Watching bathing birds is an unexpected but sublime delight. Depending on the bird, you can see them frolic in abandon, splash water around, puff up their chest before dipping, dive and pop out in a stream of water, create sprays of water by shaking their wings and make all kinds of faces while doing it.
Our staple birds Bulbuls, Shaliks and Doels bathe vigorously. From water's edge they walk in confidently. When their legs are submerged, they dip their heads and then repeatedly lower their bodies into the water. Emerging, they shake their wings in different patterns to eliminate excess water. I have seen several species of Bulbuls as well as Bhat Shalik do this in puddles and ponds.
The small but beautiful blue bird of our forests, the Black-naped Monarch, perches itself on a branch several feet above the water. From there, it drops vertically into the water and return to the perch – all in a fraction of a second. It repeats this several times. On its return flight to the perch it shakes water off its wings.
Bee-eaters, those aerial hunters of flying insects, also perch but much higher than the Monarchs. They will fly in – not a vertical drop but perhaps in a zigzag trajectory - and hit the water with both wings folded in. They emerge with a big splash.
White-eyes, the tiny yellow forest birds with a ring of white feathers around their eyes, get nervous about bathing. I have seen them come near the water only when other birds are already frolicking. They usually wait discreetly and dip in and out quickly.
I once saw a Peregrine Falcon bathing on the Padma River in Rajshahi. Standing at the edge, it took small, hesitant steps towards the water, much like a reluctant boy at the village pond in winter. Then it lowered its head and drank with its beak. Finally, while still in shallow water, it lowered itself for a quick dip. It walked a few steps along the shore ridding excess water before flying off.
Ducks are in water most of the time, but their feathers are waterproof to help them remain dry and buoyant. Diving birds such as cormorants, however, have feathers that soak water to help them dive. They get completely wet, which is why, after diving, they sit in the sun with their wings spread – to dry them.
Some birds – including Sparrows, Hoopoes and Bee-eaters - bathe in the sand. The sand gets rid of grease and dirt and cleans their feathers.
Birds bathe at all times of day but seem to prefer late afternoon – even in the middle of winter. To watch this activity, keep an eye on ponds and puddles. You need to remain far so as not to frighten the birds, or, better still, if there is a tree or bush, hide behind it.
Many readers have a country home. For your own bird-bath there, you can dig a small shallow pool, perhaps ten to fifteen feet across, among plants and away from people. Birds might use it provided there is no human disturbance.
facebook.com/ikabirphotographs or follow ihtishamkabir on Instagram