The portable parrot
Carriers should be large enough to be equipped with food and at least a few toys. Keep water dishes low while in transit or provide only juicy treats such as slices of fruit. (You can offer your bird bottled water when you stop.) Avoid placing a carrier near an air bag.
A few bird carriers, such as Drs. Foster & Smith's $64.99 Pet Coupe, are specially made to work with seat belts. However, most bird owners find that customizing an existing cage or another type of less expensive animal carrier works just as well for them.
Bart Van Hoyweghen, his wife and four kids wouldn't think of taking a car trip without including Wacko, their two-year-old African grey.
"He's joined us already several times for the weekend," said Van Hoyweghen, a freelance software engineer who lives near Brussels.
Van Hoyweghen bought a 19 1/2" by 23 1/2" by 23 1/2" collapsible dog crate and added two perches and a water and food bowl for Wacko. This year, seven people and a dog will be crammed into the family's Toyota Previa when they leave on vacation, so Wacko's cage will ride in the trunk, which opens into the passenger space.
Sara Beth Scudder takes Mercury the African grey for car rides in a tall but lightweight wire bird cage she secures in the front seat with a lap belt. While the cage is bulky, barely fitting into Scudder’s Altima, she likes the room it gives Mercury.
Scudder says Mercury knows the command "hold on", so when the car has to stop suddenly, "she is very good about holding onto her perch tight." Scudder keeps a harness on Mercury so all she has to do on arrival is snap the lead on and "then we get out and go on our adventure."
For taking along Mercury's large collection of toiletries, Scudder uses an old beach bag from her lifeguard days. She packs newspaper, paper towels, a couple of old dishcloths, water bottle, pellets, seed mix, Nutriberries, toys and a butter knife "to scrape poop if needed cause it lifts it off soooo well".
She also takes a wooden dowel for emergency step-ups, styptic powder in case of bleeding, a couple of plastic bags to store any messy items, and an extra shirt for herself.
All the trouble is well worth it, says Scudder, who takes Mercury to the pet-supply store to pick out her own toys. "She is a perfect little angel and she seems to really enjoy getting out. If birds smile, this is when she does. She just loves to chat with you. We have had some of our most fun times in the car. She just makes us laugh so much."
Trailer for two
The birds and four shih tzus ride in style in a 31-foot trailer that Allison and her husband bought just so their animals could go on vacations with them.
"I resisted buying a trailer until my husband told me, 'If we buy a trailer, you'll always be able to take them with us.' I decided he was right. It was the only way he could travel as he likes and I could take care of my 'kids'".
Each bird has its own dog kennel, which is bungeed down to an elevated custom-made wooden stand. Each kennel is equipped with toy blocks for chewing and grapevines the birds can cling to when the road gets bumpy.
While in transit, the birds get snacks of celery and grapes. When the family stops for the night, Greycie and the conure go into roomier wire cages where they're fed pellets and seed.
Last summer, humans, dogs and birds drove from their home in Texas over 4,000 miles to Cape Cod, Mass.
This year the Allisons are only driving to Arkansas, but their two grandsons will be joining the entourage. "It will be interesting," says Mary Allison. "Each boy will have to hold a dog and I'll have to keep two in the front seat."
Her least favorite: the acrylic carrier, because it's heavy at five pounds and can overheat, despite numerous air holes. "It has a velcro latch on it and I had to leave it open for air."
Delgado's favorites are her old Hobo and her collapsible wire dog cages, which she can pack in her suitcase. The only problem with the latter is that you have to constantly attach and detach perches, dishes and toys.
On one trip, a toy that Delgado failed to reattach securely at her destination fell during the night and frightened Phinney so badly she thrashed and broke several feathers. "There was blood on the ceiling of my brother's house," she recalls.
The friendly skies
It's best not to check your bird as luggage. Some airlines no longer offer this option anyway because cargo holds can reach temperatures of over 100 degrees in the summer.
Every airline has different requirements for in-cabin pets, ranging from the size of the carrier to how far in advance you should arrive. Call ahead well in advance to confirm policies.
Most airlines charge $80 each way for pets traveling inside the United States. If the airline counts your pet as your free carry-on, you may also have to pay extra to check additional luggage. (A personal carry-on such as a purse or backpack will still be allowed.)
Many airlines require health certificates issued by your veterinarian within 10 to 30 days of travel. At check-in you may also be required to remove your bird from his carrier so it can be inspected, so be prepared to restrain him so he can’t escape into the airport.
Like any travel with a pet, flying with your bird isn't guaranteed to go smoothly. (See Fear of flying for one bird owner's darkly humorous story). You can increase your chances of a good experience by reserving a seat in the back of a flight that isn't full.
If things go well, let the airline know, says Mona Delgado. It will build goodwill for next time.
"Alaska Airlines and TWA have always been very good and the flight attendants seem to enjoy having a bird on the plane," says Mona Delgado, who has flown with her African grey, Phinney. "I make sure and write letters to these airlines expressing my gratitude because they don't have to allow birds and I would hate to lose that privilege."
