Many accidents can be prevented by forethought but not all.
Am I especially careless? I do seem to have had rather more close calls than I should have. I allow my four pet Parrots most evenings into the bungalow I share with husband Wal, two dogs a cat and from time to time visiting grown up kids and their kids. We watch TV companionably together. The Parrots have ropes, perches and places where they are supposed to go.
One December night several years back, Wal had gone shopping. He came home at 7.30 pm and unloaded his bags. ‘You left the front door open,’ I complained bitterly.’ You know Artha and Casper are loose.’
‘Birds won’t fly into the dark, he replied airily.
Casper was safely perched, eating a fir cone. Artha was missing! I searched the house. Every room she was allowed in, and in every one she was not. NO Artha. At nine o’clock I went outside with a flashlight and searched the property. I climbed the bungalow roof. A gale was blowing. If she was outside she would have been blown away.
Inside, I emptied every cupboard and drawer and tipped the contents onto the floor; she has a habit of hiding in dark nest-seeming places. The house looked like a bomb had hit it. (I found a few missing items though.)
At ten o’clock, feeling numb, I decided to give up and go to bed. The cat was sitting on the duvet watching in that superior way cats watch. The electric blanket was on to warm our aging bones.
I flung off the duvet. Underneath the cat I found Artha, not exactly fried but certainly warmed through, her feathers almost too hot to touch. She did not seem particularly upset. Why hadn’t she answered my two hours of frantic whistling? I don’t know: she could not tell me.
I don’t blame myself for that incident but an earlier one was due to my fault. It happened long ago but each detail remains etched in my memory. And it provides a cautionary tale for others. Artha had been harness trained at her breeders. She was only a baby - 14 weeks old – enjoying our first trip to the local woods one balmy spring morning. I did not loop the leash onto my wrist or attach it to my belt!
A rook cawed; my young bird leapt from my wrist and flew to the top of a majestic oak.
At that age she hadn’t been taught any sort of recall. A crowd of walkers soon gathered. No way could Wal or I or anyone else climb the oak tree.
This was before mobile phones. A kindly walker went home and called the Fire Brigade. Eight tall men arrived in the wood thirty minutes later. Artha still in the oak tree.
The commotion at the bottom startled her and she flew off. The end of the leash became tangled in a lower branch. Artha swung back and forth like a pendulum. The fireman never hesitated.
One shimmied up the trunk, wedged himself in the fork with a handsaw and sawed off the branch from which the bird dangled. She fell into my arms. Back home, she was quiet that evening; totally her usual self the next morning.
Casper Grey is larger than Artha. He had an escape on my birthday. Again human error. The conservatory where the pet birds live has windows which are opened for air. A screen of metal chains hangs in front of the windows. The birds were outside in the aviary.
A guest went into the conservatory to have a crafty cigarette. He opened the windows to let the smoke out. When I returned the birds into the conservatory for the night I didn’t check behind the screens that the window had been left wide open. Next morning, only one of the four birds - Lily rescue -was still inside.
Perdy the Lesser Sulphur was outside in a rose bush and returned immediately to Wal’s whistle. Artha was preening herself in a tree. The sight of a potato crisp (yes, I know it was wrong but this was an emergency) brought her down to my hand.
Casper was nowhere.
I searched the village all morning. He was spotted at 2 pm on top of the tallest tree in someone’s garden. I sat beneath the tree holding a bowl of treats, Artha beside me on her harness. Casper obligingly returned our contact whistles but had no intention of obeying the recall signal. He was preening and nibbling leaves. He appeared perfectly at ease. At 4 pm he flew away.
I gave up the search after ten hours. Next day, phone calls to vets, Police and RSPB yielded no results. At 7.30 in the evening, I was printing lost bird flyers. Wal said: look outside. Casper was on the aviary roof. He flew down to my hand. He had returned home under his own steam.
Later I heard about some of his adventures the previous day. He had flown into a parked van while the driver was eating a sandwich for his breakfast. Casper shared the sandwich. When the driver decided to pick him up, Casper bit him and flew out of the window. He had been spotted fighting with a seagull on a roof; the fight was a draw.
And there are genuine accidents which happen even in the best regulated Parrot households.
Max Grey is a regular boarder here when his family goes on holiday. Last summer he came for 12 days. He spent the afternoon in the aviary. Although he is a sole bird, he is well socialised to other birds.
Bringing him indoors that night the catch on the carrier broke and Max was flung out. He headed high into our paddock. I watched him disappear into a tall poplar. His distraught owners, parents and daughter arrived and we called Max until dark. They were due to leave on holiday at noon next day.
Next morning they arrived at 6 am. Max had flown out of the tall tree and landed in the Leylandii. He was clearly visible. The owners whistle and whistled. I urged them to stop. I said, ‘now that you’re here and he sees you, he’s nothing to worry about and he’s enjoying himself.’
I urged them to try a trick that’s worked on other loose pet Parrots. We set up a picnic table and four chairs in front of the Leylandii. A picnic at 7 am! I urged them to STOP calling Max, keep their backs turned and pretend to be having fun.
They were NOT having fun but they acted the part. You know how curious Greys are and how much a sole bird wants to be part of his family/flock.
Within a few minutes, Max had flown out of tree and onto the father’s shoulder. Mum and daughter made a fuss of him.
We used a different carrier for the rest of the uneventful visit.
Are there ways to prevent a Parrot becoming lost? Obviously a bird with clipped wings who is kept caged all the time cannot escape. He can however develop other problems due to boredom and an unnatural life. Keeping a flighted curious creature like a Parrot in that manner is selfish in my view.
But if you teach the recall and have the habit of contact calling with your bird. If she does get out, she’ll usually come down to you once she is hungry. The pet Parrot who escapes cage or aviary in most cases stays nearby. Once you have found the bird someone must stay there and watch. If they are accustomed to returning calls from you, they will do so when they hear you.
Almost the case with this owner’s story. She lived in Scotland in a rural area. She lost her Grey and went searching down the lane. There was no response to her calls. She was deeply upset. The next day she decided to walk down again.
Her bird had the embarrassing habit of imitating her husband’s rather loud farts. She called the bird - no response. On a whim, she bubbled her lips in a farting sound. From the middle of a cornfield came an answering faint fart. She found her. The bird had been trapped in the corn and would have starved had she not been discovered.
A moral to the story? Draw your own conclusions.
There is more advice on recovering lost Parrots here.
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