The 4th of July is a holiday that most people eagerly anticipate. It is all about barbecues, outdoor activities and family fun. When the sun sets, out come the explosives. The night sky is filled with gunpowder blasts and flashes of bright light. The formerly peaceful world has become a war-zone and our pets are not amused.
The very worst response to 4th of July came from one of my dogs, a mostly wolf/part collie mix whom most people feared because of her ominous appearance. Every 4th, about 15 minutes following sundown, the poor dog would begin trembling uncontrollably. She would frantically try to wedge herself into the three inch clearance beneath the bed. At 90 pounds, she was only able to secure the safety of a paw or two. I spent this holiday, most years, in bed with her under the blankets trying desperately to calm her and hoping she would retain control of her bladder. Oh, how she suffered this night every year. I just dreaded it.
Birds, being prey animals, are particularly reactive to sudden sights and sounds, which can make this holiday particularly uncomfortable for them. There is no one right way to prepare your birds because each has its own level of tolerance to the unusual. It seems that birds who are acclimated to a busy household will fare better on this night or in any unsettling environment. And a bird whose trust you have worked to earn will more easily believe you when you tell them that everything is okay.
You can never say for sure how crazy your neighborhood is going to get on any particular year. The people next door may choose to throw a party with a fireworks display at dusk. I always try to be prepared for that possibility.The neighborhood here in Orlando has a lot of young families and it’s gets loud. Here are the things I do to prepare my flock:
Start the day with a bang:
From the moment I get the birds up in the morning and through the afternoon, I make it a high excitement day. I am boisterous and animated. If there is a TV or radio nearby, it goes on and stays on. I create lots of noise and play actively with them. The purpose of this is to make the day a noisy one so that the evening sounds will not appear as shocking in contrast.
Wear them out:
There are always lots of daytime outdoor activities that your bird will enjoying being a part of. This is a good time to break out the backpack or carrier for an outing and a good opportunity for socialization. Following this, I give them a nice bath. The point to all of this? I want an exhausted bird come sundown.
Load them up with food:
I make sure my birds are snacking all day long. I withhold favorite foods from the morning meal to serve off and on throughout the day. A bird’s energy level drops after they have eaten. While their bodies are busy digesting their food, they will quietly preen or nap. A full bird is a calm bird.
Put them to bed early:
I make sure my birds settled at least an hour before dusk. Make sure blinds are drawn or have cages covered if they are in view of a window where they might see fireworks. They will likely be very willing to go to sleep after such an active day. If your bird is not accustomed to being covered and states an objection, just cover the side facing the window. Very often, even at this early hour, the fireworks can already be heard off in the distance. I reassure them by dropping my energy levels down and telling them that all is well as I put them to bed.
If your bird is unable to sleep…:
Temporarily relocate the cage to an interior area of the house where the sound from outside will be more muffled. Leave a TV or radio on quietly in an adjacent room. Sometimes the bird will do better being in the same room you are in, and while I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend that this is how you handle fearfulness in your bird, this might be one exception. However, I would suggest that you keep the bird covered in its cage. I will caution you that frightened birds will bite and having a beak near your face when an explosion sounds off may not play out well for you.
Let your experienced birds show the way:
The established flock can help new members who who are unaccustomed to the chaos. Theo, my goffins cockatoo, came to live with me in February of 2008, when she was 22 years old. She was overly fearful of just about everything. We worked hard on this issue. When July rolled around that year, I was worried that she might not handle the fourth well. When one bird displays fear, it sets off the entire flock and I was gearing up for a troublesome night. I am pleased to say that instead of launching into a full scale panic attack, Theo looked to Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, for guidance. When he remained calm throughout the excitement, she followed suit. The night was peaceful, relatively speaking.
All of my birds do well on the Fourth of July. I am a very high energy person, constantly in motion, making frequent trips in and out of the bird room. I shout greetings to my birds from the different rooms in the house, just to touch base with them. I talk to them constantly. If I drop something, my birds recover from the surprise quickly. Mine is a loud, active household, and my birds have all benefited from that. They fully trust me and if my energy levels remain constant, so do theirs. This is something you can be working on throughout the year that will make the 4th of July and other times, like the winter holidays, less stressful for your bird.
Your bird looks to you for its comfort and security and with a little effort you can make this night much less scary. And, please, no matter how well adjusted your bird seems on this night, NEVER take him out to witness the fireworks. There is no way it will be a pleasant experience for a high-alert animal like a bird.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.