We talk a lot about being disaster ready at BirdTricks because even getting people thinking about what could happen helps people and their pets survive if something does happen. If it saves one life – it’s worth it.
“I lost everything in the bushfire but at least I managed to release my bird! Now all I have to do is find her, can you help by sharing my advertisement?”
I’ve heard that more times than I care to think about. This post is dedicated to those of you who currently have: “If all else fails, release the bird” in your evacuation plan. I’m hoping this is reaching you before that “If all else fails” ever eventuates because I think we can all do better than that. If you release a bird in the chaos of a fire or a disaster, it’s as good as dead from smoke inhalation or the heat or whatever you’re fleeing from anyway. I’d hope that if you’re in a bushfire area you’d be well enough prepared to have removed your birds early, however sometimes evacuations need to be performed without warning, very quickly. In my ideal world, people have a plan that can help them evacuate with ALL of their animals in seconds if that need ever arises. For that to work, it isn’t enough to have evacuation cages simply on hand (although that’s a good start).
ULTRA FAST EVACUATION.
What is an ultra fast evacuation?
Let’s say a smoke alarm just woke you up and your house is already full of smoke. There is a fire. You’ve only got seconds to react. You have to get yourself and your animals out of the house immediately. Chances are you haven’t got time to go running for a travel cage or worse if you have multiple animals (I have 10 birds, plus cats and dogs) just try and visualise a person carrying 10+ carriers at once? That ability is not one of my superpowers but I still have a plan that allows me to physically catch and carry all of my animals out of the house in one hit.
Whether you have 1 bird or 10, there is one thing that you need to know about birds in an emergency. When panicked – they don’t step up on command and they are more likely to bite. You need to plan for that and have a way of catching/containing them anyway. (Do you need to keep a net nearby?)
The trick to a fast escape?
My secret weapon is a pillowcase. It’s relatively easy to put your hand inside a pillowcase and use it to catch a bird (not unlike wearing a glove). When you have grabbed the bird, turn the pillowcase inside out over it and suddenly what you used to catch the bird is actually containing the bird. Even better, unlike 10 carriers, I can carry 10 pillowcases in one go. I don’t even have to put the pillowcase containing a bird down in order to catch another bird. I can tuck the end of a pillowcase through my belt or into my pants, (so the bird is swinging near my hips) which effectively keeps my hands free but still allows me to carry the birds that I’ve already caught.
Some things to pay in mind when choosing a pillowcase:
- An animal can breathe through a pillowcase. The pillowcase will actually help to stop your bird from inhaling smoke in a fire.
- The lower the thread count, the easier it is for an animal to breathe through the material. So don’t go and buy the most expensive pillowcase on the planet. In this case, the cheaper ones are usually better.
- Cotton is a good choice of material as it is less flammable/likely to melt than a synthetic material.
- Pillowcases come in different sizes. Standard is fine for most birds but if you have a Macaw or larger bird consider buying a King or Queen sized pillowcase.
- Having different coloured pillowcases can help you quickly identify who is in a pillowcase if you have multiple birds.
How my fast evacuation works:
I have a large airtight ziplock bag that I keep in my bird room, which has everything I need in it for a fast evacuation. Its location means that in the same second that I pick it up, I’m already in front of the first cage door I’d need to get to.
The bag contains everything that I consider myself likely to need:
- A headlamp:
This is a torch that you wear on your head. I assume a power outage is more than likely in an emergency or that smoke from a fire could make it hard to see. I also assume I’m going to need my hands free… A headlamp solves both of those problems. They’re not expensive (mine was only $5) and are readily available from a camping supply store.
- Spare keys:
My birds are escape artists. I keep an extra copy of every key for every lock that I use on my cages. I label them with coloured labels so that I can tell them apart easily.
I roll the pillowcases individually (no time to undo store packaging in an emergency). Each pillowcase has an elastic band (some countries call them rubber bands) around them. The bands are used to stop the animal from escaping the pillowcase (explained more fully in the pictures accompanying this article).
I use colour to help me identify a pillowcase by its size. In my case, brown = standard size for my smaller birds, white = larger pillowcases obviously for my larger birds. Hint: the difference between a light and a dark colour will be easier to distinguish in low lighting/power failure. I also have a patterned pillowcase for my elderly disabled galah so that I can quickly recognise that the bird contained in this particular pillowcase will be more fragile than the others.
I place the pillowcases in the large ziplock bag in a specific order. As I move anti-clockwise around my bird room the correct size of pillowcase will be at the top of the bag, possibly saving me crucial seconds.
I have enough pillowcases for all of my birds and my cats.
- Spare elastic bands:
They break easily or perish when exposed to heat. It makes sense to have a few spares handy. You need to check their condition regularly to make sure they haven’t deteriorated while you have stored them.
- A reminder note:
This says “MEDICATION IN FRIDGE”. It’s a reminder, so that in the panic of evacuation, I remember that if I have a chance it would be very helpful if I grabbed the animal medication that needs to be stored in the fridge. I keep it in a bag, so it’s easy to grab. Some of it is specially compounded so would take weeks to replace (so think life-threatening consequences if I don’t have it). However getting to the fridge would require re-entering the house so it’s not as high a priority in my plan as getting all of the animals out alive.
- Small ziplock bag of medication:
This is my animals’ medication that doesn’t require refrigeration, so can be kept close to my animal’s cages. In my case, I keep a spare insulin pen for my diabetic cat.
- Spare dog leashes:
My dogs are in my plan. These leashes hook in to their collars. They’re spare only in the sense that I don’t use them for their daily walks (they have other leashes for that). This is about saving seconds, so I want everything I need in one place. My dogs are too heavy and large to carry, so they’d need to be led out by a leash.
That’s all I think I could carry in one go. I must stress the above is not my ideal evacuation scenario. It’s my “If I have seconds, this is what I grab” scenario. It can get me out of the house with all of my animals in less than 2 minutes. Remember, I have 10 birds plus cats and dogs so you may well find you’re faster. This plan is a lot better than: “If all else fails, release the animals into whatever anarchy I’m trying to escape from”.
If you only have 1 or 2 birds: You may be able to simply use a travel cage in an ultra fast evacuation. I’d still consider having a pillowcase handy though because it does make it easier to catch the bird if you have something like that to grab them with. In this case though I’d probably not be using the elastic band but be dropping both the bird and pillowcase into the carrier, allowing the bird to make its way out of the pillowcase into the carrier while I got the whole carrier to safety.
EVACUATING WHEN SECONDS AREN’T AS CRUCIAL…
Fortunately not all evacuations need to be done in seconds. In many cases we get advance warning that a devastating storm is coming or that a bushfire is bearing down on a town.
If you have animals, the best advice anyone can ever give you is to act early. There is a reason that people in Australia leave high fire risk areas on days when they know the fire danger is going to be extreme or worse. It’s a lot less stressful for animals if you get them to safety before it becomes dangerous to do so.
For advice on how to prepare for an evacuation where you at least have minutes to pack instead of seconds, please click on this link for disaster preparation as even those sorts of evacuations run more smoothly with some preparation too.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.