I am often contacted by worried clients who have a quandary. Do they board their parrots or take them along when they have to travel? Whenever possible, I encourage them to take their birds along. Hopefully, this blog post will serve as reassurance and provide tips for those who do consider it.
Many of you know that I recently relocated from Oregon to Indiana with four parrots and a dog. I now have even more personal experience that I can share with you regarding the topic of traveling with parrots by car.
There are many misconceptions about parrots and stress that I especially hope to debunk with this post. There is simply no reason not to take parrots with you if travel arrangements make this possible. If a bird lacks previous travel experience, you can train them to travel and have fun at the same time. Who were my travelers?
Cyrano, my Moluccan Cockatoo, is 45 years old and has lived with me for 25 of those. He can fly a bit, but has limited skills due to a soft-tissue injury to one wing when first adopted out of quarantine. He’s a wild-caught parrot and is as polite as they come, a gentle soul who is just great to have around, despite the noise. He behaved as if this trip was just something we did every day, being an older, wiser bird.
Marko, a female Congo grey, is 26 years old. I owned her parents when I was breeding greys that long ago. An exceptional baby, I kept her for myself and she has been with me ever since. She is a steady companion. She has never once been ill nor has she displayed any problem behaviors. She is a rock.
Chuckie, my male grey, has had little life experience. He is approximately 13 years old. I had long ago, when a veterinary technician, promised to adopt him from his elderly owner when the time came and he has now been mine for four years. He is a steady soul but has lived with clipped wings on top of a cage for most of his life. He now flies moderately well, which is surprising given how long he was clipped. He hasn’t been exposed to much in his life, so can easily get rattled by even small changes.
Ruby, my other female grey, is a firecracker. She is almost three years old. I was her fourth owner when she came to me at the age of just over a year. That unstable early life experience, during a time when she would ordinarily have been still settling into her first home, has left her distrustful of humans. She has never had her wings clipped, so does not show the early compliance that wing clipping often achieves. In addition, the breeder told her first owner not to put her into a cage, so she didn’t. For the first several months of her life, Ruby lived in a room of her own, mostly isolated from the “family flock,” except for a few daily visits.
For the record, that is a terrible thing to do with a parrot. Besides the imposed isolation for most of each day, Ruby never really habituated well to staying in a cage. Unfortunately, most companion parrots need to be in enclosures at certain times. If this habituation does not happen in the first year of life, the parrot may never quite relax when in one. To this day, although I make her cage time as enriching as I possibly can, she resists staying in one. (We continue to work on this through training.) This worried me terribly as I contemplated the journey to Indiana.
We would be on the road for six days, traveling approximately six hours a day in my Ford Fusion. I had no traveling companion myself and had never done anything like this before. Each night we would stay at an Air BnB. The cost for each of these was much less expensive than a hotel room and the informality of the lodgings suited us better, given my companions.
I planned for the drive as carefully as possible, considering all details of the trip. I brought with me two tarps, two queen-sized sheets, and two large towels. Knowing how much of a mess my parrots can make, I wanted to cover up as many surfaces as possible at each place we stayed.
I chose collapsible wire carriers for the birds to travel in. There are superior to plastic or acrylic carriers. The parrots are used to staying in cages and a wire carrier best resembles a cage. The visual consistency of this outer enclosure helps to ensure a feeling of security and greater psychological comfort. I was able to outfit each carrier with two perches and two dishes. These wire carriers also allow the parrots to see each other, me, and whatever is going on outside the windows. They enjoy this. Plus, older parrots are less likely to get “nesty” in a wire carrier and we had a long trip before us.
I was slightly worried that they might decide to bite each other’s feet in the car because the carriers were very close together. After deliberation, I decided not to provide barriers between carriers, figuring I could always fashion something out of the materials onboard if it became an issue. It never did.
I knew we would also need additional perches for the evenings after our arrival. Each carrier could serve as a table-top perch and spot for food dishes, but I also brought along a PVC training perch and one of my Avi-stations from My Birdie Buddy. The latter was really a godsend. These come apart. At each location, I would just take the perches off, take the base apart and load it all into my car. Since it came apart so easily, I could stow each piece into the crevices in the car trunk. Setting these back up was equally easy.
I did also have chop mix for them the first two days, which I brought in a cooler. And once along the way, I cobbled together a mix of frozen veggies and grains, but as fatigue set in, I wasn’t able to keep that up and it didn’t matter in the end. I mention this to reassure you. If you are traveling with your parrots, it won’t hurt them if they don’t get fresh food for a few days.
As for water, I could not fill water dishes before I put the parrots into their carriers because it would slosh out during the process of loading the birds into the car. Neither could I open the carriers to add water once they were in the car. Not only was it logistically impossible, but I also couldn’t take the chance that a bird would get out and fly away. Instead, I put ice cubes into the water dishes before loading the birds up. It worked wonderfully. Many parrots love ice cubes, mine included, so this provided both enrichment and water.
