There is some what of a misconception about flight suits. I’ve noticed a lot of people think they will keep your bird from flying off – but isn’t saying that all relative? It feels like they forget they have to actually hold the leash. And, it doesn’t restrict your bird from actually flying… they could still fly off, if you weren’t holding onto the leash.
We flight train all of our birds starting indoors. And since I believe a bird is happiest when it can go outdoors, we like to introduce that element too. A harness is a popular way to do it if your bird is not free flight trained. I was constantly taking my birds with me on small trips to the park or the beach while on a harness before I knew about freeflight.
It’s nice to be able to walk around with our birds and show our birds off. I also love how much more friendly people can be when you’ve got a cute pink parrot on your shoulder! I love hearing about what types of birds other owners have and how they wish now they would have brought theirs out with them, too. Not to mention how great it can be for the bird when properly executed. This means taking every precaution possible to ensure your bird is as safe as can be.
We bought a long extending leash (for dogs) for our military macaw so that we could fly him outside on his harness. He’s a very skilled flier indoors in a theater environment but the outdoor elements throw him off every once in a while. I would not recommend doing this with your bird unless your bird is already pre-flight trained to perform successful A to B flights. This can prove to be very dangerous if your bird easily spooks and tries to fly at full speed away. More than likely, you will end up either losing the leash or tugging on it so hard that it may seriously injur your bird. Some birds can be held back so hard it tightens around their crop and forces them to puke up their food. It’s important you enable lee-way for your bird if he does do this and guide him down rather than just pull the leash tight.
Anytime our macaw comes out, he is either set to perch on something or kept on our hand. Our cockatoo is a bit more manageable and desensitized and she will stay on our hand or shoulder. She’s also more social and enjoys being out longer than our macaw. Every bird is different; it’s just about adjusting to your bird and its needs. Some birds can stay out all day while others are good with a solid ten minutes outside with you before they start getting antsy.
It's best to introduce your parrot to a flight suit early on so they get used to being in one. Every bird will react differently. For example, my macaw will merely sit there while I put his harness on him and he’s very comfortable wearing it. My cockatoo, however, hates the harness process and is uncomfortable flying in it so she’s less enthusiastic. My toucan is a complete nightmare with harnesses – last time I put her in a harness she got so scared she broke all her tail feathers. That’s when we resulted to anklets/jesses for her. You cannot use these on parrots! Parrots’ legs are not as strong as the birds these are actually meant for. If you were to treat them so, you would break your parrot’s legs. Do not try to use these on any type of parrot.
There are different types of harnesses for your bird. And harnesses are only made for birds larger than your common English parakeet or budgie.
Feather Tether: This is a harness that goes around your bird's body and wings that attaches to a leash. This is what Cash has on in the video above except we have attached a much longer leash as explained.
Birdie Harness: The exact same thing as a Feather Tether.
Flight suit: These are bird diapers to catch the droppings from your bird so it doesn't get on you while you have your bird out. These are made for even small birds like the English parakeet. You can buy accessories for these flight suits in order to be able to take your bird outside with you and not have it dispose on you.
Kaylor Collar Bird Harness: Many owners find this harness easier to put on their birds.
If you’re having a hard time getting your bird to go into his harness, you can start by targeting your bird around the harness to let him know it’s okay and safe. This is also the process you would use for any type of glove training. Once you have your bird walking on and around the harness, begin letting them lift it up or play with it, gently pick it up and target around it, lay it in your hand, etc. Slowly work your way to actually putting it on your bird at your birds own pace. Don’t ever become overconfident in your bird and step way ahead in training – it doesn’t work that way and you can end up reworking your entire training process from the beginning if you do this.
Flight suits can also be very dangerous for your pet birds. If you have an accident and aren’t holding onto the leash and your bird flies away, it can easily get caught in a tree or other harmful area. This can prove fatal when a leash is still connected and can cause them to get tied up and caught up within it. If your parrot spooks easily, it could have a tendency to fly higher and higher and therefore land in a very high tree top that you simply cannot climb up to, to retrieve your bird.
So with everything, there are risks that need to be taken into account and assessed. A lot of people are against flight suits for this reason alone and I don’t blame them. It’s not guaranteed that you will always be on your game and always alert enough for your bird’s needs when wearing a harness outside.
It's important to realize that we do strictly only A to B flights this way (as demonstrated with Cash in the above video). And since experiementing with freeflight, we no longer perform these flights with our birds. We still continue to take our non-freeflighted birds out via harness for day trips to the park or to the beach.
One of the tricks we do is to put a weight of some sort on the other end of the leash in case we were to let go of it at anytime. This helps limit how far your bird would be able to go if it got away.
I'm not advocating the use of harnesses and I'm not against them. Obviously, I have used them safely and effectively in the past. I believe they're a great idea but can be so dangerous for your bird based off of the risk of losing control of the leash. Really, it's up to the owner to determine if the risk is worth the adventure. To each his own on this one!
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.