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Have Parrot, Will Travel!
Tips for Traveling with Your Feathered Friends

By Terri Ann King

"How do you ever manage to take a vacation?"

This is one of the most common questions I am asked as a parrot owner. After all, who will care for the "kids" while I'm away? I discovered that it was easy enough to find a caregiver in my absence; the real dilemma was how to leave my little friends behind and still enjoy myself. With the help of my understanding and infinitely patient husband, I soon learned that it was possible to take them along. Not only was it possible; it was enjoyable for both the birds and us! I now make it a habit to bring my parrots with me whenever I travel if at all feasible, and I hope that I can persuade other parrot owners to do the same. Whether you are going by car, truck or recreational vehicle, the following tips will make traveling more convenient for both you and your pet.

Provide a Travel Cage

It is essential to provide your parrot with a travel cage. It will probably be smaller than the cage you have at home, but do try to make it as large as space and your budget permit. Ideally, the travel cage should be spacious enough to allow for stretching, some climbing and wing-flapping. The cage needs to have room for food and water dishes, a perch and a toy. It should always allow the bird enough room to perch comfortably.

It's also important to make the cage as familiar as possible to your parrot. I do this by arranging the travel cage in a layout similar to that of the larger home cage my parrots are used to. For example, whenever I can I put the food and water dishes in approximately the same locations that my parrots are used to in their home cage. I also install a well-known and favorite toy. For your own benefit, as well as that of your parrot, it's best to have a non-noisy plaything in the travel cage. Bells or hard plastic toys tend to bang against the cage during travel, disturbing both you and your parrot. A swinging heavy plastic or metal toy could be potentially harmful to your pet. A good choice for a toy is a preening rope. Most parrots enjoy one of these; it keeps them occupied without noise, and with no chance of danger.

It helps to let your parrot familiarize itself with its temporary home-away-from-home by allowing it to spend short amounts of time in the travel cage before actually going on a trip. You can do this by placing the travel cage in a different room from the home cage. When you're spending some time in the room, put the parrot in the travel cage. This way the parrot will have a chance to get used to being away from its regular cage while still being near you, where it feels safe and secure.

Think Safety

Where and how you secure your parrot's travel cage in a vehicle are important considerations. If you are traveling by car, I recommend attaching the cage to the back seat, facing forward, using a seat belt or safety straps. Even if the front passenger seat is available, if your car is equipped with an air bag on that side, use the back seat to avoid any possibility of injury should an accident cause the air bag to deploy. If you are traveling by recreational vehicle, attach the cage in a secure location facing forward. Avoid the tendency to become complacent because of the roominess of an RV; it is still a moving vehicle. Always make sure that the cage is as level as possible, no matter what type of vehicle you are traveling in.

As an added safety feature, the perch your parrot will be sitting on should be placed close to the front of the travel cage, with the food and water dishes at the sides of the cage. In the event of a sudden stop, the parrot will not be flung forward in the cage. Since your bird is already near the front of the cage, hard braking or sudden stopping will merely cause the bird to lean into the front bars of the cage, helping to prevent serious injury. Smooth perches should not be used for traveling. A safer, more comfortable alternative is a perch made of wood with sand bonded to it. A parrot has better gripping ability on this type of perch, and it will also help to keep your bird's nails and beak naturally and neatly trimmed.

Groom Before You Go

It is always a good idea to keep your pet parrot well-groomed. Before traveling, however, this becomes an absolute necessity. Make sure that your pet's beak is trimmed if necessary, so that the bird can eat comfortably and use its beak to climb in the cage. Even the most well-behaved parrot may become anxious during travel and try to bite. A trimmed beak is a safety factor for both you and your pet. Keep in mind that having a selection of wooden toys and proper perches can help to keep your bird's beak trimmed naturally, thus eliminating the need for you to have it done.

Nail trimming, if needed, is also important. Your parrot should be able to perch comfortably at all times, but this becomes critical in a moving vehicle. Also, the bars of its travel cage will likely be narrower than those of its home cage, and nail trimming minimizes the risk of your pet getting its nails caught in the cage's bars. Again, remember that a selection of proper perches can eliminate the need to trim nails, as well as beaks.

Finally, and most importantly, I feel it is essential to clip your parrot's wings before taking it anywhere outside the home. Even the most docile parrot can become agitated when confronted with a new and strange environment. Many owners have lost beloved pets because they failed to clip the wings of a parrot that never had a tendency to fly before. Remember that it only takes one flight, from either fear or curiosity, to lose a pet forever. Grooming is not cruel. It brings health and safety to both you and your parrot, along with the added bonus of keeping your bird looking its best.

Enjoy Local Outings

After your feathered friend has become accustomed to its travel cage, it's fun to go on short excursions close to home. This will also help your pet get used to the idea of travel. My husband and I made a list of restaurants and coffee shops in the area that have outdoor seating, and we often take our little female sun conure, Sparky, when we go out to relax over coffee and pastries. The employees at our local coffee shop enjoy Sparky so much that they sometimes bring out bread crumbs for her. People of all ages come up to admire her, and of course, Sparky really relishes that! We take our male blue-crowned conure, Blue, and our pair of rose-breasted cockatoos, Jake and Sheila, with us on local outings as well. I am hopeful that giving our birds this exposure will encourage other parrot owners to re-evaluate the status of their own pets. Far too many parrots are locked away in cages, not because their owners are cruel, but because they've never considered any alternatives. It really can be easy and fun to include your parrot in many of your daily activities, even those away from home. Often the experience is rewarding for both you and your bird.

