Member Rara Avis
Birds, I've discovered, bath in three different ways (and there may be more). My bluebirds, finches, and sparrows love what we humans call a birdbath, essentially just a container holding about two inches of water. They stand in the center of the water, flapping their wings, ducking their heads, and generally gyrating, before finally flying to a nearby perch to preen and dry. Here's a picture I took of a female bluebird looking just a little bit sodden after her bath.
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Members of the swallow family, including barn swallows, tree swallows, and purple martins, and presumably many other birds who do their hunting in the air, both drink and bath by flying low over a lake and skimming the surface. I've only seen it a few times and it's quite a sight, indeed. If you can imagine water skiing behind a boat, then leaning over to get a drink of water, you'll have some idea of the delicacy and skill involved in what, to them, is an every-day thing.
I read that hummingbirds, being more delicate than bluebirds or swallows, prefer to bath by flying through their bath water and often only get a bath when it rains. Today, for the first time, I had the opportunity to watch one taking a bath, not in the rain (of which we've had very little), but in my sprinkler.
It's one of those cheap plastic sprinklers, seemingly only coming in bright yellow, that oscillates back and forth, describing a half-circle arc of coverage. I was watering some newly seeded grass near the tulip poplar I put in last Fall (which is why I had to reseed some grass) when a hummer landed in the tree and, seconds later, found himself in a brief shower as the arc of water passed. He spent the next thirty minutes hilariously chasing that arc of water back and forth, trying to stay in the falling water without getting caught in the much stronger jet of water spraying skywards. Occasionally, he would land in the tree, primp and flutter for a few seconds, then very strangely fly next to a leaf (big enough on a tulip poplar to serve as a king-size bed for a hummingbird) and rub himself against its still wet surface. Properly preened, he'd returned to chasing the water.
My grass got a bit more water than needed, as I certainly wasn't going to move the sprinkler before my little buddy finished his shower. Unfortunately, I was laughing MUCH too hard to come in the house and get the camera. Not that a still photograph could ever truly capture the wonder of a hummingbird in flight.