Airplane Travel with Parrots, Part One: In-Cabin Pet

Once upon a time, a crazy parrot lady (me) thought it’d be a good idea to take her parrots a-traveling with her on an airplane. One would fly with her in the cabin, and one would fly via United’s Former Pet Safe Program (recently no longer accepts parrots), or as I’ll refer to it, in “steerage”.

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United’s PetSafe program is not exactly the steerage scene from Titanic, but close enough. Minus the sinking ship. 😀

Because it was just me, myself, and I (traveling alone), I was only allowed to bring one bird into the cabin with me; if I’d had a friend, we could have brought both and stuck them both under the seats in front of us, provided other animals weren’t already taking up the limited amount of animal space on the flight. Since I couldn’t fit them both under my seat in one cage, I had to pick which one would fly with me, and which bird would fly “steerage.”

My Ekkie, Louie, is a little more sensitive than Vi the Amazon–I once boarded him and had him groomed in the same few days, and once we took him home, he vomited from stress all night long.

Thus, Louie was the lucky bird I took with me in the cabin of the actual airplane.

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Before You Go: Carriers/Preparation
The carrier pictured above is the Kaytee Come Along Carrier, Medium, Assorted Colors. Note that it’s a little smaller than the size United allowsbut Louie the Eclectus (roughly 280 grams) fit just fine and relatively comfortably. In retrospect, I’d probably go for the large size, or another carrier of similar size.

Note that it absolutely MUST fit under the seat in front of you; they’re technically supposed to stay under your seat the entire flight.

For this reason, I recommend soft-sided carriers – they’re allowed to be a lot bigger (“18 inches long x 11 inches wide x 11 inches high” and are allowed to exceed these dimensions slightly since, “they are collapsible and able to conform to under-seat space without blocking the aisle”). Meanwhile, hard-sided carriers are allowed to be only “17.5 inches long x 12 inches wide x 7.5 inches high” (source). Note that other airlines might have different size requirements, so definitely ask when you call to book your birdy’s flight!

The Day Of: What To Bring in your Carry-On for the Cabin

-Extra paper towels. You don’t need the whole roll, but you’ll probably want to clean your bird (and his carrier) up before and after the flight. (You’re not allowed to take them out during the actual flight.)
-A Packet of Wet Wipes
-Baggie full of their favorite dry treats.
-Baggie full of Pellets/regular diet.
-Water-rich foods to feed intermittently, such as grapes, carrots, celery and apple slices. (I took mine in a plastic baggie through security).
-A few small food bowls (two or three is fine) if you want to change out food and water during the flight.
-DON’T bring a bottle of water for your birdy; you’ll have to throw it away when you go through security.

Check In – Arrive Early.

  1. Everyone is going to want to see what kind of “dog” you have. Pets on planes are kind of rare–it takes even longer when they realize you have an unexpected birdy companion! People will stop you and ask you about your bird constantly, so add an extra half hour to an hour to accommodate for this.
  2. Plan on going to the ticket counter, not a kiosk. Your pet will need their own boarding pass, which only the people behind the counter can print for you.

Security

  1. You may have to go through a separate gate for security. At DIA, they frequently have drug and pet-sniffing dogs on duty; the scent of your parrot can throw the dogs off, so make sure you chat with whoever is directing traffic at the security line before you actually get in line. Alert them to the fact you have a birdy friend with you to make sure this is the right security checkpoint to go through.
  2. You have two options for going through security:
    A. Take your bird out and walk him or her through a metal detector, or
    B. Ask for a private screening.

If your parrot is super well-behaved, you have the option to take him or her out in the middle of the security line and just walk through a metal detector. They swabbed my hands for illegal substances, so you’ll have to pass your bird from one hand to another, but that’s all they did for me. No one took Louie from my hands (I held him the whole time) or touched him, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t for you. 

If your parrot isn’t the best behaved or is easily stressed out, ask for a private screening. You’ll be escorted to a room where you will be asked to take your parrot out of his or her carrier.

I recommend the private screening, especially if your bird is super nervous; Louie is not as long as he is with me, so I walked him through the metal detector. If you do this, it may be a good idea to harness train your bird before flying if you opt for just the metal detector, as the last thing you want is your bird loose and flying around in the airport.

