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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dusk bath

Several times during the last few weeks we've encountered Bewick's Wrens (Thryomanes bewickii) taking dust baths along trails at dusk.

Tonight I had a funny encounter with one.  I didn't have a picture for the blog tonight.  I had gone for a quick walk after work and was almost back to the car and was beginning to wonder what I was going to do about the blog.  Would I have to skip a night?  And then this little wren scooted out onto the trail and started taking a dust bath.  But it saw me and flew right back into the shrubs.  No time for a picture.  

I wondered if I stayed very quiet and motionless if it would come back out again.  I waited and waited — no wren.  Then I looked away, wondering if I should wait any longer, and when I looked back, the wren was there on the trail taking a dust bath!  I raised my camera to take a picture and it flew off.  Was there any chance it would return a third time?  I waited and waited.  And what do you know, one more time the wren dashed out, landed in the path, and started fluttering around on the ground.

It was almost dark by this time, and the wren was some distance away, so this isn't a great picture.  But oh, well, it's still an interesting story and an introduction to dust bathing in wrens!

Then I had lots of questions.  For example — If a bird takes dust baths, does it take water baths, too?  Is there a benefit of one over the other?  How many species of birds take dust baths vs. water baths?  Do birds take more dust baths in drought years?  The other day I watched a bobcat rolling in a warm patch of bare soil — how common are dust baths in other animals?  Did people get inspired to take bark-chip baths by watching birds take dust baths?  ;)

I did a tiny bit of reading about dust bathing behavior in Bewick's Wrens and learned a few facts:

- They take dust baths in loose, fine-grained soil or mud.
- They most often take dust baths at dusk.
- Dust baths are thought to control the accumulation of lipids on their feathers (which may affect insulation) and possibly to control parasites.  The latter is apparently more controversial in that it hasn't been proven.  It has been hypothesized that dust may control parasites by suffocation, dislodgement, or abrasion (followed by desiccation). 


Claudia said...

And for that wren to brave a possible predator encounter (you) two more times makes one wonder if those dust baths are pretty important.

Bark baths??! I didn't know I should be taking bark baths? Is this one of those things that everyone knows about except me?

Jackie Sones said...

:) Okay, I couldn't help laughing at the second of Claudia's comments...and perhaps I need to expand on bark baths? And I should probably call them by their proper name = "cedar enzyme baths." There's an on-going joke in our family about these baths that are offered at the Osmosis Day Spa in Freestone. I'm sure that many people do feel rejuvenated by them, but certain unnamed people in our family have cringed at the thought of wallowing in "bark chips" and wondered how on earth that could feel good.