Your parrot escapes. What do you do? Dorothy Schwarz talks about her personal experience and knowledge of this situation.
You went to answer the front door bell and forgot that the parrot was on your shoulder. She flew outside and was lost behind the tall hedge that’s separates your suburban house from your neighbour’s. Are you likely to retrieve her? John Hayward of Parrot Theft Register reckons that half the calls he gets for lost birds are reunited. Probably that means substantially more than half of lost birds are found because when many of us find our birds, we don’t inform anyone. Whether I am particularly careless as well as especially lucky is debatable. But over the last 20 years I’ve lost numerous birds but I’ve also retrieved almost all of them and this includes aviary and pet birds.
Case Study One: Max – a holiday boarder
Max a pet African Grey stays here twice a year when the family are on holiday. One his first day I was bringing him in from the aviary. The crate was new and I hadn’t closed it correctly. Max leaned against it. The improperly closed lock sprung open and Max darted like an arrow into top of a high poplar in the field.
It was getting dark. Birds do not usually fly down in darkened situations; they roost. No way to spot him or bring him down. Next morning the family had not yet left for Spain, they arrived at 6 am. Max was no longer in the poplars but as I’d guessed, was staying on the property.
He flew into a high Leyllandi (30 metres) and watched us with his head on one side. His body language showing he was relaxed. The owners would not stop whistling. I urged them to stop. Max was enjoying himself too much to fly down. And he was comfortable with his family (his human flock) around him.
I set up a picnic table in front of the tall tree and we pretended to eat chocolate cookies. And yes, as I knew he would, (Birds flying down to enjoy treats has been well documented) a couple of minutes later, Max flew straight down to his Dad’s shoulder. The family caught their ferry in time.
Case Study Two: The Disappearing Pigeons
Casper and Artha my beloved pair of African Greys, often hang out in my office on their play stand while I’m writing. How did this accident happen? One day the window was left too far open. Casper flew out. I scooped up Artha, shut her in the sitting room cage and tore outside
In my sight – fast flying out of it – was a large flock of pigeons – maybe thirty. One had a red tail. ‘Casper,’ I yelled, ‘Casper.’
The pigeons flew on. I yelled louder. Just as it was flying out of range, the red tailed pigeon left the flock, flew a semi-circle and landed on the bungalow roof. He knows step up and came easily to my waiting hand
Had he remained with the flock he‘d surely have become very lost.
Case Study Three: Mia’s Adventure
Every day, Stefano Salles takes his 8-month old Grey to his Streatham pet shop, Dr Dolittle’s. Last May he was taking her out of the car at home when the crate door burst open. There was heavy rain and Mia spooked out of sight. Stefano did all the right things, informed the relevant people, put up flyers walked the area exhaustively but no Mia. A Grey was spotted in a nearby park but it wasn’t Mia. On the 3rd morning, she landed at a neighbour’s patio, who threw a laundry basket over her and took her to the vet. Her microchip was scanned and Mia was reunited with Stefano that morning. She suffered no ill health from her two-day adventure. The crate now has a padlock.
Case Study Four: Basil, a wild caught Orange Winged Amazon
This pair of semi-tame Amazons lived in the aviary but were brought inside in the ferocious winter a few years ago. On Saturday morning, Basil was enjoying some out of cage time in the sitting room. The dog opened the passage door and Basil went AWOL at 8.20 am. It took 24 hours to catch him.
The outdoor temperature was below freezing. Basil spent 6 hours flying in the tops of the trees. He came down lower after some hours. I stayed out with him all the time, my husband bringing hot drinks every hour. I tried putting Lena, a flightless Amazon on the aviary roof but Basil would not come down and Lena never uttered a squawk. I nearly caught him at 4 pm then he went to roost behind the aviary in thick ivy.
Sunday morning. Dawn after 7 am. I heard him just after. He went back to the tops of the trees and called. Was I imagining things? He sounded like he was calling his flock. Not distress not the happy prrt sound Amazons make – simply a sort of – where are you, where are you – call? The grace and skill with which he flew back and forth along the 400 metres of the oak screen had to be seen to be believed.
At 8 a.m. he came down to the aviary roof but ignored the nut I offered. He flew to the other side of the aviary into a tree. I was feeling optimistic because he must be getting hungry. When I got there, I waited a few seconds before showing him the monkey nut which I placed against a low branch. He seemed to think about it then clambered down the tree to take it. Positive reinforcement be damned – I grabbed his toe. He bit me, not viciously I might add. I held his body against me. I would have liked a gradual retrieval not a grab but the forecast was set below freezing for that night and I was frightened that I might not retrieve him.
He was back indoors eating in the bird room with Cybil his mate after 24 hours in below freezing temperatures which seemed not to have harmed him.
It was food that caught him.
- A list of telephone numbers, binoculars, template for a lost bird flyer, a positive frame of mind.
- Facebook and Twitter have lost bird sites and they are instrumental in reuniting many lost birds.
- But it is worth bearing in mind that the majority of captive birds unless chased or spooked will be nearer rather than further from their home. They do not want to be lost any more than you wish to lose them.
- Putting the cage outside or if that is too big the play stand often brings the truant home. I have caught kakariki, sun conures, pigeons, Amazons, Alexandrines and others with that method.
USEFUL DETAILS TO KEEP IN A SAFE PLACE
- Your birds’ band number and microchip number
- Telephone numbers and websites you should always have handy
LOCAL VETINARY CLINICS for your own area
Local Police Station
Lost Parrots Register
Parrot Alert UK
- If you have a printer then make up a flyer and put it all round the neighbourhood.
Oh, and do remember once you have the bird back to take down the flyers.
- As you saw from the case study of Mia some precautions are worthwhile. Microchipping is not costly and helps reunite many found birds with their owners. Many birds have the closed ring. I’ve put an open ring on my macaw who wasn’t ringed as a baby. It has my telephone number on it.
- Skills which will help your bird should it get lost
You and your bird should have a contact call that you use to one another indoors or in the aviary. In the nerve wracking situation that your bird is outside, if she is used to answering your call, she will probably do so even if hidden from sight.
Every pet bird needs to know the recall. If you do not know how to teach it, Mike Simmons has issued an easy to follow DVD which shows how a novice Amazon is taught the flighted recall indoors.
If you are able to take your bird to a large enclosed space like a school hall, or a large aviary and let her work out how to fly down, that’s an important skill to have. Captive cage birds often have never flown down from a height and it can be much harder to retrieve them if they are in a tree.
There are no certainties if a bird is loose but in general, the sooner you find where it is perched or where it has gone, the more likely you are to retrieve it.
A useful tip from Chris Biro who trains free flighted birds, once you have found the bird, do NOT leave it. Then if it flies off you know in which direction. Although Artha and Casper know the recall they do not always choose to comply. Artha, when an unwary guest left the bird room door open, flew up into to the large oak tree. A really comfy and fun place to perch. I called her down. She watched me. I waited and yes, she flew down but it was three hours later.
A friend of mine had a Grey fly outside one winter’s night. She was a young African grey hen well trained in flighted indoor recall. In spite of the often stated view that birds no NOT fly in the dark, this hen answered the recall whistle and flew down.