Monday, January 23, 2012

Traveling With a Pet Bird

Every year for Christmas I go home to upstate New York to spend the holiday with my family.
Simon--my 9-year-old African Grey Parrot
I have a 9 year old African Grey Parrot named Simon who is a big part of my life.  For the holiday I usually go home for about two weeks, which is a long time for me to leave my bird in St. Louis with a bird sitter, so Simon travels with me.  This is often a very interesting experience, since I must fly to New York.
Simon's travel crate 
In preparation for the trip I have to do my own packing and then I have to pack for the bird, which is almost like packing for a small child.  I pack a couple of days worth of pellets, seeds and snacks so that if we get delayed he has food.  Then I pack a few small toys in case I need extras.  I then make sure that the crate is clean and stocked with a few toys; and I have a small blanket ready to go over the crate.  Simon has a very nice Crystal Flight plexiglass crate with a perch inside that fits nicely under the seat of the plane.

I am very lucky with Simon in that he is quiet when traveling and is good in the crate--especially now that we have a good travel crate.  The first few years I traveled with him I used the soft side carriers that look like luggage.  Good idea, but Simon did not think so and he destroyed at least two of them by putting large holes in the sides.
Fortunately Simon is a good traveller 
When arriving at the airport we always have to get there a little earlier than normal, since this is something out of the ordinary for those working airline counters, and will take extra time.  Once checked in it’s then time to go through security.  This is when the fun begins. 

As everyone who travels knows, you have to take off your shoes and coat, and pull liquids and computer out of their bags.  I have to take Simon out of the crate so the crate can go through the x-ray machine.  When you go through the non-x-ray scanner that is when you hear a ton of “Polly, Want a Cracker” or similar comments.  My favorite comment is, “What am I suppose to do with this?” During this whole process Simon is quiet or might let out a small whistle or “Hello”.  Other than that, he just wants back in his crate.  Once his crate is through the scanner we go through the process of bird back in the crate, getting redressed and repacked.

At the gate most people do not even notice him--generally only small children who see him and come over to talk to him.  Other than that, gate time is uneventful.  I have heard a few interesting comments over the years, such as, “Do you have a pigeon in there?”

As we are getting on the plane I make sure the blanket is in place to keep him warm, since Christmas time is usually cold out.  Once we are on the plane and my one carry-on is stored I wrap Simon’s crate in the blanket so he is covered up, safely place him under the seat, and away we go.  Once again very few people notice he is there.  Simon stays quiet under the blanket and waits for the ride to be over.  When we land I check on him and sometimes get a quiet whistle, “Hello”, or a laugh.   On occasion he can surprise people with one of his more unusual vocalizations.  The best was a few years ago when he let out a nice phone sound.  At this point one or two people made comments like, “Is that a Parrot”, “I did not know people traveled with pets,” and so on.

Layovers are uneventful unless they are long, and then Simon wants out.  When this happens he forcefully pushes on the door of his carrier.  Once we arrive at the final destination he is ready for the large cage that awaits him at my parents’ home. 
 Simon enjoys the presents too!
When traveling, there are several things to think about to make your trip safe for your bird.  Check with your airline first to make sure they take birds—not all do.  Make sure you have a cage waiting at your final destination that is set up for when you arrive.  Be sure you have food with you so that if you get stuck for a few days you have sufficient food for your bird.  Make sure your bird is comfortable in a crate and is quiet.  If your bird is very noisy the airline may not allow you to continue your flight, or may make you put the bird under the plane with other pets that can’t be carried on.  Always arrive at the airport early.  Have a blanket to cover the crate.  Be aware that your crate counts as one carry-on.  Most of all--be patient.

I’m very lucky to have a bird that adjusts well and is happy to travel as long as I am with him.  It may be challenging, but I love having him with me on these trips and I know he is happiest this way.

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuaary Naturalist


Bob Herndon said...

Remember that if you are crossing an international boundary, that virtually all parrots are protected by CITES and some by the Endangered Species Act. That means you need the CITES documents as well as a USFWS declaration (both out of and back in to the country!). You probably want to get a Pet Passport to make things easier. Check at for more info!

Photog said...

Thanks, Bob, for the additional travel tips.