There have been a few stories circulating on social media lately about pet birds being stolen. They’re heartbreaking stories and I would hate to think what I’d do if anyone tried to steal one of my flock.
There are things that you can do to protect yourself and your birds and Jamie has done an excellent post on that which I have linked here. That said though, there is only so far that security cameras, well-trained dogs and your own vicious protective tendencies can accomplish. There is something else that is worth considering too.
I have a tendency to lie about where I live. When someone asks me for my address, all sorts of things spontaneously come out of my mouth. When I have to fill out a form, you might get an address out of me that will work as far as posting something to me, but it won’t be where I actually live. It’s likely to be where someone I know lives. I don’t remember the last time that I honestly gave out my home address for anything. The closest I’ve come to giving out my real address is to give someone a suburb or vague area. I guess that makes me a special sort of paranoid nutcase? That’s probably fair, but I’m still going to keep lying.
I started lying about my address, years before I got birds. For me, the trigger was having a stalker. I sat next to a guy once in a university lecture theatre and in his head that apparently meant we had a relationship. The weirdo got my address off a class list and broke into my flat. He stole a leotard and my toilet paper. He left his mail in my letterbox so I would think of him when I read his name. Proving to authorities that it was him that did it, turned out to be impossible. So I learned the valuable lesson to not give out my address for anything, even if it’s for something like school. He meanwhile, learned the valuable lesson not to mess with a girl that carries iridescent green spirit-based hairspray in her bag. Apparently when sprayed in the face it “stings”? It also makes it easier to prove to authorities that someone was following you because it takes a bit to wash off the evidence. Oops.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to having some species of bird as a pet. There are unscrupulous people out there that will do pretty much anything to attain what they see as valuable birds. Highly trained, friendly and talkative birds are sought after and there are those that are too lazy to do the work to get a bird to that stage themselves. Then there are the rare or more expensive species that are getting harder and harder to find for sale. The tighter the import/export laws are on birds, the bigger and stronger the black market becomes. It’s a vicious cycle. We need the laws and protection for our native birds, but the laws in turn make criminals more desperate.
Well I no longer live alone in a flat with little to no security, but I still lie about my address. I’m hoping to avoid any future scenarios that would require me to break out the level of psycho that it took to use that hairspray. Where my birds are concerned – that habit has paid off more than once.
My Blue and Gold Macaw “Fid” came from a pet store. Honestly, I’d say it wasn’t the ideal way to add a bird to your flock. The pet store was pretty average when it came to birds. They only ever had 2-3 birds in stock but all of their birds were on a poor quality seed mix. Fid’s cage was filthy and now that I’m very familiar with what Fid’s poo looks like, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his poo that covered his cage. It appeared unlikely that they cleaned their cages on a regular basis.
There were many things that weren’t quite right about in what staff said to me about Fid at the time of sale. Illegally, the store manager refused to give Fid a health guarantee. The manager was fairly desperate for me to leave Fid in the store for the weekend, even though he’d been paid for. The only way he’d give Fid a guarantee was if I left him and paid a vet to come to the store the following week. He said that if I took him out of the store I couldn’t prove any illness came from them. I knew the law and wasn’t put off by this. I knew I was taking Fid straight to a vet and would have blood samples taken immediately. I knew how those tests work. In short, it takes time for a bird to develop antibodies to a disease (which is one of the things tests look for). If there was a problem, I wasn’t going to find it difficult to prove the source. I dismissed the manager as a moron and informed him the bird was leaving with me whether he like it or not.
The manager then changed his mind about Fid definitely being a boy. Suddenly he couldn’t guarantee it and wanted me to change my mind? Especially considering that the manager wouldn’t guarantee Fid’s health? Apparently he wouldn’t talk as well if he wasn’t a boy, so I’d want to get that checked before I took him. I looked at the manager in surprise, wondering vaguely why he was so desperate to keep Fid in the store for the weekend? I hoped it was for Fid’s sake, but he was so aggressive about it – I wasn’t sure.
The manager kept saying that all birds are the same. I got the distinct impression that if I didn’t take Fid immediately, he wouldn’t be there when I came back. I cynically wondered if they had a ‘friendly’ bird on display to attract buyers and would substitute it with a less friendly bird when the bird sold? Or maybe I was being unfair and the manager was trying to prevent an impulse buy? After all, he didn’t know I’d planned to walk in and leave with Fid. I hadn’t warned the store of my intentions – I’d done the preparation behind the scenes. A normal person would pay a deposit and come back after making preparations. He didn’t know I had a quarantine cage already setup and already had a vet on standby. As far as he was concerned I was someone who had come in off the street who didn’t even care enough to ask about what to feed the bird. I shrugged and said Fid’s sex didn’t matter to me and he needn’t worry about my taking him as I knew what I was doing.
