The greatest perceived safety hazard to keeping fully flighted parrots is the potential for escape. Once outside of the human household, the parrot is exposed to infinite dangers from starvation to predation. Therefore it is critical for owners of all parrots (including clipped ones because they have been known to have just enough might to fly out the door and into a tree) to maintain a 100% safety record in terms of preventing accidental escape.
This article is about ways to bird proof your home or set up your parrot's out of cage time in order to guarantee safety. There aren't many pictures because this is a more conceptual article but I hope you take this into full consideration nonetheless. It is my hope that all parrot owners can come away from reading this with a better understanding of how to keep their parrots safe indoors whether they are flighted or clipped. Furthermore, I hope that for owners of clipped parrots this will give them a means of providing safety so that they could allow their parrot flight in their home.
The most common way a companion parrot is unexpectedly lost is actually by taking it outside unrestrained and not out from the house. This happens to clipped and flighted parrots alike. The owner doesn't realize the parrot's potential for flight and then is shocked when it takes off and drifts away out of sight. This mostly happens to clipped parrots because their owners don't realize that clipped parrots, although poorly, are still capable of flight. A less common way is when owners of flighted parrots think their parrot is reliable enough that it will stay with them or come back. The problem with this is that without the proper training, the bird may simply be unprepared to deal with wind and outdoor factors adequately. And the other way is when owners of flighted parrots walk outside with their flighted parrot on them without remembering. Folks will go out to pick up the mail with their parrot on their shoulder and then something scares it into flying off. For all of these reasons, it is absolutely necessary that owners do not intentionally or accidentally take their parrot outdoors without proper restraint (carrier or harness). It only takes one time so it's necessary to use proper precautions every time.
From inside the house, the most suspect escape path is the front door. This door is most frequently (and unexpectedly) opened so it should receive the most thoughtful attention. Ideally, there should always be 2 doors between where the parrot is and outside. Only one door must ever be open at a time. In my situation, I have a front door at street level which leads to a staircase and another door at the second floor entrance. This is a perfect safety catch and has the added bonus of the vertical separation in addition to two doors. I realize most people do not have this convenience so I will mention options I have thought about and DIY means of ensuring there are 2 doors between the parrot and outside. If you have birds and are planning on moving, definitely keep this two door entry situation in mind when searching for a new place.
For home owners that have a front door that leads straight into their living room (or through hallways but without doors), I very highly suggest installing a second safety door. When you realize that your parrot will be living there with you for 20-80 years easily, it is an invaluable investment that will ensure that your parrot lives out that entire span safely with you. This is by far the easiest and most secure solution but it is also the more costly. If you already have an entry room or hallway that goes from the front door into your living area, you may be able to mount a door directly in that space. Ideally you should have a professional or someone handy do it. But if you don't care as much how it looks, you can save a lot of money by buying a couple 2x4s and a prehung door at Home Depot and installing it yourself. This can be done for as little as $200. That is just $10 a year or less than a dollar a month in the lifespan of a single 20 year living parrot! You will end up spending more on bird food to keep it alive so don't overlook this important means of keeping it in and alive.
If you absolutely can't put a solid door but have that narrowing area to hang something, you can try to find a sliding curtain to hang. I don't recommend strings of beads for small birds because I have seen them fly through that or at least land on them. If you have more than one or two people living there, I would strongly suggest hanging a sign on the inside door or in plain sight to remind people “Live Birds - Only open one door at a time.”
The next scenario is a front door that drops you smack into the living area without any narrowing area or hallway for a second door. In this case my best suggestion is to build out a small piece of wall to produce a small hallway to mount a door. It can be as small as 3ftx3ft but allows sufficient space to have a second door to ensure safety. If you are serious about keeping a parrot for the many years that it will live, this is still a small price to pay to ensure its safety. The beauty of having two doors is that it is virtually fool proof. There is still a bit of risk involved in the event that someone opens both doors at once but it still makes things tighter and the bird is more likely to be caught in the safety catch room. If there is any chance to have a 90 degree turn upon entrance, that makes things even safer than a straight two door run.
If you live in a situation where is is outright impossible to make modifications and a second door is not possible, there are other ways to ensure that a parrot is kept safe behind two doors or to ensure a procedure for entry that prevents escape. For example, it is possible to limit the parrot to out of cage time only in a removed room that has its own door (that door makes the remainder of the home act as a safety catch prior to the front door. Although, less fool proof, keeping a parrot on an upper or lower floor separated by an open staircase, it is much less likely to fly that angle AND out the door in the same flight. Still it is best to add a door at one end of the staircase or at least hang some form of curtain to ensure safety.
