Vacation planning and companion parrots

by Michelle Underhill

Trent River, New Bern, North Carolina

Trent River, New Bern, North Carolina

Summer is a popular time to take a vacation. For those of us with parrots and other pets, several questions always come to mind concerning what to do with the pets during that upcoming, well-anticipated vacation. Some people are lucky enough to have a bird-savvy friend with whom they can entrust their bird’s care. Not all of us are so lucky, though. If that is the case for you, here are a few other available options.

Option 1: Board your parrot(s)

Some veterinary clinics will board your birds while you are away. This provides additional peace of mind for many, knowing that their bird is already in a great place in case the bird gets sick. Check with your veterinary clinic to see if they offer this service and what the pricing may be. If they do not offer boarding, they may be able to refer you to a reputable place that does. Be sure to also check on what days you can drop off and pick up your bird. Some clinics that offer boarding have staff come in to care for birds every day of the week, but only allow you to pick up animals after you return from your trip during normal business hours.

Check out the boarding space

Don’t be afraid to ask to see the space a clinic or other boarding service has available for birds. If multiple species are boarded in the same facility, I always like to check to make sure that the “prey” animals, like parrots, are kept out of eyesight of any predatory animals like dogs, cats, ferrets, or snakes, primarily for the comfort of the animals themselves.

Pro tip: Book your parrot’s stay as far in advance as you can, especially if you are traveling over a popular holiday. Places that board birds can fill up, and you want to make sure there is room for your feathered friend.

Option 2: Have a pet sitter come to your home to care for your bird(s)

You may want to hire a professional pet sitter to come to your house one or more times a day to care for your birds. This is an option I’ve used in the past, and have had someone come to care for my animals twice a day. An added benefit of going this route is that many pet sitters will bring in mail, water plants, turn lights on and off, and open and close shades for your animals. This can make the house look more lived in while you are away. You generally pay a fee per visit, and if you have multiple animals, additional fees may apply. For a set price, some professional pet sitters will also stay overnight in your home to make sure your animals are okay, if desired.

How to find an in-home pet sitter

Recommendations for pet sitters from other bird owners in your area or from your veterinary clinic may be helpful. If that isn’t an option, the Association of Professional Pet Sitters has a directory of pet sitters on their website at petsitters.org. You can search it by location, and by the types of animals with which the pet sitter has experience. It is important to email the pet sitter in advance to make sure they care for birds, even if their profile indicates they do. I have contacted some in the past who included birds in their profile because they might feed a finch or parakeet every now and then for a client who also has dogs or cats, but they weren’t comfortable taking on a client who had several parrots. It is important to ask what experience they have caring for birds, to make sure they know what signs to look for if an issue arises.

Pro tip: Even if you don’t have a trip in the works, but think a professional pet sitter is the right option for you, go ahead and identify one you’d like to use and go through the initial new client visit with them. That way, you are established with them and are ready when you do have an upcoming trip! Also, book your pet sitter well in advance if you think you might be going away for holidays like Thanksgiving, as their schedule may . fill up during certain times of the year, too.

Option 3: Bring your bird(s) with you on vacation

Three parrots with their travel cages

Three parrots, their travel cabins, and portable travel table.

When we adopted a fifth parrot, we purchased a vehicle with a third row for when we take “family” vacations. Just as we like a change of scenery from time to time, some birds like to have one, too. Some pet friendly hotels are happy to have them stay with you. It is important to call the hotel in advance to make sure. I’ve also found that some owner-managed pet friendly vacation rentals through VRBO or AirBnB are also happy to have you bring your birds as long as you ask, and tell them about the birds, in advance. My parrots (and bunnies) have traveled with me to the mountains and to the coast this way.

I’ve also heard several people bring their parrots camping with them! It can be done.

Additional packing tips if bringing your birds on vacation with you

Bringing pets on vacation does take advanced planning, even after you find a hotel or rental house willing to have them come with you. Sometimes I feel I pack more items for them than for us.

Travel cage (aka travel cabin) for your bird

If your bird is going to spend be spending time in their travel cage while you go to a museum or out to dinner, then you want one your bird is comfortable in. Some will bring a large cage to set up in the vacation home, which is wonderful if you can do it! My travel cages also have to serve as my birds’ vacation cabins. If this is the case for you, too, travel cages with bars rather than ones that are primarily plastic are better options. I also bring lightweight, aluminum, telescoping folding tables, to ensure I have a surface on which to place their travel cages. I bring rope perches to put on top of their travel cages so the cages can double as a play stand. I also bring extra toys for them to destroy, to keep those beaks busy.

Bringing bird safe cleaners or cookware

Packing a bird safe cleaner is important, to clean up after the birds. And, if I am going to prepare meals in a vacation rental, I pack my aluminum baking sheet, stainless steel frying pan, and a stainless steel pot, in case all the cookware provided in the rental house is non-stick, and thus harmful to birds. So, packing a few cookware items may also be important. Of course, you’ll want to bring any pellets or treats that your birds eat, too, if they may not be readily available in nearby stores.

Checking a vacation rental for possible dangers upon arrival

When we arrive at a pet-friendly vacation rental, the first thing my husband and I do is have one of us go inside to look for, and smell for, things that could be hazardous to the birds. The other person remains in the car with the birds while this happens. If there are any plug-in air fresheners, etc. in use, we unplug them, leave them unplugged, and put them in a place far away from where we will have the birds. We only plug them back in once the birds are out of the house and we are ready to leave. If ceiling fans are left on in the house, we often turn them off and make sure we familiarize ourselves with the location of the switch that controls the fan to prevent any bird flight accidents.

Enjoy your trip!