Bring Food and Supplies

While traveling, it's a good idea to bring along your parrot's favorite seeds, pellets and treats; you may find yourself in an area that doesn't carry a particular brand or mixture. I even bring along bottled water so that my birds don't have to deal with unnecessary changes in diet. Even when you are on the road, you should still supplement your pet's diet with fresh fruits and vegetables from local produce stands or supermarkets.

If your parrot enjoys spending part of its day in a playpen or on a T-perch, consider bringing one with you if you have enough space. Remember to bring extra paper and cleaning supplies for the travel cage, as well as a cover for privacy, if your bird is used to having one at home. It is important to keep a spray bottle handy to mist your parrot occasionally if it is used to receiving daily baths. I encourage all parrot owners to take time to teach their pets the joys of bathing if they haven't already done so. Bathing is a healthy and fun activity that promotes good grooming and relaxation. Most birds find bathing to be a great stress reliever. When on the road in warm, dry climates, occasionally misting your bird is a necessity.

Establish a Routine

Keeping your parrot in a close-to-normal routine is essential for its health and comfort while traveling. I had always known that parrots are creatures of habit, but how much so was made clear to me only a short while ago. I changed Sparky's food and water dishes to opposite sides of the cage one day while I was cleaning it. I kept her treat dish in the same place and put several salt-free crackers in it. Sparky loves to dip her crackers in water before climbing to her upper perch to eat them. Astonished, I watched as she took a cracker from her treat dish, dipped it in the dish now filled with seeds, and climbed to her perch. She took a bite and the cracker crumbled everywhere. I will never forget the look on her little face! I immediately switched the dishes back to their normal places and she quickly grabbed another cracker, dipped it in the water dish, climbed back up to her perch and contentedly munched away. I now keep her food and water dishes in the same location she is used to in both her home cage and her travel cage.

This incident made me understand the importance of maintaining an established routine for traveling parrots. Although small changes in routine are easy to adjust to at home, parrots undergo stress during travel, so change should be minimized whenever possible. Three important schedules to keep are meal times, play times and sleep times. Whatever your parrot is used to at home should be adhered to as closely as possible when you are on the road.

Plan Ahead

It is important to plan ahead when you are going to travel with your parrot. Of course, planning ahead usually makes for a better trip in any case, but when you have a parrot to consider it becomes essential. Both climate and altitude affect your pet. Knowing weather conditions in advance can help keep your parrot healthy. Parrots left in a car in northern states in winter, or in the southwestern desert in summer, for example, can quickly succumb to extremes of temperature.

I recommend making a list of avian veterinarians located both en route to and at your destination. In case of emergency, it saves valuable time to have the names and addresses of local avian specialists, because they are not as readily available as other veterinarians. Check with bird clubs in your area and the areas you are planning to travel to, or with your veterinarian, for references.        If you plan to stay in hotels or motels along the way, call in advance to make sure they allow pet parrots as guests. Be a responsible pet owner and keep your parrot from damaging or soiling the room in any way. Accountable pet owners help pave the way for other establishments to more readily accept pets as visitors.

Plan to stop more often than usual when on the road with your parrot, in order to give it time to get used to the motion of the vehicle. At first, your pet may only eat, drink and perch comfortably when the vehicle is not moving. Eventually, your parrot will probably learn to enjoy eating and drinking en route, and may even find the motion of the vehicle comforting.

When you reach your destination, it is equally important to plan your daily activities so that at least part of each day is spent with your parrot. Your feathered companion will already be in a strange environment and have a slightly altered scheduled. Further, its travel cage will probably be far less roomy, comfortable and filled with things to do than its regular cage. So it is very important to spend extra time with your pet. Don't be afraid to include your parrot in some of your own activities, such as going for a treat at an outdoor restaurant or coffee shop. Even a stroll through a park or a walk along a beach could include your bird.

Know the Rules

Whether you are traveling across country, or even to another country, it is important to know the regulations that each state and country you visit has for transporting pet parrots. Rules vary from state to state, and from country to country. It is a good idea to call the local state or customs department for the most up-to-date information.

Because of past instances of illegal parrot smuggling, it is crucial to have all your pet's paperwork, in order to protect both you and your parrot. This is especially critical while traveling throughout the southwestern states bordering Mexico. I recommend that you carry a portfolio containing copies of all paperwork pertaining to your parrot, such as proof of ownership, sales receipts, breeder's name and address, and medical records. Though you may never have to use it, this information could be invaluable, especially if an emergency occurs.

The Last Word

Travel with pets is far more common in Europe than in the United States. But in recent years there has been something of a breakthrough in North America, and more people here enjoy traveling with pets now than they have in the past. I still see far more dogs, and to a lesser extent, cats, than pet birds on the road. Perhaps people who own parrots don't consider traveling with them. Perhaps people who travel frequently don't consider keeping parrots as pets because they are away from home so much of the time. In either case, both people and parrots lose. If you don't own a parrot solely because you enjoy traveling, I hope you will consider one in the future as a fine pet and a possible travel companion. If you have already discovered the joys of owning a pet parrot, I urge you to explore your relationship with it even further. Plan to take your parrot with you whenever you can, whether for a short trip to the coffee shop or a long drive across the country. I'm sure your parrot will agree that the two of you really do deserve a vacation. If you follow the tips I've given you, I feel certain that you'll both have a marvelous time!

Terri Ann King is a counselor and freelance writer living in Arizona.