Another way to establish a safety catch and second door is to put the second door outside instead of inside. It may be possible to enclose a portion outside with netting or walls and add a second door outside to avoid taking up space on the inside. Just keep in mind that security, screen, and storm doors are no substitute for a separate safety door.
Now for the scenario of a rented one room studio with an outside facing single door or someone who could make the modifications but is too cheap, you can change the lock to a dead bolt and always keep it locked. Whenever anyone from the household arrives, they must ring the bell or call anyone who is already inside the house to arrange that birds be put away into their cages prior to opening the door. The reason I specifically suggest a deadbolt is because it forces anyone opening the door from inside to go out to take the time to get a key which slows things down just enough to think and not do it spontaneously. For example, doorbell rings for a delivery or you hear a siren outside, having to go through the process of locating a key and opening the extra door should provide some reminder that this is done to ensure parrot safety. Of course having a sign on the door as a reminder is a great idea too. For fire hazard safety it is best to hang a copy of the key near the door inside. A sliding latch lock from inside is another option.
I don't suggest hanging a sign outside whenever bird is out because this is more easily forgotten. Instead, the standard operating procedure must be that no one goes in or out without first checking with someone (best designate one person in charge) that the bird is secured. And it goes without say that prior to opening the sole front door, it is an absolute must that the bird be enclosed in a cage or another room. For families with young children that come and go, it may be necessary not to give them keys but to always have them ring the doorbell or call in order to ensure safe operation of the door to prevent an unexpected entry when a bird is out.
For additional outside facing doors such as the back door, the best procedure is to dead bolt the door shut and agree not to use it. If there are multiple people, hang a sign on the door to say not to use that door except in an emergency. The same applies to sliding doors. Some people have sliding doors that lead to balconies or porches. It is a great idea to enclose the porch so that both you and your parrot can enjoy it together. The fewer doors that are used, the simpler it is to keep track of things. There is no point of going through the effort to add a safety catch to each door if only the front door is utilized and has a safety system in place.
If the back door must be used on occasion, keep it well lock and always ensure that the bird is away prior to use. If the back door must be used regularly, install an indoor or outdoor safety catch as described previously for front doors. This is really the only way to be able to safely open doors without risk of the parrot ending up out doors.
Windows are the other way by which parents end up getting outside. Since the window is relatively small it makes it easy for the bird to get out but hard to get back in. The bird most likely has never even seen your house from outside so it would be entirely lost once it makes it outside. For this reason all windows should stay closed whenever parrots are out. The real problem with windows is remembering to ensure they are closed when parrots are taken out. For this reason it is best to make the system foolproof instead. Put screens on all windows (even though they might not prevent a curious chewing parrot from getting out, they will prevent a flying one) or a security mesh. Make a habit of keeping windows closed to the extent possible. Keep blinds or curtains over the windows that let air but not birds through so that the birds don't even think of flying there (whether they are closed or not).
Another terrible danger to flying parrots is ceiling fans. Just remembering not to use them isn't enough. Someone can accidentally throw the wrong switch when turning on the lights or just have one of those moments when they forget. You must disable the fan all together to prevent a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are only two foolproof ways of doing this without completely replacing the device. Either have an electrician disable the electric switch for the ceiling fan or remove the fan blades yourself. I know there are people who think it is ok to use the fan when the parrot isn't out and that they will remember to shut it off when the parrot is taken out, but this simply isn't enough. There will be that one time when you have friends over midday and the fan is running and you suddenly get the urge to show them your parrot and completely forget about the fan. This is why it is best disabled entirely. An air conditioner or an enclosed fan are the best replacements.
I have already written extensively about other commonly cited safety hazards to parrot flight such as toilets, pots of boiling water, crashing into windows, and other pets in this article. But just for a quick recap, these dangers are very easily avoidable (much more so than the ones discussed above). Always keep bathroom doors closed. Don't worry about the toilet seat, if the door is closed, then the parrot can't get to it. If you want to be extra cautious, you can close both. Never cook or perform dangerous tasks while your bird is out (even if it is clipped). Cover windows with blinds or curtains at least partially. Never let birds and other pets out simultaneously to ensure their safety.
