Safe Travels

Bird owners need to be prepared with the appropriate gear-and vital information-before embarking on trips with their pets.


Attitudes about pet ownership have shifted dramatically in the past few years, as evidenced by the increasing number of pet owners who now refer to themselves as pet parents and their pets as children. While this change has been reflected in many pet product categories, the trend has been particularly impactful on the travel segment. More pet owners than ever are taking their pets with them on vacation and other trips.

However, without the proper tools and accessories—and an understanding of what is involved in taking a pet bird on a trip—bird owners are likely to cause themselves and their pets undue stress. Fortunately, retailers can offer customers both the products and the knowledge necessary to make travel with pets safe, comfortable and as stress free as possible.

Before embarking on a trip with a bird, owners should first consider the amount of stress that travel may cause both the bird and the owner. If the owner is traveling by plane and only plans to be gone a short time—one or two weeks—it is usually not worth the stress of trying to take a pet parrot along. However, if the person is going away for weeks or months and taking the pet will not cause undue stress to the bird, bringing the pet along may be a good option.

Traveling by plane with a bird can be a bit difficult, as each airline has its own regulations. It is important to plan ahead by finding out if the airline allows birds and what it requires for the pet to travel. All will require a health certificate usually issued within 10 days before travel, so it is important to make an appointment with an avian veterinarian at the appropriate time. If traveling to another country, pet owners will need other paperwork, such as permits, and there is a possibility that the bird will have to go into quarantine. In fact, it is best not to bring a pet bird to another country unless the stay is going to be for many months or longer.

Some airlines will allow the bird to be kept under the seat in front of the owner, but this will only work for pet owners who are traveling with a single small- to medium-sized parrot. Larger parrots usually have to be checked in and will travel with cargo. This can be very stressful for both the bird and the owner, since they cannot see each other during the flight. Fees for bringing a bird on a flight can vary, but they usually run between $50 and $100 or more each way.

Airlines require that pet owners use an airline-approved carrier no matter whether the bird is traveling in the cabin or as cargo. These carriers need to be sturdy for two reasons. First, it is an airline requirement. Second, and maybe more importantly, the carrier must be strong enough to withstand a parrot’s very strong, hooked bill. This means that soft carriers cannot be used, but those made of hard plastic and metal will work well.

Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets, Inc., in Lexington, Ky., notes that at her store they “often reconfigure dog kennels and crates for travel. Any plastic kennel or metal dog crate works well, as long as the area is large enough to accommodate the tail.”

To set up the dog crate for a bird, Whitton’s team drills a hole in a plastic crate to allow for the inclusion of a sturdy perch, and use perches with washers on the end for the metal crates. “Any size bird can use a plastic kennel, but the metal crates should only be used for larger parrots because of the bar spacing,” says Whitton. Bar spacing on metal crates is fairly wide, and no bird ever should be able to put its head between the bars, whether it’s in its own cage or the travel crate.

Going by car is usually an easier and much less stressful way to travel with a pet than by airplane. Still, the owner needs to keep many of the same factors in mind. If going between states, travelers should check to see if a health certificate is needed. Owners of small parrots can sometimes use their birds’ cages for travel, but most of the time, it is better to use a travel crate. An enclosed crate is better than an open or see-through cage for more sensitive and nervous birds. Of course, the owner can use a cover over the cage, as long as it allows in some light so that the bird can find its way around during the day.

Note that pet parrots will almost always travel more comfortably if they can see their owners, and vice versa. But the bird should not be allowed outside the travel cage when on the road, and it is better and safer to buckle the crate in the back seat behind the front passenger seat, where the bird can still see its owner. People should also never leave the bird in the car by itself, especially in the sun. In fact, any part of the cage that is directly in the sun during a trip should be covered, so the bird does not get overheated.

“We attach food and water bowls to the door of the plastic crates and use coop cups with hangers or bolts for the wire crates,” says Whitton, as the bird will need to have both food and water available on any long trips. Open water dishes can spill easily during travel, so it is helpful to use a deeper dish and to fill it only half way. Pet owners can also use bird water bottles, although the bird must know how to use the bottle long before it travels with one. If the bird is used to eating vegetables and fruits, these can be put in the travel crate for plane travel during the day as well.

The bird owner must be sure to bring their bird’s food for the duration of the trip and to use water they are used to drinking or bottled water while they are traveling and at their destination. Bird owners should also bring some emergency items such as towels; bandages; tweezers/hemostats to remove any broken, bleeding feathers; and most importantly, styptic powder to stop any bleeding.

All pet parrot owners should also be sure to trim their birds’ wings before traveling, to prevent the pet from flying away in instances when it is not properly secured—for example, when an owner must take the bird out of the crate at an airport, the crate breaks open out on the tarmac or the cage door opens at the same time the car door does. The chance of getting a bird back when it flies out of the owner’s home is extremely low, so the chance the owner will get their bird back if it’s not at home is virtually nil. Retailers can reassure pet parents that trimming the wings does not hurt the bird, and the wing feathers will grow back—so owners who like to let their bird fly at home do not need to worry.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.

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