to properly preen her head feathers. If she's bonded with another parakeet, he'll happily clean her head feathers for her.
Preening by Humans
Not all pet parakeets have a feathered companion to preen with. If you have only one parakeet, provide head-cleaning services for her. Just gently rub under her chin or on the side of her face. If she really trusts you and needs a good preening, she'll let you groom her cheeks and scratch the top of her head. Most parakeets don't like being touched anywhere else, and yours might be annoyed if you try to touch her wings or belly.
Other Ways Parakeets Get Clean
Mutual preening helps a parakeet get its head scratched and cleared of dust. But to get really clean, parakeets must regularly groom themselves and bathe in water. Bathing can be a social activity -- once one parakeet starts splashing around, her friends join in. Provide your parakeets with a dish of lukewarm shallow water to splash around in. This fully cleans the feathers of grime and oil that can't be cleaned off with preening alone.
June Mebei is a Virginia-based writer who earned her B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She began writing professionally in 2008, and has published narrative essays, editorial articles, short stories and poetry.