Wild birds bathe in three ways: by water, sun and dust. A bird bathes in water to facilitate oiling and preening, also to clean the plumage. Water bathing no doubt also has a cooling effect in the heat, too. Probably most land birds take water baths. Birds that I have observed water bathing include common grackles, American robins, gray catbirds, blue jays, northern cardinals and American goldfinches. Even the larger birds such as eagles, hawks, owls and crows bathe in shallow pools along the edges of streams, in shallow ponds, and in puddles of rain water and melted snow.

Typically a songbird wades into the water to a depth of about 1 to 3 inches. In bathing, a bird ducks its head into the water, quickly raises it up, and then beats the wings, splashing water over the back.

Preening follows. It is the most important act that a bird performs in the care of its feathers. A bird preens its plumage by pulling individual feathers through its beak to remove oil, dirt and parasites. The movements also smooth the feather barbs so they will lock together. Also, worked into each feather is fresh oil from the gland at the base of its tail.

Aerial birds such as swifts and swallows bathe in flight, splashing repeatedly into the surface of a pond or stream. Some of our so-called lawn-and-garden birds such as the ruby-throated hummingbird and the American robin will bathe in a lawn sprinkler.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.