It is essential to make foolproof safety measures and not to rely on standard operating procedures. Telling everyone not to do something isn't as reliable as making it difficult to impossible to do. Marking windows and doors with notes may help remind people not to do things more in the moment than a general verbal warning. Even if you live alone, you may not be completely safe. I recall a time when I was seriously ill and my mother brought a meal over. She said it was really stuffy and opened windows while my birds were out. Luckily there are screens on the windows so this wasn't a catastrophic risk. Had there not been screens and the system simply relied on my remembering to close windows, things could have been different. So keep in mind that making all these safety measures aren't necessarily against yourself but other people who live with you or may show up unexpectedly. The more robust the safety measures you have in place, the safer your parrot will be regardless of the circumstances.
Foolproof safety measures must be implemented regardless of how well trained your parrot is. However, having an extensively flight recall trained parrot should greatly help should something ever happen despite all possible physical safety boundaries in place. I not only practice flight recall inside at home, but also outside on a harness, and at a large gym. Should recovery of my parrots ever be necessary, they have extensive prior experience both flying in large spaces and outdoors. Don't wait until your parrot is lost to think about flight training. If your flighted parrot isn't already flight recall trained, start working on it now. If all else fails, it could be the thing that gets it back.
One thing to keep in mind is that every home, parrot, and situation is different. These are general guidelines to help you start thinking about implementing robust flight safety. However, you must take into consideration all escape routes, people involved, location of the bird, and other variables. Be sure to analyze the situation fully and adjust the suggestions to work in your situation.
Please don't think that clipping a parrot's wings in any way absolves you from undertaking these extensive safety measures. Although these types of accidents are more frequent in flighted parrots, they do happen to clipped parrots just the same. These types of accidents would not happen to clipped or flighted parrots if the proper safety precautions were taken in advance. Don't wait until something bad happens and don't think that clipping has anything to do with this. Birds have wings and birds fly. Please remember this and do everything necessary to keep your flying family members safe.
Having done two years of extensive flight training with Truman, I was ready to take this chance to further his flightducation. Just to be sure he'd come down to me if he did end up in an unreachable place, I brought his weight down to his training minimum weight. Kili on the other hand, I took down no further than typical training weight because I was comfortable and certain that she would do just fine. I've already taken chances flying her in irrecoverable indoor locations (such as TV studios) and knew what to expect from her.
What I mean by an irrecoverable indoor flying location is basically a location where the bird could land in such places that it would be impossible for the owner to recover the bird (except by the bird returning on its own). This is the closest thing to outdoor freeflight but without the risk of permanent loss or predation.
Note, I do not encourage anyone to attempt to fly their parrot (or for that matter have it unrestrained) in an irrecoverable indoor flying location without extensive flight training experience. Although it may not result in the death or escape of your parrot, it may cause extensive problems for the bird and disruptions to the facility. Instead, I encourage you to find recoverable large indoor flying locations first. This is not only to practice but also to test how your parrot would behave flying in a novel location. You don't want to be finding out that your parrot will fly right up to a 60ft ceiling, land, and be incapable or unwilling to come down the first time you are trying this! For the recoverable locations, I have designed a parrot recovery perch for getting parrots down from places up to 20ft high. If you are interested in one, please contact me directly. Only after you are confident that while flying in recoverable locations, your parrot has reliably returned to you even after landing in high places, then can you attempt flying the bird in a place with unreachable ceilings.
I started out with Kili & Truman on their training perches in the center of the gym. I had them fly short recalls to get the hang of flying in this new place and then progressively increased the distance until I was able to have them fly across hundreds of feet to reach me. I had them fly short boomerang flights to remind them how to return to me which proved useful when they would overshoot me. You see, parrots that are used to flying in confined spaces may develop too much speed flying in the open to slow down in time to land on you. Boomerang flying is a great skill to develop so that they would have the practice to turn around instead of just flying away.
It definitely helps to have two birds instead of one. One motivates the other. When Truman would recall first, Kili would eagerly follow when called. And vice versa. If one bird were to land and not come down from somewhere, giving a lot of attention, recalls, and treats to the other bird can sometimes drive it out and back to you. So while on one hand flying two parrots is more work and more to keep track of, it also helps improve the motivation of both birds at the same time!
