Bird on Board
With the right preparation, bird owners can take their feathered friends along for the ride.
With pet owners thinking of themselves as pet parents, more and more of them want to bring their furry and feathered “kids” along when they travel. Although pets usually want to be with their family—especially parrots, which can be strongly bonded with their owners—some birds find travel very stressful. Thus, it’s important to prepare for any trips to avoid anxiety for both pets and their owners—this is where pet store staff can help.
The first step to prepare a bird for traveling well is to take them out a lot when they are young. If a parrot is kept in the home for the first six months to a year of its life, it’s usually much harder for them to travel later. Of course, if the parrot is very attached to its owners and can see them while traveling, chances are it will do fine even if it was never taken out of the home when younger. However, it’s always better to start out taking young birds on short trips once they are acclimated to the home environment.
If a parrot is acquired when it is older and the new owner plans to travel by car regularly, such as going to a summer home on weekends, the best bet is to do some dry runs. The bird should be put in a travel cage and placed in the vehicle while the owner sits behind the wheel and just reads for a while. If the bird does not seem stressed, start the car, sit for a bit and watch the bird’s reaction. Again, if the bird appears calm, take it on a short ride to start with, then make them longer and longer.
If at any point the parrot starts to look anxious, which may include yelling, pacing, panting or exhibiting other odd behavior, stop and bring the bird back into the home and try again after a day or two. Sometimes the same step may need to be repeated a few times over a period of days before the bird becomes comfortable with it, especially for sensitive or nervous birds.
Usually, it’s best to have a special travel cage or crate when traveling with birds, even if it is a smaller species and their home can be moved easily. Many specialized travel crates are available, with sturdy perches and well-attached dishes. Some are made with clear plastic sides with holes for ventilation, so the parrot can see their owner easily. If their own cage is used, be sure that all swings and hanging toys are removed to avoid injury to the bird.
Anytime a parrot will be traveling, the wings need to be clipped. This does not hurt the bird, as it is like cutting hair, and it will keep the bird from getting lost if it escapes. Chances of getting even a very tame parrot back when it gets out near its home is very slight. If the bird flies away when far from home, chances are the owner will never see the pet again. It is always better to be safe than sorry and get the wings clipped before any trip.
It is imperative that bird owners never leave their pet in the car in warm weather. If the sun is hitting the travel container while driving, the owner should move it to the other side or cover the part of the cage that is in the sun. Be sure to run the air conditioning or heat to keep the bird comfortable and avoid stress from getting too hot or too cold. The cage must also be securely strapped into the back seat.
For water, deep dishes can be filled halfway to minimize spilling, but a bird water bottle is even better. However, this only works if the bird has used one at home. Bringing water from home that the bird is used to drinking or using bottled water is best when traveling. This way, the bird does not get exposed to different water qualities, which may cause illness when added to the stress of being on a trip.
Giving “wet” food items that the parrot is used to eating, like apples, grapes, berries and even some veggies, will help keep the bird hydrated. Pellets and other food that the bird eats as a main diet should be offered constantly while traveling. The important thing to keep in mind is that the parrot should only be given food it has seen and eaten before, as birds usually avoid eating anything new.
If the owners will need to stay at a hotel at any point during the journey, they should call ahead to be sure it’s okay to keep a bird in the room. Most pet-friendly hotels should be okay with a feathered friend, but it is always important to check before making a reservation.
Also, it’s essential to get a health certificate if traveling across state lines, usually within 30 days before the trip. Some bird species also require a permit to travel between states, and some are not allowed into certain states. Owners should do some research to be sure they will not have any problems when traveling with their bird.
Last but not least, bird owners need to be prepared for possible injuries to their pet. At the very least, they need to carry a towel to wrap the bird, some strong tweezers or a hemostat to pull out a broken blood feather (a new feather shaft that will bleed like crazy if busted) and some styptic powder for pets to stop any bleeding, usually from a broken toenail. If a bird is injured or begins to act ill in any way, such as sleeping a lot, not eating or drinking, or exhibiting changes in behavior, it needs to see an avian veterinarian right away.
Traveling with pets can be rewarding for both the owner and the bird, as long as the owner is prepared and the bird isn’t overly stressed. Of course, it’s not the right choice for every pet—owners should consider if their bird would be happier left at home with a pet sitter or taken to a boarding facility. Although smaller birds usually can be left for a weekend with extra food and water, larger parrots should not be left alone all day. In most cases, parrots really enjoy going on a trip with their owners, so when it is possible, it’s great to take them along.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.