It’s that fun time of year again (here in the Southern Hemisphere). You know the time I mean? The time when your visitors see your lorikeet doing a hormonal war dance on your ponytail and delightedly tell you how you should hold still because this is going to make the best YouTube video ever… Sometimes it’s hard to like Spring! It’s easy to see why people are desperately looking for ways to solve bird-hormone related issues.
Believe it or not, an increase in hormonal behaviours isn’t the worst thing that Spring brings. Unfortunately, I’m already noticing an increase in the number of lost bird adverts springing up around the place.
As the weather fines up, windows and doors are thrown open and we have a tendency to move our birds out to enjoy the lovely weather. The chances of an accidental escape increase dramatically. So I thought it was time to visit the topic of lost and found birds.
Preventing the worst from happening and preparing for when it does:
It is worth sitting down and looking at how your bird can escape and making various cage/aviary modifications to prevent that from happening. Make sure any outdoor aviaries are anchored properly. More than one bird has escaped because of an aviary blowing over in an unforeseen windstorm.
It’s very easy to sit back and say think about where your birds are and don’t leave doors and windows open when your bird is out. Preventing a bird from a permanent disappearance takes a lot more than that though. Accidents WILL happen, no matter how careful you are. It is unrealistic to believe that it won’t ever happen to you or your bird.
Wing clips will not save your bird from getting lost. If a wing clip is done correctly a bird should still have the ability to flutter safely to the ground. ANY wing clipped bird can be caught by a gust of wind and carried away. Many people have lost their bird because they honestly thought it couldn’t fly. I don’t actually condone wing clipping but whether you believe in wing clipping or not, please don’t be caught out by the myth that a wing clip can prevent your bird’s escape.
It is far safer to assume that an accident will happen one day and to have done some preparation for that event. There is some training that you can do with your bird to help prevent a permanent loss.
The first and most obvious thing is flight training. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where free flying is safe, I encourage you to check out the Birdtricks freeflight course. It is expensive for a reason. It is a full-on commitment but worth the effort if you can do it. Outdoor freeflight is not something to take on lightly, but if you are able to do it your chance of permanently losing your bird is drastically reduced.
For those of us who don’t have the option of freeflight training, (seriously scary birds of prey out there would prevent me!!!) There is another option. You can use target training to teach your bird how to recall to you while safely inside. Target training is covered in the Total Transformation Course.
The other type of preparative training that isn’t quite as obvious as flight training is teaching your bird to Talk on Cue. You can’t cue a bird to recall to you, if you can’t find it. Teaching your bird to talk is a really useful way of finding out where your bird is.
When one of my lorikeets undid a food bowl door and flew off last year, she disappeared over the roof of my house. I ran through the house and out the front door, but by the time I got out there my bird had landed and wasn’t visible. She has a very soft voice when she speaks, but has a brilliant whistle. I had trained her to complete a wolf whistle. I start the whistle – she finishes it. Fortunately, this allowed me to work out she was in the tallest tree in the street.
After a lot of effort involving me doing a stupid dance (in my pyjamas) to get her attention (while an evil neighbour got out his video camera), I was able to coax her down. The whole time wishing I’d done more recall training that involved a descent (and of course I was wishing I was wearing less skimpy pyjamas)!
One of the other things that you can do to help make an accident easier include having a list of your local vets, petstores and rescues. Think of anywhere a bird might be handed in. Have your list ready to go – it isn’t something you’re going to want to spend time researching when the worst happens.
I’ve actually done up a flier with a photograph for each of my birds just in case. I’ve saved the file and it’s basically ready to pull out when/if needed. The only thing that I have to do is fill in is the date of an escape. That’s a 2 second job, much preferable to spending hours wading through photos looking for a decent picture. Check out the section below on creating a leaflet for more help with that.
Consider microchipping your birds. In Australia, a microchip is now roughly ¼ size of a grain of rice. The procedure here is a simple injection and nowhere near as stressful as it used to be. My birds easily coped with the procedure. Other countries are still using slightly larger microchips (so the bird may need to be put under while it is inserted), but it is still worth discussing this with your avian vet.
What to do immediately after an escape:
- When your bird is flying off, it is important that you make noise so it knows where you are. It may well help your bird get its bearings and work out how to come back to you.
- Take note of the direction the bird flies and how tired it looks. It will help give you an idea of where it lands.
- A pet bird is not going to have the stamina to fly very far at first. They generally stay within a mile/1km of where they were lost for the first few days.
- The first 24 hours are crucial. You need to get out there and physically look and call for your bird.
- Watch for wild birds, your bird might be hiding, scared and silent but if there are wild birds around they have a tendency to be very vocal about an intruder. They can help you identify your bird’s location.
- Your bird may be very still when it is frightened. Watch for any unnaturally leaf/branch movement – not just for glimpses of your actual bird.
- Alert any neighbours and make sure they can contact you. The more people looking, the more chance you have of getting your bird back.
- If you have other birds, take one with you in a travel cage as you walk the streets. If you are lucky enough to have more than 2 birds, it would also help to move a cage/aviary into your yard with your remaining birds in it. The other birds’ calls can bring your bird in.
- You are not likely to find your bird in the dark, so when the daylight fades it’s time to go inside and start the online campaign to recover your bird. See the links at the end of this post for some places to start.
When you don’t recover your bird immediately:
- Don’t give up. That’s easy for me to say BUT I know people who have got their bird back months after they have lost it. The longest I know of is 18 months later.
