Hi. Dr. Killjoy here. We just concluded another fun photo contest here at Birdtricks – congratulations to the winners of Parrots On Harnesses! Your photos were amazing.
I didn’t want to bring this up in the middle of the contest because I didn’t want to kill the mood. Since the photos being submitted were of events of the past, I felt this post could wait until the contest was over.
However, it is an issue which needs addressing: flying your bird on a harness is dangerous. There is no way around it – no matter who makes the harness and despite any claims about safety features reducing the hazards. There are numerous variables that make it unsafe, but they all branch out from two main problems:
- Injuries from a tangled leash that gets wound around feet or wings (or neck): There are many different ways these injuries might occur. Probably the most common are the ones that happen when a bird takes flight with a section of the leash wrapped around a body part which can result in a broken bone. Other injuries, though, can occur when a long leash line gets tangled in tree or bush branches during flight or when a gust of wind alters the path of the bird in flight or blows the line into the bird’s flight path. I personally witnessed an accident of this nature.
- Injuries from the impact when the leash runs out after take-off: During take-off, a bird is exerting just about all of the strength he has to ascend. It is a fight against gravity as well as a race to build speed quickly so that he can initiate all of the mechanics of flight. In short, your bird is going like a bat out of hell. When the length of the leash runs out, your bird will experience a concussive impact that can chafe skin and break feathers in the areas where the leash contacts the body and it can break the bones beneath.
The Parrot University at Hartman Aviary provides the Aviator Harness. I, personally, think it is the best harness choice available right now. They have given their product more safety and comfort considerations than the others and it is one of the easiest to get your bird in and out of. I have no complaints about this product.
However, they also sell the Flight Line which is a long lead line that is intended for use with their harness to give a bird the means to fly in a 30’ to 80’ radius while still tethered to their human or to a post that is driven into the ground. It sounds like a wonderful experience for a parrot, but for all of the reason listed above, this product is unsafe.
While their line is elasticized and long enough to minimize the impact when the line’s length limits have been reached, there is nothing that can make it tangle-free as they claim.
Another aspect to consider in this matter is the behavioral mixed-message this presents. A harness is a restraint and your bird should be aware of that fact – that its mobility is limited.
You should no sooner encourage your bird to leave your shoulder and take flight at will when you are outside than you should give your dog the leeway to dart off after a squirrel while it is walking next to you on a leash. It sets a precedent that is as confusing as it is unsafe.
If you are interested in outdoor flight for your bird, extensive training for both you and your bird are required . Freeflight training is offered by Dave Womach in a comprehensive program that teaches you the sciences and safety measures you need to know to give your bird the ultimate experience in outdoor flight. You can contact customer service at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Otherwise, your bird should always be harnessed when outside and should not be encouraged to take flight.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.