There are many reasons why you might take your bird with you in the car, including to the vet, to a pet sitter’s house, to a bird club meeting, or even just for an outing. It’s important to know how to transport a bird so both you and your bird arrive safely at your destination.
Noise distraction can be a big issue with some birds (nothing like stating the obvious!). An ear-piercing shriek can startle the best of drivers, potentially causing an accident. Plan ahead by providing your bird with tasty treats or a favorite toy to distract her. Playing music your bird likes might also help to keep the noise to a minimum. Be aware that a hawk flying overhead or anything else that resembles a predator, such as those orange balls suspended on high wires, can precipitate screaming, so try to block all overhead views.
Physical distraction is a major issue with transporting a loose bird. Many people enjoy having their bird on their shoulder or seat while driving, but this is highly dangerous for you, your bird and other drivers for many reasons. A bird screaming from the back seat can be startling enough. A bird sticking its beak in your ear and shrieking at the top of its lungs is a sure-fire way to drive into a pole or worse!
Any animal moving around in a vehicle can distract the driver, especially one which can get itself into a lot of trouble, like a bird! The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that your risk of being in a crash doubles with looking away from the road for only two seconds. Several states, including Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, have already passed and are enforcing distracted-driving laws aimed at preventing drivers from having animals on their laps or outside of carriers while driving.
Here are two more reasons a bird loose in a car is dangerous.
1. Car stops suddenly. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. If you hit the brakes (or another object) at high speed, your bird will hurtle forward and hit the windshield. Bird dead. Remember that we wear seatbelts to keep from hitting the windshield! The bird will not have time to spread its wings to slow its forward momentum if you brake suddenly.
2. Airbag hits bird. Airbags exist to cushion us firmly in our seat in case of sudden deceleration. Airbags expand at up to 200 mph when they sense a crash. Sitting within 10 inches of an airbag is considered dangerous to an adult human. Even humans sitting properly often sustain skin burns or even cracked ribs when an airbag goes off, though this is obviously better than crushing the chest on a steering wheel or going through a windshield. Any bird on a person’s chest or lap when an airbag goes off will be crushed to death against their person. Simple as that. Most cars also have side airbags now, as well, so there are multiple sources of danger for a loose bird. Airbags have been known to injure small children who are not properly restrained. Imagine what they can do to a bird. Also be aware that airbags give off a considerable amount of corn starch or talcum powder when they inflate, which could choke a bird in close proximity.
After An Accident
There are many ways a bird can be injured or escape after an accident. A disoriented driver may forget that their bird is loose in the car and open the door, releasing the bird. Bystanders or emergency personnel who open the car door may also startle the bird, causing the bird to fly away. A bird can escape through a broken window. In a serious accident, the bird may get injured in the rescue operation if not already injured by the accident itself. There may even be opportunity for someone to steal the bird. Remember that even the tamest of birds may not react as expected in the chaos of an accident. If you are injured or unconscious, you may not even be aware at the time that your bird is gone. If you need to be transported to the hospital, rescue workers are not likely going to take a free flying bird, but they may stop to take an animal carrier.
Now that you’ve learned why your precious parrot shouldn’t be loose in the car while you drive, let’s learn the best ways to safely restrain her.
The best carriers are sturdy so they don’t collapse easily in case of an accident. Wire cages are generally too flimsy for safe transport. There are a variety of safe carriers available. Unlike cage recommendations at home, you should get the smallest carrier that comfortably houses your bird since in case of rapid deceleration, your bird could get tossed about inside the carrier. The cage should have either no perch or a low perch so your bird doesn’t fall off easily while you’re careening around corners (which you would never do, of course…). The carrier should have a sturdy handle through which a seat belt can be attached. If you need to stop suddenly, an unrestrained carrier could fly through the air, injuring your bird, so the carrier should always be belted in.
Standard kennel carriers are readily available, inexpensive, and airplane-approved. The seatbelt can go through the top handle. Aluminum travel cages are lightweight, but sturdy, and can sometimes be completely knocked down, if need be. Acrylic carriers come in various sizes and shapes, including macaw size. Some carriers will have built-in feed cups and others allow cups to be clipped on. You can get some idea of the variety of carriers here and their uses:
If you choose a clear carrier, keep in mind that your bird may feel vulnerable while you drive, especially if he or she sees another bird flying overhead, such as a hawk flying or crow. Bring along a blanket or cloth to drape over the top of the carrier, which will not only block both the view but afford your bird some sun protection so he or she doesn’t become overheated.
The carrier should always be belted into the back seat, as with a child’s car seat. If the carrier is in the front seat, it could potentially be squashed by an airbag. The second row or back seat of a vehicle is also the safest place to be in case of an accident. All carriers should be labeled with your contact information. Covering the label with clear packing tape will help preserve it. If the carrier is dedicated to one bird, put the bird’s species and name on the carrier in case you get separated.
We’ll finish with two more car safety tips for traveling with birds. First, do not use air fresheners when traveling with birds. They are soaked with essential oils and are toxic to birds. Second, NEVER leave your birds unattended in the car! In addition to the usual warnings about animals overheating in cars, it only takes a moment for someone to break into the car and steal your bird. A pretty bird sitting in a car is a sitting duck. Even if you cover the carrier, your bird may scream out, alerting a potential thief, so either someone should stay in the car or the bird should come with you.
Amy Hopkins, © 2019. All rights reserved