After Security

-Go buy a bottle of water to keep your friend hydrated through the flight.

Tips and Tricks for In-Cabin Travel

Arrive EARLY (Allow 3.5 hours instead of the standard 2 hours before-hand): If you want to take your feathered friend with you in the airplane cabin, I’d call ahead as early as possible, as only four pets are allowed in the cabin on any one flight. It’s not super common, but it’s important to consider. Additionally, some airplanes don’t have the appropriate legroom, so you’ll want to check what kind of plane you’ll be on ahead of time–the easiest way is to just call your airline when you book your parrot’s ticket.

Contortionist: You will need to be a rather flexible person to do this, or get an aisle seat; it’s not a comfortable ride since your feathered friend will take up a ton of leg room.

Small bird owners, you can carry two small birds in the same carrier with you; if I’d taken two cockatiels, for example, I’d have them share a carrier on my flight.

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Not gonna lie, cockatoos scare me a little.

Cockatoo owners, I have bad news: your cockatoo isn’t allowed in the cabin. I’m sure this doesn’t exactly surprise you, since the soft fabric you need to fit under the seat won’t stand a chance.

A Happy Ending

Overall, Louie had no problems during the entire flight. I had him at my feet for take-off, fed him treats and gave me some water-rich foods he loves during the flight to make sure he was eating and hydrated. He didn’t make a sound; at one point, I was a little concerned so I opened his door a crack to check on him, and he tried to crawl right out (the guy next to me was not amused).

#reasonstokeepthekennelclosed

There you have it! Airplane travel in a nutshell.

A note: These tips all apply to flying United with a parrot. If you fly Delta, for example, you’ll need to call to get the right size recommendation for their flights. Delta also allows you to ship your parrot – read more about that on this page.

My Littlest Budgie has a Liver Infection

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Beau today: beat-up, a little worse for the wear, but alive. He’s a fighter!

A little more than two weeks ago, little Beau lost 2 grams of weight; he’s really tiny (originally weighing in at 28 grams) to begin with, so any drop was concerning. It didn’t come back over the next two or three days.

On day three, he seemed a touch unsteady, was rather sleepy, and lost interest in his toys.

We weren’t sure what was going on, but ultimately decided not to take a chance and brought him into the vet.

He’s been fighting for his life ever since.

Little Beau has a liver infection combined with an avian yeast infestation—that’s likely why he was so tiny to begin with. Our English budgie (Winston) loves tiny little blue budgies, so we picked the tiniest one of all; he was full of energy, had a bright yellow beak, and seemed healthy as can be.

Turns out that bright yellow beak was a sign of jaundice. He’s had this liver infection for awhile, probably as long as we’ve had him. The vet says that the avian yeast is present in many nests, and that normally it just results in some skinnier budgies. It’s only when other infections weaken their immune systems that it can spread and lead to massive malnourishment, which is our current concern.

Jaundice Budgie Beak
Beau and Winston in November.

Every day since, we’ve pumped him full of three different medicines (baytril for the liver infection, nystatin for the yeast, milk thistle to help his liver heal) twice a day and prayed he’d survive the night.

He’s not out of the woods yet, but we think his liver infection is clearing and he’s on new, stronger meds for his yeast (and so is his girlfriend, since it’s contagious).

Moral of the story? Weigh your bird daily—if he suddenly stops maintaining his weight, take him into the vet. It may save his life.

Beau is still fighting and is far from healthy. We’re going to give him the best shot we can at life; though he is little, he is so loved by us and his lady-friend.

He originally cost $15 to bring home from a local bird shop; his current vet bill is hovering around $600 with his numerous meds, the frequent checkups, the myriad tests. Though he is little, he is worth it. 

Budiges at Hospital
Praying he pulls through; the vet says he’s stronger today, his droppings look more normal (no more green color that indicates his liver isn’t working right), and he’s able to perch more steadily.

Update: Beau held on as long as he could and seemed to be getting better, but he succumbed to his illness two months after being diagnosed. :/ Still, he had a wonderful life and his girlfriend loved him dearly.