Wondering how Beaky would like sharing a condo with you in Mexico? Traveling outside the United States with pets is more challenging.
Other countries have their own health regulations and strict documentation requirements before they will admit an animal. It’s up to you – not the airline - to contact the embassy or consulate in your destination country to find out what the requirements are.
Few pet-friendly hotels mention birds, but that doesn’t mean they won’t welcome you. In fact, a caged bird may sound more attractive to a hotel than a dog or a cat, said Rod Welch of Hotel-Guides.us, one of a slew of Web sites that offer listings (see Hotels for the Birds).
"We have called hundreds of pet-friendly hotels," said Welch, "and I can't remember one that prohibited birds. In fact, some hotels that accept dogs do not accept cats. Birds should be happy about this!"
Chris Kingsley, a spokesperson with Petswelcome.com, said his site soon would allow visitors to search hotels by the type of pet they accept.
"We have a lot of hotels that accept all kinds of pets, within reason," he said.
Some sites will book a room for you at a discount and doublecheck a hotel's pet policy to make sure it's up-to-date. However, you should speak with the hotel yourself so you can make sure its policy fits your needs.
Ask if leaving your bird in the room is all right (some hotels forbid leaving pets alone). To make sure housekeeping does not use dangerous aerosols around your bird, you may have to forego cleaning or plan to be there. What happens if your bird screams?
These questions recommended by Pets on the Go will help ensure you don't get stuck with an inferior room. When you call, write down the person's name with whom you speak in case you need it later.
At the hotel, keep the Do Not Disturb sign out when you go out. When you check out, make sure you’ve cleaned up any messes and leave a generous tip so you (or another bird owner) will be welcomed back.
Those who yearn to share the road with their Quaker parakeet should first check the breed's legality in destination states. Because escaped pet Quakers are especially adept at surviving in the wild, some states have banned them as environmental nuisances and may confiscate and destroy trespassers. They include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.
A few states, such as Georgia, allow passage without prior notice as long you’re out of Dodge within 24 hours. For more details on where Quakers are welcome - and not - visit Quakerville, an online community for Quaker enthusiasts.
This summer, traveling birds face two additional complications: the West Nile Virus and Exotic Newcastle’s Disease.
While so far the West Nile Virus has not been as virulent this year as predicted, you should avoid exposing your bird (and self) unnecessarily to mosquitoes, which transmit the disease. Over 150 people in the United States have died from West Nile Virus since 1999, when it first entered the country. However, it kills mostly birds. Symptoms include lethargy and difficulty walking
The West Nile Virus is a good reason (among many others, including wild predators) not to take your bird tent camping with you. Wherever you vacation, avoid taking your bird outside in the early morning or evening, when mosquitoes are most active.
Quarantines now have been lifted everywhere but in seven southern California counties. However, some states may still be skittish about allowing pet birds to cross their borders without a health certificate declaring them healthy and not from an affected area.
Under no circumstances should you drive or fly a bird into an area still under quarantine: the California counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Ventura and Kern.
If authorities discover you trying to leave, your bird will be confiscated and detained by the USDA for up to three months and you could pay a fine up to $25,000, according to Larry Cooper, a spokesperson for the END Task Force of California.
This outbreak of END has resulted in millions of chickens – and about 300 pet parrots – being destroyed, said Cooper. Fortunately, it's waning.
"We’re hoping that the remaining quarantines will be lifted within six months," he said.
If you’ll be spending your vacation days sightseeing, taking your bird may not be worth the trouble and risk, no matter how much you may enjoy seeing one another in the evenings. After all, your bird can sit alone all day in more familiar surroundings at home, and in a bigger, more comfortable cage than his carrier.
Your bird may have to work up to a long vacation. The first time she took her African grey, Mercury, to Daytona Beach, a nine-hour car trip, the bird was very quiet and did not eat much the first two or three days, recalls owner Sara Beth Scudder.
But Mercury is becoming a better traveler. "Each time is better," says Scudder. "Her adjustment period is shorter, regardless of where in Daytona we stay."
Mona Delgado takes her African grey Phinney almost everywhere she goes, including on the boat trips that her husband, a yacht captain, pilots. They have traveled on numerous types of vessels, including a 70-foot trawler and a 32-foot catamaran. "It is actually easier to travel by boat because you can keep the bird in the cabin while you go out to eat," says Delgado.
The only problem they've ever had was the time tugboats kept passing by and shining their bright lights into the cabin. It disturbed everyone, including Phinney, but "there were no long lasting side effects; just a lot less sleep for all of us."
Delgado thinks her decision to show Phinney the world, albeit via some unusual ways, has been a good one for many reasons, but two stand out. One is that it has provided some of the visual and mental stimulation the bird would be getting in the wild. "I don't think birds were meant to stay in one place all of their lives."
A side benefit is that Phinney is getting to know some relatives that might be important to her some day.
"My family knows my bird even though they are all in Illinois," says Delgado. "I am brainwashing my nieces to love parrots because I hope that one of them will want to inherit Phinney when I get too old and feeble."