The time came to fill in a hand written receipt. I was asked for contact details and I happily rattled off a fake address and fake details. My mother was with me and she looked at me in open-mouthed shock. She’d already worked out that I didn’t like the store manager as she’d heard me dismiss everything he’d said more than a little sarcastically. She had never heard me give fake contact details before, it clearly hadn’t occurred to her to do so. As far as I was concerned, I had no wish to ever deal with the store again and I had no reason to trust their staff with my correct details, especially as I had formed a less than charitable opinion about the manager’s ethics.
I knew that over $300,000 worth of birds had been stolen from various locations in my state in the past couple of months. I also knew that here in Australia, Macaws are a primary target of thieves. The lesson in that is to trust no one. Mum informed me that I was paranoid.
Needless to say, I expected problems with Fid’s health and I got them. I was prepared to deal with that because it was specifically Fid that I’d fallen in love with. My friend had seen the instantaneous bond and decided to buy Fid for me. So it wasn’t just any Macaw that I wanted – it was Fid. I knew I’d use whatever information I got from Fid’s health to report to authorities and deal with the store officially and I knew that I would at least follow through with treating any health issues. As it happened, Fid has psittacosis. Psittacosis is a reportable disease. It is highly contagious amongst birds and is also contagious to humans. By law vets here have to report it to authorities, which immediately put the store under investigation. They deserved it.
I contacted the store once more after I took Fid home. I rang them to inform them of his health issues, so they’d know to screen their other birds. It did sound like at least one of their other birds was symptomatic. I was also having problems with Fid’s anxiety issues. Fid was terrified of the dark, so I asked about the store’s night-time lighting, hoping if I could replicate it, it might help calm him. I was told Fid was kept in pitch darkness. I didn’t believe that and said so. Surely they had security cameras operating that required some form of light? I was told no they didn’t and that it was obviously me that was the problem. I was clearly freaking him out and should know better. I was told to stick him in his cage in the corner of a room with a bowl of food and not go near him at all (even to change the food) for a few days. Well, I did not hang up politely.
Two weeks later, the store was in the news headlines. The store had been robbed overnight. The Blue and Gold Macaw that replaced Fid had been stolen along with another expensive bird and the store’s till. Security camera footage (I was right about the lighting) was released, showing the thieves knocking over one of the bird’s cages. It was a violent and scary theft as far as the birds were concerned. Needless to say, police were investigating and appealing for public help.
It was frightening to realise how close Fid had come to being that stolen bird. For all I knew, the theft had been scheduled for 2 weeks earlier and my taking Fid home when I did messed everything up.
Mum turned the news off and turned to me, saying: “You know they’re going to think it was you that set that up?”
Well let’s see, I gave fake contact details, I paid cash, I rang and asked them about their remaining birds and their security lighting at night… When I think about it, they wouldn’t even have me on the car park security footage as I parked three streets away. (I wanted to be able to open my car doors fully to slide Fid’s travel cage in, so I didn’t want anyone parking next to me.) Mum had a point. I did look a little dodgy. “If only you hadn’t lied about your contact details,” said mum.
Well I’m glad I lied and I’d do it again. Most retail stores do not leave money in their tills overnight. That is usually transferred somewhere safer. So ask yourself what might have been in that till that interested the thieves? I find myself wondering a little about that receipt book with people’s contact details in it? It is one way for a bunch of bird thieves to get a “Who bought what expensive animal?” guide, isn’t it?
Well the end of the story is happy enough when it comes to Fid. He’s still got some anxiety issues and some feather issues but he’s gradually improving and has fully recovered from psittacosis. As for my criminal self – well I rang the police and supplied them (but not the store) with my correct details. They did interview me and I’m fairly confident that they’re happy to rule me out as a random crazy person, rather than a person of interest. (My collection of bird poo photos probably helped with that.) It’s not difficult for me to prove Fid is the bird that I originally got from the store because I had him microchipped in one of his first vet visits.
As for the stolen birds, I have no idea what the end of their story is. Considering their exposure to psittacosis, I have my doubts about them even being alive. As far as I know, the thieves have yet to be caught.
I’m definitely extreme in my approach to hiding my contact details – but I have been burned badly enough to justify that. I’m very public about what birds are in my flock, so a little extra paranoia probably can’t hurt me much. As more and more thefts are reported, it pays to be careful of exactly who you trust.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.