Our biggest concern when we take our birds outside the confines of the house is for their safety. Unless your parrot is highly trained in free-flight and recall, you should never bring them outside without a restraint – either in a carrier or a harness.
There are several parrot harnesses on the market these days, but there are really only three contenders as I see it. I put a post on the facebook page recently asking people to speak about their harness choices. The opinions seem to fall in line with my own and those of others I asked.
For whatever reason, people seem to feel intimidated by harnesses. It appears to be that 1) they feel that their birds will not tolerate it being put on, 2) they won’t be able to figure out how to put it on, and 3) they fear for the safety of their birds in them. Here are some opinions:
The Aviator (Parrot University) seems to be the most popular of the harnesses. An advantage to this one is its one piece construction. You slip the head and wings through the appropriate slots and tighten it with a slide. It is very simple to put on. I think one of it’s best advantages is a simple safety feature: an elastic leash that gives play and absorbs the impact should the bird take to the air. Injuries have occurred when birds have flown off and come to an abrupt halt in mid-flight as the length of leash runs out.
(The one thing I don’t like about Parrot University is that they introduced this product as a way to ‘fly” your bird outside in a 30′ or 50’ radius. It claims it’s design to be tangle proof, which is the biggest danger present when flying your bird on a leash. I feel, though, that it is a risky precedent to set with your bird. I don’t want my bird to feel inspired to leave the safety of my hand or shoulder when I am outside with him, and I can see where offering this freedom could present future problems. If you want your bird to fly outdoors, have him trained professionally to do so. A leash is a restraint and should be regarded as such by your bird.)
The Flight Suit (Avian Fashions) falls somewhere in the middle in popularity. Of all of the harnesses, it looks like your bird has the smallest chance of escape from this one. It also looks like it might be very cumbersome and hot during the summer. I can’t say for sure because I have never had one.
A really cool feature of this harness is the attachable “diaper”, which is a pouch (with liners) strategically placed to catch poop. Aside from keeping you clean, it allows you to take your bird to places, like a friend’s house, where his droppings might be unwelcome.
(It is actually this company’s confusing website that kept me from buying one of these. The harness is appropriately named the “FlightSuit”. But on the site, the diapers are also named the “FlightSuit”. At first, I thought this was an error, but as you move through the site, both the diaper and the harness are sold individually and each are referred to by the same name. I never felt certain which I was ordering, so I got an Aviator.)
(There are altogether too many buckles and metal parts on this harness that would make it uncomfortable or that might get caught on feathers. Also, you need a degree in engineering to actually get it on your bird correctly. Years ago, I remember laying mine out flat on a table and trying to envision how I would wrap each strap over my bird’s body. Of course, in that vision the bird was very still and good, which did not correspond to my bird, who kept changing in size and shape throughout the ordeal. Truth be told, I never figured it out and my bird never wore it once.)
There are many tutorials on youtube teaching you how to put on the different harnesses. A simple google search will retrieve ones like this one, demonstrating on a most cooperative blue and gold. Some tutorials suggest you allow your bird to play with the harness to desensitize him to it before you try to put it on.This is not a good idea. By all means let your bird get accustomed to the harness, at first from a distance, then by approaching him with it until he’s comfortable. But it is not a toy and he shouldn’t feel at ease with chewing on it. A larger bird can bite clean through the harness straps or leash. The results would be tragic if your bird did this while wearing it.
Whatever harness you get, be sure that the size is appropriate. A harness is no good if either too large or too small. The sizing charts on some brands are of little help and the bird pictured on the packaging is not necessarily relative to the size of the harness inside. If I remember correctly, the very first Feather Tether I ever bought was the wrong size for my bird despite their recommendation on the package. Go to the brand’s website for the most definitive sizing charts.
The confidence you show your bird as you are trying to put on a harness for the first time will have a lot of impact on how this and future experiences go. Practice make perfect. I know a number of people, myself included, who went out and bought a stuffed animal that was vaguely the same shape and size as our bird to practice with. You may have to use your imagination a bit, but this will make you feel a lot more comfortable trying to harness an impatient, squirming parrot.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.