As the weather warms and people start opening their windows, odds increase that Parrots will inadvertently escape from their homes and become lost. Unfortunately, many of these birds are never recovered, but diligent work can often lead to happy endings.
Please remember that Parrots are not homing pigeons. (And not all pigeons are homing pigeons, either!) Besides, they don’t even know what the outside of your home looks like.
Aviculturist and trainer Chris Shank free-flew a small flock of Parrots for several years in the wilds of northern California, USA, and one of the first steps of the laborious training process was to take the bird onto the roof so it learnt what her house looked like from the air.
Believe it or not, my old Blue and Yellow Macaw Sam has escaped three times in the 35 years we’ve been together. (I know, I know.) In my defence, I was responsible for only two of her unsupervised flights. (At least it wasn’t all three!)
Escape #1: Sam’s first escape happened shortly after I purchased her so many years ago. She’d been fully flighted with her past owners, but I had succumbed to the generally accepted approach to Parroting in the USA at the time, and got her wings clipped. I don’t remember who did the grooming (likely a pet store employee), but I still remember what her wings looked like. The groomer clipped every single flight feather, primary and secondary. Shortly afterwards, believing the old wives’ tales about birds with clipped wings not being able to fly, I took her outside with me.
I learned Sam’s opinion of fireworks when a neighbour set off something that went “BANG!” and Sam was gone. Poof. If she’d taken a moment to look at her wings, she would’ve known she could NEVER have flown. After all, she had no intact flight feathers! But she was already gone, and flew about 14 meters (45 feet) up in a tree at a 45% angle. (When this sort of impossible thing happens in people, they call it “super-human strength”. I just called it an incredible adrenalin rush.)
I was very lucky. Sam sat in the tree and laughed while I got a long ladder and climbed up and got her. Whew! 34 year later, I can still remember the twisting, nauseating sensation in my gut as I watched her fly away...
That was the only time I ever clipped Sam’s flight feathers, and I was heavily criticized in the early 90s for this, as everyone in the US thought it was dangerous to allow a Parrot to have flight. My response was quite simple. “You think your bird can’t fly. I know mine can. Mine’s safer.”
Escape #2: I was not home for Sam’s second breakout. My boyfriend at the time opened the sliding glass door in my apartment when Sam was not caged, and away she went. He called me immediately, but I was over an hour away and it was late afternoon. I was never going to get home before dark, and it was October and chilly.
Fortunately, said boyfriend had already recovered her by the time I arrived. He’d gotten the clever idea to follow the sound of children. Sam has always enjoyed entertaining youngsters (I think she likes their shrill voices), and she was easily located on a 3rd story balcony rail, yelling gleefully down at a cluster of ecstatic children. Said boyfriend climbed the balconies and recovered the Macaw. The happy result was a safe Parrot and me not being jailed for the homicide of the boyfriend in question.
Escape #3: Sam’s third getaway was entirely my fault. I had a little patio off my apartment and Sam and I often sat out there after dark, watching the fireflies. I knew she would not voluntarily fly when she couldn’t see well, so was comfortable with the situation. Of course, the trick word is “voluntarily.” The lawn chair wasn’t properly notched together so it collapsed under her weight when I set her on it. Away she flew.
That time of evening the ground was quite dark but the sky was still a little light, so I could see her as she sped away. I knew she would come down as soon as she located safe landing, so I ambled across the field that backed my apartment building. Keeping my eye on her, I was able to see her land with a squawk on a second story windowsill on the other side of the field. (As a humorous aside, there apparently was an unseen teenage boy crossing the field at the time, as I heard a cracked male voice say, “God DAMN!” as Sam’s long wingspan soared over him.)
At any rate, I strolled across the field and knocked on the door of the row house with the windowsill and a nice lady answered the door.
I said, “May I come in and get my Parrot off your upstairs windowsill?” And she said, “You must be Sam’s mummy!” (As I liberated Sam from her ledge, the lady explained that her daughter was one of the [approximately 2,377] children that would come daily to talk and laugh with Sam through my screen door.)
So I was very, VERY lucky in all three cases ... but many people are not so fortunate.
My Parrot Has Escaped, What Do I Do?
To research this article, I did an internet search and found lots of articles and stories about recovering escaped birds. As is usually true of the people’s experience, much of it was contradictory, so people must make their own choices as to which tack to follow. Thanks for the input from Emily Heenan, Jeannie Pattison, Scott Lewis, Dr. Louise Bauck, Barry Thaxton, plus a couple of anonymous internet articles, and for 911 Parrot Alert, an international Parrot locating website.
When You Know Where It Is....
When a Parrot escapes, the first and most important thing to do is to keep the bird in sight. Knowing the bird’s location is half the battle. Grab your mobile phone as you head out the door, and call friends for help and supplies. Hunting in pairs is ideal, so stay with the bird while you call for help!
If possible, move the bird’s cage outside in plain sight, either in the yard or on the roof. Stock it with food and water and goodies. Also, have a friend contact with details of your lost pet or the National Theft Register in the UK.