Broken Blood Feathers: What To Do

If your parrot is bleeding, that’s a bit of an emergency.

Yes, even if it’s just from a tiny little feather.

Think about how tiny a parakeet is; now think about how much blood a single droplet is in relation to how big that bird is, and how much that would equal if it were the same size as you.

Yeah, that’s a lot of blood.

macawBirds are not super good coagulators; what this means is that, once they start bleeding, it takes a very long time for them to stop. Especially in our littlest friends like parakeets and cockatiels, it’s really important to stop that bleeding before they lose too much.

Tools Needed:

Tweezers (in some cases), gauze pad, styptic powder (if you don’t have this on hand and your bird is bleeding right now, corn starch will work in a pinch), and courage (sold separately).

Step One:

Before handling your little bird, it’s super important to wash your hands. 

Step Two:

Take a minute to meditate and think of the giant glass of wine you owe yourself after this. This will not be fun.

Step Three:

Figure out where the bleeding is coming from. Blood feathers on the wings should be treated differently than ones on the tail or body.

If the broken blood feather is on the tail or body…

A. Snag a towel and gently wrap your feathered friend up in it.

B. Note which direction the feather is facing–using tweezers, firmly and quickly pull the feather. Do this as straight as possible, the direction the feather grows,

C. If bleeding continues from where the feather was pulled, use the gauze to press firmly but gently on the wound. This is sometimes enough to stop the bleeding. If not, pack the follicle with Styptic powder, and continue pressure until the bleeding stops.

If the broken blood feather is on the wing…

Wing feathers are tricky. Pulling them is a risk and can sometimes do more harm than good.

A. Identify which feather is bleeding.

If it’s the first wing feather at the tip of their wing, just use pressure to stop the bleeding. Do not use styptic powder/corn starch and under no circumstances should you pull that feather.

The first feather of a bird’s wings are connected directly to a bone in their wings. Using styptic powder can stunt future growth of that feather, and pulling it can cause serious damage to your birdy friend. 

If it’s any other feather, use styptic powder to pack the wound, apply pressure with gauze for at least a minute or until the bleeding stops.

If you decide you need to pull the broken wing feather…

A. Make sure it’s not the first wing feather. Again, do NOT pull the first feather on a bird’s wing under any circumstances.

B. Get a partner to gently wrap the bird in a towel and hold him or her still for you.

C. Use one hand to extend the wing, and use the tweezers to get a solid grip on the feather. You only want to have to tug on this once, and it’s going to be the worst sound you’ve ever heard your bird make.

D. Tug, fast and firmly, in the direction the feather grows.

E. Immediately use your gauze to apply pressure to the feather follicle. Hold for at least a minute.

F. If bleeding doesn’t stop after a minute, use Styptic powder.

If a blood feather continues bleeding for more than fifteen minutes, bring your bird to an avian vet ASAP. That’s an emergency.

Source: Emergency First Aid Guide for Birds Quick Reference by Jennifer L. Warshaw

 

“OMG, I want a parrot!”

Do you? Do you really?

Let’s face it; most birds, were they dogs, would be put down.

Louie’s grandfather (or at least great-grandfather) likely flew the canopies of the Solomon Islands. And Ozone’s father is probably still terrorizing some local somewhere in Africa.

At no point should you assume birds are domesticated; they are feathered dinosaurs.

They *will* bite you. End of story.

And our bites are mild in comparison to some species, like cockatoos…

A Blue Cere in a Female Budge = A Tumor

Well, it’s official: we’re going to lose Miss Winsty-Woo in the next few months. 😦

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Winston the “Attack” bird, or so the vet called her defending herself when he approached her with a towel. (Until I picked her up. She’s a marshmallow.)

For the past day or so, Winston has seemed a little… off.

She’s always been exceptionally calm for a budgie (stiff-upper-lipped-English-budgie-woman and all that), but lately she’s seemed a little sleepier.

A little more reserved.

A little less playful.

