was the plan. A cross country adventure with one less than our entire menagerie. All but Opal, our wonderful little lovebird, were to head out across the US from Tucson, Arizona destined to arrive in New York a week later, cooking all meals and sleeping in the van.
This article is intended to be a helpful guide to traveling with parrots, on both short and long trips, with an emphasis on car camping, but advice on car travel and motels has been included as well. It is intended to be more informal than my previous article on air travel.
This was not the first trip with these three birds - Siva, an Umbrella Cockatoo, Cado, an imported Blue Fronted Amazon and Dorian, a Congo African Grey. Together they had traveled to California, both Southern and Northern.
I am not a proponent of tent camping with parrots for some obvious reasons. Parrots in their cages with food are an open invitation for wildlife to break into the tent. There is no control of temperatures, and inclement conditions could cause your bird to suffer extreme temperature fluctuation. Storms can and do occur, tents have been known to spring a leak or two, winds, drafts... I therefore will leave the decision of whether or not to proceed in this vein to the reader.
We have been camping in a VW van since the mid seventies. Before the parrots entered our lives we converted a van for travel and crossed country many times. Prior to planning our trip with the birds and dogs, Luke and Maya, our shih tzus, we purchased a used VW Vanagon which better suited our needs. We like to camp in fairly remote places, rarely in campgrounds, and often, in desperation, at rest areas along the side of the freeway. The van allowed us the luxury of being able to cook and eat while on the move without worrying about the weather. It is complete with two double beds, a pop top and screens, and extra outlets for electronic equipment.
Luke and Maya are easy and have been traveling for years. Their needs are simple - only leashes, food, water and toys. The birds, however, presented us with a whole series of new things to think about and required much planning. Initially our intention was to be gone from 3-4 weeks. On a trip of several thousand miles, anything can happen, so it was important to bring more than we needed for the birds as there was no guarantee that we would find the foods they were used to on the road.
For short trips it is imperative to have food on hand in case of a delay or car trouble. I bring the same items for a short trip as a long one, only less in the case of food, water and treats. If the trip is in town I use airline carriers. For all other trips I use the travel cage as the birds need to perch, eat and play.
Packing for the parrots was a major undertaking. The mixture of pellets, seeds, nuts, nutriberries etc. were sorted and packed into daily portions for a fourteen day period. Bags were then grouped into units of three and packed into larger plastic bags. Five weeks of each part of the mixture was individually packed into larger bags, and these all were loaded into a large black canvas bag which was placed at the bottom of the clothes closet. The backpack was loaded with the fourteen day assortment, and vitamins. The first aid kit* was loaded into the pack as well and is carried with us for any trip out of the house with the parrots. *(see article Winged Wisdom, August '96, "The Avian First Aid Kit").
Another bag was packed with toys for rotation within the cages, which
included wood blocks, cuttlebone, Siva's favorite blanket and extra towels.
Travel cages were located, newspaper for cage bottoms, counted out and
stacked along with a spray bottle for showers, portable T-stands, food,
water and vegetable dishes, extra snack dishes, cage covers and carriers.
Six gallons of bottled water was purchased and loaded into the car under the
We had planned the cage positions, with Siva's, the largest, on the floor
behind the passenger seat and attached with bungee to it, all cage doors
faced away from the door, so that in the event of an emergency any bird
could be removed quickly. The cages were bungeed together for safety and
Siva's was attached to the passenger seat. Dorian's was attached with bungee
on top of Siva's and Cado's on the floor next to Siva's cage. Siva would
ride on the arm rest, and Dorian and Cado would spend the afternoons on top
of Dorian's cage where more toys were attached. Siva had toys attached to
the passenger seat and all had a view out of the front window. The dogs
would ride, one on the back seat or in the well and the other on top of the
stove top behind the driver.
In the well in the back was our bedding, extra blankets for cold nights,
three carriers for emergency, and the two canvas bags mentioned before, my
banjo and one milk carton each for our clothing. We also took along a small
oscillating fan for those close, still, hot nights when the air refuses to
move. Another use for the spray bottle was that when crossing the Mohave in
the summer to or from California, the birds
could be sprayed, which they very much enjoy, allowing them to benefit from
evaporative cooling. We would often spray them and each other when we had to
turn the air off while going up a steep grade. Once when traveling across the
desert with Siva, he became hot and found that he could stand in his
drinking water to cool off. We always try to cross the desert at night
during the summer, finally stopping after we have climbed out of the desert
and up into the hills.
A carrier for each parrot was packed behind
the rear seat for use in the event of an emergency either on the road or at
our destination. Vegetables and fruit were packed in the fridge, and three
portable T-stands were broken down and placed behind the driver's seat.
Directly behind the passenger seat two folding tray tables were fastened and
to them and the seat, Siva's cage. We had a paper towel rack, however when
the wind blew, so did the towels and a flag of paper unraveled into the car
providing the birds with hours of entertainment. The three t-stands would
come in handy at the rest areas allowing the birds to join us for meals.
Shopping was done in shifts. One of us would stay with the animals while
the other picked up supplies. If one forgot something the other would make
the second trip to the store.
One year ago during the Thanksgiving holiday while we were visiting family in Northern California, we had the misfortune to be in a traffic accident. We had just left my daughter's home, and being afternoon I released the birds from the travel cages as we set out. Siva was on the arm of the front seat with my son. We were broadsided by a speeding car, which careened into the rear left side of the van. The impact pivoted the car 180 degrees causing the front to have little movement. I was in the rear with the other two birds. It was sudden, and once the car and I stopped spinning I set out to find the birds. Siva was on the gas pedal, Cado was on the oldest dog's head in what looked like a nest, behind the driver, and Dorian was on the floor. My concern was for the sensitive grey, who looked up at me and said, "up!!!", completely undaunted by the accident. In this case, though I do not recommend loose birds in the car, the ability of short flight, saved the birds from impact. The travel cages did fall over and one was dented. All of the animals were fine. One large metal t-stand in the well was destroyed. As I hadn't a seat belt I was tossed across the car, managing to hit my head on every available surface, and to cut my leg on the travel cage. We were indeed very lucky.
While traveling in the car with parrots, you would need to arrange ahead for lodging. Not all motels will allow pets. There are books on traveling with your pets, and it would be in your best interest to get one of them for your trip and to make reservations ahead of time. The one I use is, "Eileen's Directory of Pet-Friendly Lodging US & Canada" by Eileen Barish. In the case of an extremely well behaved parrot, you could sneak it into the room unseen, but you are gambling since if the bird goes off like a siren, you could be tossed out into the night. Cooking for the birds becomes a problem when traveling in a car. I would probably order things that they could enjoy for dinner, such as pasta, eggs etc. or better yet, bring along a camping stove and cook at rest areas.
To sum up, plan ahead, stay within speed limits and prepare your birds
ahead of time with short trips. By all means take your time, stop to smell
the roses and drive carefully. As I said in my previous article, evaluate
your parrot for
travel so that your unforgettable vacation does not become your
and advice on traveling with your pet birds in automobiles or vans.