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Avian Health & Wellness
Recovering an Escaped Exotic Bird
by Marc Johnson, Founder & Executive Director, Foster Parrots
Foster Parrots and MAARS often get calls to assist someone with locating a parrot who has become lost — especially during the warmer months when the outdoors beckon. The following information has been compiled over the years from personal experience in recovering escaped birds who most often became lost due to a dangerous oversight on the part of their guardian(s) — most birds can and will fly, often very well, even when their wing feathers have recently been trimmed!
Sometimes a door or window is carelessly left ajar and the bird gets out. Other times, the caregiver may forget the bird is on his shoulder when he goes out the door. Other people may bring their birds outside on purpose, with the intention of getting them some fresh air and sunshine, without knowing that birds can fly easily with clipped wing feathers. If a bird is startled or frightened, her/his first instinct to take flight is overwhelming; captive birds who have never been known to fly during a lifetime in captivity, show remarkable survival instincts when they feel endangered.
Birds who have been kept exclusively in captivity often cannot survive if they wind up outside on their own. Generally, they have no skills or knowledge about obtaining food (including which foods are safe and toxic), or fresh water. Many exotic birds may become prey for predatory birds like hawks; extreme weather can also play a part in the bird's mortality, although, escapees have been known to endure severe conditions surprisingly well. Most captive birds have also never been outside of their homes, so they do not recognize it from the outside, and easily become lost and unable to find their way to familiar voices and sounds.
The one thing to remember here is don't give up!
If bird's whereabouts are known:
If the caregiver knows where the escaped bird is, the caregiver can make attempts to coax the bird down with treats or even attempt to climb the tree. If the caregiver does decide to climb the tree, he/she should take a pillowcase (tucked in the belt or back of the trousers), with a long length of clothesline attached so that the bird can be lowered to the ground. This will be easier and safer than trying to climb down with a potentially biting or struggling bird. This method is most likely to work with an extremely tame bird. Many birds will fly off as one gets closer. Two people should be involved to keep track of where the bird goes should s/he fly off.
If bird's whereabouts are not known:
If the caregiver does not know the whereabouts of the bird, one must take steps to find out where s/he is, where s/he is eating (often a fruit tree in season or a birdfeeder in someone's back yard), or sleeping. Some people have had success in locating their bird just by listening carefully for the bird's vocalizations in response to the caregiver's calls. Escaped birds have also responded to the vocalizations of an avian companion or another of the same species; caregivers can bring an avian companion along in a carrier during their search or play pre-recorded vocalizations of a companion or another bird of the same species as the escapee.
Contact the local animal control agencies, the police, all vet clinics, pet supply and pet stores (they may not help you but they can serve as a contact should someone report seeing your bird). Make flyers with the bird's photo and distribute to all known "pet" or animal related groups. Offer a reward of $50 to $100. Post flyers at schools, on telephone poles, and in shop windows within a five-mile radius of your home. If possible increase this area by 5 miles within the next day and then one mile per day thereafter. (One bird was recently found over 100 miles from home within one week and birds are frequently found within a ten-mile radius of "home").
Walk the neighborhood. Ask joggers and children to keep an eye out (it is good to have business cards or flyers to give everyone you talk to), pass out your flyers and try to find the people in your neighborhood that keep their birdfeeders well-stocked. Ask them to keep an eye out. Hopefully these steps will result in the location of your flighted friend.
Recovering an escapee:
Locate two or three old cockatiel-sized cages. Larger cages will be needed for macaws. Contact local animal rescue groups and wildlife rehabilitators for old cages.
Get permission from homeowners in your neighborhood to put a cage in the yard and trees. They are usually happy to give permission. If possible, get homeowners and their family to keep an eye on the cages. One of the birds we caught this year was actually caught by a homeowner who shut the door to the cage and then called Foster Parrots to come and get the bird.
Put a cage on the ground and sprinkle seed around the opening, lots of peanuts, apples, and favorite foods inside. Put another cage in a tree frequented by your feathered friend, if you know of such a tree.
To get the cage into the tree:
Tend the cages daily and continue to look for other places the bird may be hanging out. Don't give up — the one thing that EVERY person who used this method told us was that we were the only ones to give them hope and that this message alone kept them looking.
Editor's Note: If you rescue a foundling parrot and do not know who her guardians are, be sure to contact local police, animal shelters, and pet recovery websites with a description of the bird, species, and where she was found. It is recommended that you not release any identifying characteristics to the public such as band number, unique markings, or vocabulary; anyone looking for their lost bird should be able to provide such information as proof that they are the bird's rightful guardian(s).