It is crucial that you stay calm, as your agitation will upset your Parrot and likely cause him to avoid you. Shrieking and screaming is therefore NOT advised, no matter how distraught you are. You also should avoid crowds, as this might upset him as well.
If your bird lands in a tree, don’t try to climb it unless you are sure you can do so safely. Falling out of a tree is not likely to help your Parrot! Also be prepared for the bird to fly off. If a bird’s location is known, sometimes fire companies or tree services will help.
Carry a pillowcase and a length of rope, so if you catch the bird you needn’t stick a terrified and frantically biting critter inside your shirt. Use the rope to lower the pillowcase to the ground, which is easier and safer than trying to climb down holding it.
Another trick to lure Parrots down is to bring a Parrot friend (or human one) outside and pay lots of attention to it. Jealousy might lure in your flyaway. Another excellent trick is to set up a picnic under the tree in which the bird is roosting, and laugh and make happy eating noises. This might encourage the escapee to join the fun. Play a recording of the bird’s voice and remove cats and dogs from the area.
If the bird roosts and it’s getting dark, advice varies according (I guess) to species. For Grey Parrots, renowned African Parrot breeder Jeannie Pattison recommends you look for a Grey before sun-up while it is still dark, and after sundown. She feels Greys are the most vocal then, and the most active.
For other species, the advice seems slightly different. Once dusk arrives, many Parrots will not choose to fly or vocalize so as not to attract predators. Consequently, your bird is instinctively unlikely to answer your call, even if you’re close to it. During the day, a Parrot may not respond to your voice if it is perched down low, for the same reason. So you should go home and get some sleep for the long day tomorrow. But you DEFINITELY need to be back out with your bird before dawn the next morning.
The use of water can be controversial, but it seems likely that depends on how aggressively it is done. Both Jeannie Pattison and Scott Lewis recommend hosing a bird down, as a bird that is soaked cannot fly. However, you cannot be timid about this or you are likely to watch a damp bird fly away. Do not hose a bird down at dusk unless you are guaranteed you can capture it successfully. Also, it is NOT recommended that you try to hose down a Parrot that is sitting on power lines, as electrical shock is possible.
When You Don’t Know Where It Is....
First thing to do is make bazillions of posters with photos of your bird, contact names and numbers, and the word “REWARD!” without stating the amount. Emphasize how much you care about the Parrot, to encourage its return if it is found. Put them on every surface you can find that will allow them.
Carry tape for glass and brick and a staple gun for wood. If your Parrot is very tame, it might go to a stranger for food, so make certain the posters are everywhere. Hand them out to kids in the neighbourhood and pay them a couple of bucks to help you look – but make certain they know not to yell at the bird if they locate it. Children are not only excited to help, but they are likely to tell you if a neighbour has found the bird and not told you.
Here in the USA, the police will not help you reclaim a Parrot from someone who has found it, so be prepared to prove ownership in court, if necessary. Have on file the bird’s band numbers, any identifying marks, etc. Microchipping is ideal for this, as it is a legal record of ownership.
Take posters to veterinary offices (dog and cat as well as avian), animal shelters, pets stores, zoos, local breeders, bird clubs, nature centres, wildlife sanctuaries etc. Ask them to also be on the lookout for people who might phone and ask how to identify what kind of a Parrot they have. Give a poster to your mail carrier or post it on your mailbox. Also put ads in your local papers and try the local radio and television stations as well.
Next thing you do is LISTEN. Walk and/or bike around your neighbourhood calling the bird’s name and then listening to hear if the bird answers. If the bird has favourite bells, carry one and ring it. If you have tapes of the bird’s voice, play them loudly. Have your other searchers do the same. All searchers should be equipped with pillowcases and mobile phones, too.
NEVER assume the bird has stayed in your neighbourhood. Birds have been recovered as far away as 50 miles. When they escape, they are often chased by crows and hawks and they can fly miles and miles in a straight line, trying to escape them.
If you need to go traipsing through people’s yards, knock on their doors and get permission whenever possible. One of your team can do that while you continue to look. While you search, it is also convenient to have an answering machine you can check remotely, in case someone calls with information. Check your machine every few minutes.
DON’T GIVE UP!!!
I have heard of lost birds being recovered months and even years later, so DO NOT give up your search. I had one client stick to the search and she finally recovered her lost Budgie several months after his escape. Don’t give up hope!
A Final Note
One of the most infuriating things I have ever heard Parrot owners say is, “My Parrot loves me and would never leave me.” This apparently justifies their walking around outside with a Parrot on their shoulder (no doubt to attract notice and get the owners the attention they so obviously crave.)
The reality is quite different when it comes to escaped birds. Parrots startle easily and escape has to do with survival, not whether the bird loves you or not. PLEASE keep your bird safe at all times, either outside in a secure cage or wearing a tether or harness. If your bird escapes and never returns, you will likely feel awful about it ... but you will live through the experience. Your Parrot may not.
The following websites also provide information about recovering escaped birds:
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