Parrots in unfamiliar surroundings rarely display their typical behaviors. Thus, I had no concern that Cyrano would have one of this evening’s scream-a-thons. My hunch played out – the parrots were quiet for most of the trip, except for in the car. They whooped it up in the car with the music we played but were quiet once we arrived at each destination. You can expect the same.
My anxiety levels were sky-high as we took off on the first morning of our travels. I had no idea what to expect. I had never driven across the country, much less with a bunch of parrots. But take off we did and my parrots surprised me with their enthusiasm. As we drove mile after mile, they sang and chatted each other up as if this was just one big adventure. We were a flock relocating to a different region, all happily traveling together.
Every morning, we reversed the process. The birds ate breakfast while I tidied up. I then put them into their carriers. They waited there while I dissembled the perches, picked up the tarps and sheets, and got everything loaded into the car. A few of the places we stayed were really nice, with yards and sheltering trees, so that they could stay outdoors in their carriers while I packed the car. They were quite delighted with this, even though the carriers were placed on the ground.
A couple of the places we stayed were challenging at the time and amusing in retrospect. I walked into our lodgings for the second night and my jaw dropped. It looked like Martha Stewart had been in charge of decorating. We had every convenience, including a waffle maker and a French press coffee maker. Every single surface was covered with lovely things. In the center of the living area was a wooden oval table with six place-settings. I did away with those immediately and commandeered the table for the carriers.
That was only the beginning of my concerns, though. The owner was apparently an avid collector of mugs. When he had run out of space at the more typical decorating heights, he had placed shelves up on every wall about 24 inches from the ceiling. These were completely covered with the mug collection. If one of my flighted parrots decided to try to land on one of those shelves, it would be disastrous.
However, there was no way I could take down what appeared to be hundreds of mugs, so I just held my breath and prayed that the birds wouldn’t fly much. I am happy to report that we were able to depart without paying for damages. Again, the majority of parrots won’t display typical behaviors in a new situation. At home in a similar situation, they probably would have targeted the mugs just for fun.
In sharp contrast to that stay was the one in Nebraska. I had been told to park in the place marked “Stella Suite.” There was no space marked in that way and by the time I got there, I was out of good humor. This place was out in the middle of f***ing nowhere.
I just parked and got out, disoriented and confused. A woman asked if I was there for the Air BnB. I nodded and asked about the parking. The sign had been cardboard with glitter, but had faded with the rains. Stella is her 3-year-old daughter’s name. How cute. I parked by the cardboard and trudged my way back to the smallest unit imaginable. Which was a part of their house. Behind the locked door into the house, I could hear the child crying … most of the night.
This place was so tiny that it was hard to fit all the perches in decent placement. It also was surrounded by a circle of trees, out of which came an insect chorus that was absolutely freaky. There was no cell service. I didn’t sleep much that night. Martha Steward had definitely not been there.
But we survived it all and arrived in Indiana this past September 1. The trip was difficult and I was exhausted, but the parrots thrived. Both Cyrano and Ruby have a history of feather-damaging behavior. However, neither of them engaged in feather chewing during the trip
This leads me to a couple of points I want to make. First, most people constantly worry about taking any action that might cause stress to their parrots. There is no reason for this. Parrots are resourceful creatures unless they have been disabled by living with clipped wings and deprived of much life experience. Obviously, you would have to prepare and travel carefully with a parrot that is not a confident bird. A flighted bold parrot will carry that confidence into any well-considered adventure you might imagine for the family flock.
Second, when parrots travel together with you, it strengthens bonds. There is something about moving through time and space as a group that is significant to parrots. It changes their behavior in subtle ways. It can result in more desirable behavior, but seems to also result at times in more hormonal behavior. I can’t say more about this at this time. It is merely an observation at this point, which includes not just my own, but client reports also. There’s more to investigate here.
We now are about the job of settling in. The greys immediately took possession of their new cages and really never “missed a beat.” Cyrano too had no problem, although he had to tolerate a temporary cage until his arrived.
If you are considering traveling with your parrots, please do not be discouraged by vague fearful imaginings. Instead, talk to someone with experience who can help offer ideas for your particular situation. It benefits the birds to go places and makes them more well-rounded companions.
While I have focused on traveling by car in this blog, traveling by plane is equally as easily accomplished. I have helped many people to do so.
A Special Note: I would like to thank again those who contributed to my GoFundMe campaign. Without you, I would not have been able to accomplish this most positive change. My quality of life is a thousand percent better. I am surrounded by kind, helpful people. The physical beauty of this place is stunning. I love my little house. My dog has a large acreage to run on.
Thank you for reading my blog. I am Pamela Clark, an IAABC Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant. My passion is helping people with their parrots. To access free resources, schedule a consultation, subscribe to my newsletter (a different publication from this blog, or purchase my webinars, please visit http://www.pamelaclarkonline.com.