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Keeping Your Bird Safe and Secure

Layne David Dicker

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Since giving up law, I've learned something that I had only suspected in the past: Writing is a lot less like a profession and more like a hobby, except that you're paid for it and you do it all the time. For instance, I'm also an amateur carpenter and have all these projects in mind that I want to build. Similarly, I have all these plays, stories and articles I want to write. One of them has been a piece on bird selection/breeder selection/socialization from a behaviorist's point of view. I have started this article from several different angles only to find that it is way too huge to handle in an article or even a few articles. So, I just made it a slide presentation.

One of the other articles I have wanted to write is on general bird safety. I finally decided that now was the time a few days ago as I was driving down Pacific Coast Highway near my home. Just for the record, this particular stretch of PCH is near Santa Monica, CA, where there are huge public beaches, the pier and lots of homes. In other words, we're talking 3 lanes in either direction and moving fast. I was buzzing along in the fast lane doing about 45 when I see some guy getting out of a car parked on the curb. He is getting out on the driver's (traffic) side, WITH A HYACINTH MACAW ON HIS ARM!!!!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. There, I feel better now. I was re-experiencing the anger and thought it best to let it pass. Anyway, why don't we start with some basic rules about taking your bird out of the home. These are important because every bird has to leave the house every now and then. Whether it is a trip to the vet, out for some fresh air or just a little socializing, these things need to be done safely.

1. Use a Carrier. From before any of my birds leave my front door until we have reached our destination, they are in a carrier. I didn't always do this and regarded all the warnings about as much as "Don't (fill in blank) or you'll go blind." Myths and legends. Until one day when my Moluccan decided that there was something interesting down by my clutch pedal and went down there to investigate. I was lucky to get out of this with a short delay and a temporary mono radio (he snipped a speaker wire) as opposed to an accident or a squashed, electrocuted or poisoned bird. Birds are too curious and frighten much too easily to have them loose while you're trying to drive a car. Although there are too many hazards to list and I wouldn't want to insult your obvious intelligence by listing them, just consider the electric window that accidentally gets rolled down. Scares me just to think about it.

So, get yourself a nice carrier. Those small dog/cat kennels work great. Just get a length of dowel, pre drill a hole in each end of the dowel and in each side of the carrier about an inch from the bottom and install the dowel using two wood screws. Voila, a dog carrier with a perch, which makes it a bird carrier! I like to put a towel on the bottom as well. For anything over an hour, make sure you bring some food and water. But remember to pull off to the side of the road (of off the freeway), turn the engine off and make sure the windows are rolled up before you let the bird out of the carrier to pet, feed or water him. I have made many long trips with birds and this system works great.

My birds love to go outside and get some sun (although they are under full spectrum lighting in the house), and this is the sole exception to the "carrier" rule. This is, however, done with supervision every second they are in the yard. This point was brought home the other day when my Cockatiels had the pleasure of having an adult Red-tailed hawk land on their flight, and we don't exactly live in the country. Believe me, raptors (birds of prey) are everywhere, as are coyotes, dogs, cats and curious neighborhood kids. Supervision is essential if your birds are outside.

2. Clip Those Wings. Obviously, if you're taking your bird out of the house with you, you just increase the possibility of loss or death if your bird is not freshly clipped. For the physicality and other aspects of clipping, see my article on the subject. Purely as a safety issue, there are just so many hazards for the flighted bird, whether this leads to escape (starvation, poisoning, predation, freezing) or just around the house (windows, ceiling fans, poisonous plants, lead, household toxins, toilets, stoves, electrical cords, light bulbs).

If a bird stays where we put them, we can control what they can and can't get into. Which leads to another reason I decided to write this article.

I was having a rather heated cyber-discussion with some moron about general safety issues. As I recall it all started when I suggested that someone's Cockatiel shouldn't be caged with their Greenwing macaw. Sure, the macaw was gentle, but they also like to wrestle and might have some dominance issues come up and all it would take was one little mistake on the part of the macaw and the 'Tiel would be "teets up", as we used to say on the farm. I thought it was a simple safety issue (the birds were tame and social and did not depend on each other for companionship) and they should be split up immediately. Duh. This guy thought it was some huge philosophical issue which culminated with: Life is full of risks and if we try to eliminate them all we'll wind up in a sterilized room, eating vegetables and never going out or interacting with another creature. Frankly, I couldn't agree with him more. And if that Cockatiel ever went up to him and said "I understand the dangers involved with being caged with that huge red bird over there and I'm willing to assume those risks", I'd say go for it. But the primary flaw with his argument as it applies to birds is that we choose for ourselves to drive, skydive, smoke, drink, have unprotected sex, wear polyester around an open flame or any other hazardous activity whereas our birds are at our mercy. We decide for them and I think it is manifestly unfair to subject them to any unreasonable risk.

Just a minute, I have to climb down. That was a very high horse.

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