By planning for your birds and other animals in advance, and ensuring they are cared for, you’ll no doubt enjoy you vacation even more! Safe travels, and have fun!

From feather plucker to re-feathered: A success story

Birdie, before re-feathering. Photo by Kevin Blaylock

Birdie, before re-feathering. Photo by Kevin Blaylock

Feather picking is a common problem in companion parrots, and causes great angst for many people who live with birds who do. The cause of feather picking often remains a mystery to bird owners, veterinarians, and behaviorists, though medical care, foraging and enrichment opportunities, and nutritious foods are often provided in an attempt to eliminate or at least curtail feather destructive behavior.

Cause or causes?

Often, we try to identify ONE cause of feather picking. As bird owners, we sometimes think if we identify a single cause and “fix” it, all will be well for our bird. What if there isn’t one single cause? What if there are several different causes that lead some birds to pick their feathers?

The road to fully feathered

Evet Loewen, who adopted a caique named Birdie from Phoenix Landing who engaged in feather destructive behavior in 2017, set out on a journey to help her. What did Loewen do that helped Birdie? She took multiple approaches simultaneously, and the result is a healthier, happier, and fully feathered Birdie! Birdie’s care and treatment included establishing a daily routine that included safe time outside for access to full spectrum sunlight, a variety of healthy foods that were supplemented with Buriti oil (which contains vitamins E, C, and A, essential fatty acids, and carotenoids), medical care and treatment by a knowledgeable veterinarian, enrichment, and a social life for Birdie.

Read more about the multi-prong approach that helped Birdie

Loewen wrote an excellent article in the December 2018 issue of World Parrot Trust’s PsittaScene, to share exactly what Birdie’s routine, medical care, food, enrichment, and social life looked like. You may download and read the entire article at https://issuu.com/worldparrottrust/docs/birdie-refeathering-success-story.

Thumb name of the article in PsittaScene

Click to read or download the full article from World Parrot Trust’s Winter 2018 issue of PsittaScene.

Feather picking may have many causes simultaneously

Loewen’s conclusion is that there wasn’t just one cause of Birdie’s feather picking behavior. There were several. She includes tips in her article for others facing feather destructive behavior in their own birds. It is a must read for all those who experience the ups and downs of living with a bird who exhibits feather destructive behavior.

Tips for Living with a Special Needs Bird

by Dawn Grace

Special needs Quaker parakeet hanging out with cockatooIs it more work to live with a special needs bird? Not necessarily!

Living with a parrot is challenging, no doubt about it.  So, does that mean that living with a handicapped parrot is more difficult?  Not necessarily!  The basics still apply – ample cage space, good nutrition, proper avian vet care, environmental enrichment and safety.  With a few adjustments, you can help your bird live fully with its disability.

My experience with a special needs bird

My experience has involved 18 years living with a doubly handicapped Quaker.  He came to me with a missing foot.  Many years into our journey, he also managed to fall, which resulted in losing his sight in one eye.  Since his foot had been that way since birth or nearly so, it didn’t slow him down at all.  Birds use their beaks as an appendage for many activities anyway!  He did, however, go through a period after the blindness where he was less active.  I watched him carefully to see how I could help.  Approaching him from the sighted eye was an easy adjustment for me, and gave him more security.

Thinking outside the box concerning housing and enrichment

For a disabled bird, you may have to think outside of what is recommended for cages, play stands, or enrichment.  For example, if a bird is blind, has arthritis, or is missing a limb, work with your veterinarian to consider what an optimal environment looks like concerning cage size, shape, and placement. What modifications cane be made for your bird to feel and be safe? Sometimes, special perches, like corner perches, can be easier for special needs birds to stand on.  In some cases, a bird who is very challenged with mobility might do better in a space with enrichment and perching opportunities that are low in the cage, to prevent falls.

Observing your bird in the cage helps.  Can he get around the toys without difficulty?  Are there enough perches, in various widths and types, to allow access to the bowls (ideally there are three bowls – water, pellets, and fresh food)?  Parrots in general like to hunt (forage) for their food.  That is what they would do naturally in the wild.  However, foraging might look a little different depending on your bird.  Start easy and small – a tasty item covered with a thin tissue for example.  It might be that a handicapped parrot wants its environment simple.  Making this decision, as with all the choices suggested here, is one that is best chosen by you, as you spend time watching your companion (and keeping in contact with your vet too!).

Flight may be especially important

Another option to consider with handicapped birds is the opportunity to fly.  As with any parrot, you should always be aware of the environment. Our homes have many dangerous opportunities for a bird, including but not limited to other pets, open water (toilets, tubs, pans), ceiling fans, hot stoves, fireplaces, windows, and doors. My birds have their own room with a door that can be shut, keeping them safe from kitchen, bathroom, and other dangers.  If the Quaker falls in the bird room, he can more easily fly to the ground without hurting himself. To allow a bird flight is a very individual decision.  Again, checking with your vet first to weigh the pros and cons is essential.

Special needs Quaker parakeet eatingNutrition and food

Nutrition remains the same for the disabled bird, with one possible exception.  A beak injury may require syringe feeding or a mash diet, instead of more whole foods.  Please do your best to offer a healthy varied diet, including pellets, seeds & nuts in moderation, and plenty of veggies, fruit, whole grains and omega 3 sources (including but not limited to flax seed, chia seed and walnuts).

Veterinary visits

A yearly visit to your avian vet applies to full bodied and disabled parrots equally.  Baseline blood work can help you help your bird through all the transitions of life.  Additionally, this visit can alert you to possible deficiencies in your bird’s diet.

The most important thing to remember in caring for your bird (handicapped or otherwise) –please give him or her plenty of loving attention, with intention.