- Remember, a bird may turn to a human for help when it gets hungry and tired, so a leaflet drop is worth doing. Check out the advertisement tips below for advice on what to include.
- It may take your bird a while to find help. Unfortunately, this may come AFTER the house your bird ends up in has thrown out your leaflet. Don’t be afraid to do multiple leaflet drops in the same area.
- Tape posters to the rear window of your car. As you drive around – you’re advertising.
- If you live in a location where your species of bird lives wild, don’t forget to contact wildlife rescue organisations to see if they have come across your bird. As a wildlife rescuer – I commonly get called out to rescue what the public thinks is a wild bird, but is actually a talking pet. (Nothing like being told to “Bug off Bozo!!!” by an angry tame cockatoo.)
- Put up posters at your local vets, animal shelters/rescues, pet stores, post office – wherever you can think of. Don’t forget sports facilities such as golf clubs and football ovals.
- See if you can get the local media interested. A lot of local newspapers will have a lost and found section.
- Hit the internet. The longer your bird is missing the further it can travel and the average internet advert will reach a wide audience.
Tips for creating a leaflet/poster/advertisement:
- Offer a reward. This will encourage people to look for your bird, or if someone dishonest has him – might motivate a return. You don’t have to specify the amount on the leaflet.
- Do NOT put your exact address on your advertisement. I put a general area on mine, but not a specific address. Putting your address on a flier is like saying to a thief “Come to my place and steal my animals and then claim the reward” or “Hey check out my house – I keep expensive birds as pets”. Protect yourself and your other animals.
- Make your phone number prominent, but don’t leave your number somewhere where you can’t remove it from later.
- Include a photo of your bird. If you don’t have a photo, include a basic description. Don’t just pull a random photo off the internet of someone else’s bird. Someone may disregard you advertisement because your bird looks different to the pic you got off the internet.
- Clearly ask people to CALL FOR ANY SIGHTING. People may see your bird but be unable to catch it and just not call you. If you can track your bird by sightings you have a better chance of finding the bird yourself.
- Include a bit of a sob story – even if it is just the sentence ‘family is very distressed’. It’s quite possible someone has found and fallen in love with your cute talkative bird and they don’t want to give it up. The sob story might give them the motivation to do so.
- Do NOT include a legband number or microchip number. This should be held back to prove ownership of the bird. It prevents a dishonest person from removing a leg band. Feel free to say ‘he/she is microchipped’, just don’t give the number.
- If there is something that will make your bird easier to catch – include that info. E.g. comes when whistled.
What to do if you have found a bird
- If you have other birds – quarantine the found bird. Don’t just stick it in with yours. Wild birds carry diseases that this bird may have been exposed to.
- Locations to hand in found birds are going to vary internationally so my best advice is to contact a local vet and get their recommendation on where to take a bird if you are unable to hold it and look for the owner yourself.
- When advertising that you have found a bird, hold some details back. There are unscrupulous people out there who just want a free bird. Basic details should be enough to attract the real owner, who should be able to fill the gaps. So don’t list the bird’s entire vocabulary, legband number, etc.
Advertising Online for a Lost or Found pet/bird:
No doubt some of the links below will eventually become redundant, so before I put up any links I want to give you a couple of very important tips:
- Do a Google search yourself. Pretend you are the person that has just found your bird. Whatever comes up in your search results is likely to come up for anyone who actually does find your bird. It will give you a very good idea of which sites are current at the time of your bird’s loss, which sites come up locally to you and therefore which sites to place an advert on.
- Another tip for an online advert is to remember that not everyone has your bird knowledge. For example, the average person on the street is not going to know what a male Eclectus parrot looks like. They aren’t going to type ‘lost Eclectus’ into google when they find your bird. They are more likely to type ‘lost green bird’. Remember that when you do your advert. Feel free to say “Lost Eclectus Parrot” in your advert, but make sure you include a simple description from which key words will be picked up by google. Describe your bird. It might seem too obvious to say something like ‘green bird, yellow-orange beak’, but to the average person those are the words they will use to find the owner.
- Include a date lost, but make sure you say “still missing” in your description, even if it has only been 2 days. Remember this advert is going to be what brings your bird home if he/she is found in 6 months time. You don’t want someone to discount your advert as ‘too old’.
- Include a rough location. Don’t be too exact in area, because birds fly and you don’t want someone to discount your advert just because your bird is found far away.
- Keep a record of the sites you put adverts up on – so that you can remove them if your bird is found. Do not put adverts up in locations where you can never remove your personal details. Unfortunately, there are some sick people out there who may give you harassing phone calls.
- Jump on the bird forums or some of the bird groups on facebook. Post links to your lost advert and make the privacy setting on your post ‘public’ so that people can share it.
Useful links to sites that might help:
Note some of these sites allow people to register with them and will notify you of any lost birds in your area as they get lost, which will warn you to keep an eye open. So even if you haven’t lost a bird – check them out.
World Wide Lost & Found Bird Hotline: http://www.birdhotline.com/
911 Parrot Alert: http://www.911.parrotalert.com/
Parrot Alert: http://www.parrotalert.com/
Pet Amber Alert: http://www.petamberalert.com/
Birdmart Parrot Classified Ads – Lost & Found: http://birdmart.com/classifieds/
Flealess Market’s Lost Pets International: http://www.flealess.org/lostpets/
Gumtree Classifieds: http://www.gumtree.com/
Lost and Found: http://www.lostandfound.com
It’s worth searching ‘lost pets’ on Facebook and on craigslist and seeing what comes up too!
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.