Splish, Splash! A Crane in the Bath

Birds typically bathe for the same reasons as humans: to get germs, grime, and parasites off their skin and feathers. Click on this video clip for your big chance to watch a Whooper take a bath! Did you notice?

  • The bathing crane starts by getting its feathers thoroughly wet. Cranes have LONG legs, so you can see this bird dropped down to a sitting position to get the water on its back.
  • The crane shakes its feathers to get more of the feather surfaces wet. Shaking also helps get rid of loose dirt, lice and mites.
  • After this crane's feathers and skin are nice and wet, it will preen. This means it will nibble on the feathers with its bill to straighten out the barbs so the feather vanes are tightly locked. As it preens, the crane will shake its feathers. This throws off water, dirt, lice and mites. The crane will also rub its bill on its preen gland—a little bump just above its tail. The oils from the preen gland act like hand lotion. The oils keep the feathers supple. Oils keep the feathers in good condition, and somewhat protected from sun and water.

Birds usually bathe when they feel safe and comfortable. That means no predators in sight! Birds usually don't bathe when they get sick, and lice and mites multiply quickly. Just by looking at this Whooping crane's bathing activity, we can tell the bird is happy and healthy!

Try This! Journal or Discussion Question
  • Pilot Brooke watched this beth scene and wrote: This bath is followed by a serious bout of extended preening as the beak becomes the comb and every feather receives its undivided attention in a magical beak-dance choreographed millions of years ago. The simple watching of it all is a true gift …a memory to be cherished. Think of something you've seen that was so special that it became a cherished memory.
  • Many birds take dust baths as well as water baths. Think about a crane's habitat. Do you think cranes ever take dust baths? Explain your answer.

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).