Winston is exceptionally weird for a bird in that, since she was barely feathered, she has consistently done things that generally signify illness:

being exceptionally fluffy/fluffed up (that’s her English budgie-ness),

sleeping on the bottom of her cage (she’s done this her entire life; she likes to stick her legs through the grate on the bottom of her cage and lie on her chest)

Not a super-clean vent (a product of her extra fluffy-ness/girth and sleeping on the bottom of her cage)

Our vet has consistently given her a clean bill of health in spite of her nonsense, fortunately. Hubby and I have always been hyper-vigilant with her because of it.

Yesterday, we noticed a change:

She didn’t feel like flying/couldn’t fly very well. When something startled her and she fluttered to the floor instead of making her usual awkward, haphazard trip back up to her cage, we knew something was up.

Tail-bobbing, just a tiny bit. When calmly sitting still, her tail moves up and down now with every breath–just a little–but it signifies respiratory distress in birds.

She’s still eating fine and hadn’t lost any significant weight, but we followed our philosophy: go to the vet at the first sign of avian illness.

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Two years ago vs. today. Her cere has become the same color as her cheek spots.

Today, I braved the snow, and I’m glad I did: Winston has a tumor. 😦

She’s four and a half years old.

The vet cannot feel it yet, which means we caught it super early, but he said there is only one thing on God’s green earth (that he knows of) that will turn a female budgie’s cere blue: a testosterone-secreting tumor in her reproductive track. And unfortunately, there’s no doubt that she’s a girl; the four eggs she laid last summer are a testament to that.

Our avian vet could only guess, but due to the fact that it feels like she’s lost a little bit of weight across her breastbone and these new symptoms (however mild), he suspects she has only one to three months left.

He gave us some pain medication to help her deal with any pain; she will now get all the seed, millet, and otherwise unhealthy food that she wants.

Flock of ROCK!

I’m on the writing committee for a local charity, and this is one of the songs we might be using/rewriting for our musical. Tippy clearly likes it as much as I do. XD

…Sorry it’s a little blairwitchy. I was dancing with him.

#birdpeople

Teaching a Bird NOT to Scream: Reality

Screaming is one way birds get attention (positive, negative, it doesn’t matter!) Now, I can’t definitively say whether or not this was the case for Miss Viola Waddlesworth at her former home, however, her friend Sam, the African Grey who went to a neighbor’s house, frequently shouts, “Shut up, Waddles!”

…So yeah, we likely have a few years’ worth of bad habits to break with her.

One major purpose of this blog is to go beyond text and describe/show what bird training *really* looks like. Thus, a five minute vlog post was born.

May I present: What Teaching a Bird Not to Scream Really Looks Like: A Work in Progress

TL;DW/Oh my Gawd, I can’t take the screaming anymore – Skip to 4:05

Teaching a bird not to scream = massive, massive amounts of patience. It looks like a lot of:

  • Standing around out of sight of your bird and waiting for silence/a sound you don’t hate before you make your presence known again.
  • Making no movements that might indicate you might be coming within sight of your bird while he or she is screaming.
  • Responding to a sound you like with a happy call back/movement towards the birds–birds who are alone in a different room will “contact call“, which is natural and can’t really be turned off, so pick a sound you like/don’t hate and reinforce that.
  • Turning around/leaving the bird’s sight if they start screaming when you try to enter the room. They’re screaming for attention. Don’t give it to them!
  • Your spouse’s unwilling participation in the lack of movement/shouting at bird (shouting just reinforces the bad behavior and makes it continue longer. Spouses: Ignore it with every fiber of your being. Don’t even look at the bird.)

 

An Aside/Soap Box:

I feel like this video demonstrates why cockatoos (not Vi’s species–Vi is an Amazon) are only for the bravest, most tolerant of people. According to MyToos.com, Moluccan Cockatoos (and Umbrellas get close to this, too!) “Moluccans hold the record as the loudest bird on earth at 135 [decibels of sound]…A 747 Jumbo Jet produces as much as 140 decibels of noise.

My first-hand experience? Yes, they really are that loud. It is un.be.lievable.

Oh, and P.S.–A lot of the stuff you read at MyToos.com is NOT hyperbole regarding many, many, many Moluccan (and some Umbrella) cockatoos. We lived it. Not true of all cockatoos, but oh man… It was bad.