There seems to be one in most people’s flocks. The evil-minded escape artist. You know the bird. The one that you think is safely resting in their cage but is secretly biding their time waiting for the chance to unlatch their door when you aren’t looking. That’s nothing though. If they get bored with a simple escape, they’ll go and unlatch their flockmate’s doors too.
I’ve talked before about my escape artist Blue and Gold Macaw. Padlock picking, bra eating, sneaker destroying monster that he is, Fid is actually not the biggest brat in my flock. That crown rests firmly on the head of one of my galahs. Merlin has lived up to having a magician’s name. I’ve never quite been able to dye away the grey hairs that he gave me the day I came home to find he had removed an entire aviary wall. Apparently Merlin was a screwdriver in a past life. Undoing the nuts and bolts that hold his aviary together – it’s a game he never tires of. Merlin likes his cages (and everyone else’s) in pieces.
Merlin and Fid aren’t alone in their antics either. My female galah Nemo loves door latches, my eclectus Pepi is an expert at sliding out the grill at the base of a cage and climbing out through the bottom. The lorikeets? Their preferred method of escape is to fly at your face if you’re ever stupid enough to open their door. The lorikeets have also discovered the joy of popping welds on cage bars so that they can squeeze out between the bars.
Popping welds is a fun one and in theory would be solved by buying a cage with thicker bars. Cages with thicker bars have wider bar spacing and that’s not safe because the lorikeets adore jamming their heads in small gaps. They get stuck – they get injured or die. So I find myself reinforcing the lorikeet cage bars with an assortment of brackets that I have to tighten almost daily. Grills are padlocked in place. Doors are chained and padlocked shut. It’s a lot of work to keep my flock from wreaking havoc on the world. I do it anyway. They get their supervised out of cage time but if I’m not there to supervise… they stay locked out of reach of the cats and dogs and away from anything toxic that they might chew on.
There is one escape route that all birds seem to know and it often can’t be fixed by a simple padlock. The food bowl door. They watch you open and close it when you change their water every day. They KNOW how it works. You may think you have a little feathered angel who never escapes… I’ve fallen for that act myself. It’s not worth thinking they never will.
Many cages come with a food bowl door that is held in place by a swinging circle or a swinging arrow-shaped latch. You can tighten the screw on the latch so it doesn’t swing so easily. However, my galah Merlin is not the only reincarnated screwdriver out there. Most birds will get past that latch very easily. Some even find it easier if the screw is tighter because the screw may actually be pushed to hold the latch up, as opposed to a loose screw that makes the latch swing closed with the aid of gravity. Unfortunately these doors don’t allow for a padlock.
All is not lost though. In most cases, this can be solved with a couple of clips and some chain. (I’ve put up a picture of how I do it.) The trick seems to be to string the chain diagonally across the food bowl door. My eclectus tells me that placing the chain vertically is just giving a bird an invitation to slide the chain across towards the hinge (out of the way) so that he can go ahead and unlatch the door anyway. If you clip the chain diagonally but attach it to vertical bars, it’s impossible to slide the chain out of the way.
Some people use D-links (used to hang most parrot toys) instead of clips but my entire flock has learned to undo them. I use a spring-loaded (self-closing) clip that springs back if they try to undo it. My macaw can apparently undo those too, so for him I use padlocks instead of clips, but even those aren’t really macaw proof. (Is anything?) If you have a bird like Fid, the best you can hope for is to slow him down long enough to keep him safe until you can get back to him.
No matter what you do, sometimes you will have to go out to buy groceries and pay your bills and you need to know your bird is safe when you do. If anyone else has any ideas on dealing with escape artists – let us know in the comments section below. Meanwhile, apparently I need a new hiding place to keep my hair ties… (Seriously what makes a bird obsessed with finding and stealing hair ties?!??)
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.