Have Wings, Will Travel
Retailers can be a source of guidance and information–as well as product purveyors–for consumers who plan to travel with their pet birds.
Pet owners travel with their pets for many reasons–when they are moving to a new house, for example, or going on vacation. Whether they are traveling for fun or out of necessity, customers will look to their pet stores not only for travel products, but also for help and guidance on the best and least stressful ways to travel with their pets. Bird owners are no exception.
Among the first things bird owners need to consider before traveling with their pets is what kind of travel cage or carrier they will need, and it is important to consider the bird’s personality when choosing a cage or carrier.
Pet birds in the parrot family usually love to travel, since they enjoy the mental stimulation it can bring. It is best to house these birds in a sturdy travel cage or a clear-sided carriers during a trip. Birds that are shy or sensitive, however, would be better off in an enclosed carrier or a cage with a cover, but tell owners to leave openings so that air and some light can get into the cage. A bird can fall off a perch more easily if it is in the dark, particularly when the ride gets bumpy.
The size of the travel cage or carrier will depend on the size of the bird and the length of the trip. The travel container should be large enough and/or long enough that the bird can stand on a perch without hitting its head or crushing its tail. If the bird will be in the travel cage or carrier more than a day, then the owner should use something larger than they would for a short trip. The bird should be able to move around and stretch easily. If space is limited and the trip is long, then the bird owner should bring a larger fold-down cage to use at nights for their bird as needed.
The strength and construction of the carrier or travel cage a bird owner needs depends on the species of bird. Finches and other softbill birds do not require strong bars or plastic during travel, although the travel cage or carrier should be sturdy no matter what species of bird is owned. Medium and large parrots have strong beaks, so the carrier must be made with extremely durable and correctly sized metal bars and plastic parts. The same is true of the perches and dishes that come with the carrier or travel cage or are purchased separately.
Some owners have found that rope perches are better than wood ones, since the rope gives the bird a better grip. Retailers should tell bird owners to be sure their pets’ nails have been trimmed and are not long or sharp before taking any trip. Long nails can get stuck in rope perches. A bird’s nails can also get caught in some part of its travel container, especially during a bumpy ride.
When traveling by car, the bird’s carrier or cage should be kept in the backseat, preferably on the passenger side. Air-bag deployment in the front seat could cause injury or worse to a bird, so it is best to strap them in securely in the back. Placing the travel container where the bird can see you, especially a tame parrot, is best. Bird owners should also talk to the bird often to help keep it calmer and less stressed while traveling.
Warn owners not to let the bird out of the carrier or travel cage while they are driving, as the bird may get hurt or the owner could become distracted, leading to an accident. It is a good idea, however, to have a pet bird’s wings trimmed before traveling, even if the owner generally doesn’t have this done, in case the bird does get out of its’ travel container. It’s so easy for something to go wrong while on a trip, and a bird is seldom seen again once it gets loose and flies off.
Bird owners are often advised to use a water bottle instead of an open dish when traveling, to keep spills and contamination at a minimum. This is fine if, and only if, the bird has used a water bottle before. A bird that has never drank from a water bottle is not going to recognize it as a source of water the first time it sees one. Owners who wish to use a bottle should use it at home first and be sure the bird is comfortable with drinking from the bottle long before the trip.
No matter what is used to give water, one important tip for bird owners is to bring water from home. Changing from one water source to another on a trip can cause a bird to become sick. The concern is not so much that the water may carry some disease-causing agents, but that the new water sources will have a different chemical make-up (such as more minerals) that the bird is not used to.
Another tip to help keep birds well hydrated on a long trip is to give them fruits that have a lot of water content. This can be fine to do as long as the bird has eaten these food items before. Caged birds rarely eat new food the first time it is offered. It often takes days or even weeks to get a bird to try something new, and that’s when the bird is at home. It is unlikely the bird will eat new foods while on a trip. This is why it is important for the owner to bring enough familiar foods to last the whole trip, plus a little extra.
Besides sturdy perches and dishes, the travel carrier or cage should have some sort of substrate, such as non-colored newspaper, cage paper or white paper towels. These will be much easier to change out and less messy than pelleted litters or shavings. The bird owner should also bring cleaning supplies, including a bird-safe cleaner, paper towels and/or wipes, to keep everything clean and sanitary on the journey.
Swings or any toys that can move should not be placed in the carrier or crate while traveling. Bird owners who need to use toys to distract their parrots on long trips should use toys that clamp to the sides of the cage or carrier. If possible, owners should also take toys their birds are used to playing with at home, so they have something familiar in their travel container. This is especially comforting for sensitive birds.
If a bird will be traveling by plane or crossing state lines, the owner must get a veterinarian health certificate, usually within ten days before leaving. It’s also best to bring the bird in for a check-up if the trip will be a long one, just to be on the safe side. Tell owners to double and even triple check about traveling with their bird as airline regulations change constantly and some states are more restrictive than others.
Owners of Quaker parrots (also called Monk parrots, parakeets or conures) need to be sure the bird is legal in the state they plan to travel to or through before leaving. Also note that on long driving trips, customer should call ahead to find hotels that allow pet birds and to be sure to get a non-smoking room that has not been fumigated recently.
Retailers should remind customers that, as with any pet, a caged bird should never be left in a car unattended. Birds can overheat just as quickly as other pets, so be sure the carrier or cage is never left in the direct sun. A bird mister is a lifesaver if driving on warm days with no air conditioning, and should be used as often as needed to keep the bird cool. To minimize the stress of travel, bird owners can also take their birds on short excursions every few days before a big trip just to get them used to the carrier or travel cage and being in a moving vehicle.
Last, but certainly not least, advise that bird owners pack a first-aid kit whenever they travel with their pet birds. This kit should include a nail trimmer, round-ended scissors, styptic powder (to stop bleeding), non-stick gauze, wrap-around bandages, sugar and water with oral syringes, tweezers and a towel large enough to wrap the bird in if needed. Pet stores can make traveling with pets easier by educating customers and preparing them with necessary travel items so both the pet and the owner can have a safe and happy trip.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.