Finally, when I was comfortable that Kili & Truman had no trouble finding me to land on, I sent them off to freefly around the gym to their hearts' content. I was curious if they would end up flock flying together or independently and it appeared to be more of the latter but really they were just all over the place. Kili enjoyed flying extensive figure eights around the gym at high speed and I was surprised to find that her stamina was better than Truman's! Don't forget that Kili is permanently missing some flight feathers, was not fledged as a baby, and has always been the weaker flyer. This made me realize that I had always worked her harder to compensate for this and as a result she ended up outflying Truman who is the natural born flyer!
In the span of over an hour the birds flew over a mile of heart pumping exercise flights both on command and of their will. They stayed on their perches until called and flew around when I offered them to. Overall I was very pleased with the session and my brother helped me record some of the highlights to share with you.
This is the 2nd video with footage of the birds' 3rd gym flight training session which also features Kili's newest trick.
On the sixth flight training session in the school, the third session in the theater, we introduced a major distractor that would exist during the high school show and any other stage shows thereafter. This was of course the stage lights. Luckily the parrots have already had prior experience under the hot light back at my apartment for videos. I've used as many as three hot lights in close proximity to the parrots while making training videos at home so they already knew not to fly into them. However, they had never experienced a few dozen lights all at once so it definitely did keep them stunned for a bit of time.
I had Kili and Truman do some tricks to train them under a bit of pressure (from the unfamiliarity of the lights). It is a way to test motivation and see how likely the birds are to flight recall. If they can't even handle the basic tricks, there is no way that I could expect them to flight recall. When I am uncertain about Truman's likelihood to flight recall, I may work on return to perch flights instead. I let Truman fly back to his perch from short range and he did fine. I either run up to reward him as quickly as possible or I have my brother stand at the perch to give him a reward upon landing. However, on the second return flight Truman totally missed the landing spot and flew right up into the window curtains. We left him there for a little while until he got bored. I tried recalling him multiple times but did not persist too much if he didn't show signs of coming down. I continued training Kili to make him more jealous and eventually I got him to recall down. I try to get him to feel that he is missing out by being up there but it doesn't work so great because he likes being high.
After I got Truman back, we decided to attempt a flight recall from the balcony. Originally I thought Truman would be coming down from the balcony and Kili from somewhere closer because of Truman's superior flight skills and feathers. However, it turned out that Kili could do it no problem but Truman was unreliable and could end up flying off. Right from the first attempt Kili knew exactly what to do. My brother took her up to the balcony and let her perch on his finger. When I called her name she flew right down to me. Positive reinforcement of course played an important part in her eagerness to fly to me, but so did negative reinforcement. Kili does not like my brother that much and the balcony was not too great a place to be either. So the opportunity to come to me and eliminate those other factors was in itself rewarding. The ability to fly down to me from a high place like this gives me confidence that I could get Kili down in the event of a fly off. However, she never flies off like Truman so her skills are never tested.
I used Kili's excellent recall skills as motivation for Truman. I put him far back on a training perch and let him see Kili recall to me to earn treats. Since Truman is so young, watching other birds in the flock and doing what they do is almost more rewarding than the treat itself. So whenever he'd see Kili fly to me, he would be much more eager and likely to come to me as well. We continued practicing balcony flight recalls followed by Truman self recalls several more times. Truman ended up in the curtains several more times that day. While he was busy not coming down, I practiced Kili saying hello into a microphone. She was mainly scared of the device itself rather than the volume of her new found voice.
At one point Truman tried to fly down from the curtains when I wasn't ready to get him. He was heading for the training perch but missed his landing. At that point he went through his typical freak out routine and flew around seeking a higher place. However, he misjudged his landing on top of the curtains and had to continue circling. Eventually he crashed somewhere in the back of the room into the curtains and came to a rest on a seat. Since this is all happening in a controlled environment, usually I just leave him and call him again later. This makes for better training than running over to help him unless he is truly hurt.
Truman was becoming more and more unreliable as the training session was reaching the end and at one point he flew onto a ledge above the stage curtain. This is actually a terrible place to try to flight recall him down from because the angle down to the stage is too steep but recalling him away from the stage into blinding lights would be impossible. So instead I put my Parrot Recovery Perch to use. This is a special 20ft extendable perch that I invented prior to risking flying the parrots in the theater in the event that they land in a place they can't come down from. Since Truman's flight motivation had substantially dwindled, I preferred to take him down rather than wait for him to fly himself. So I extended the perch and placed it above his feet and unquestioningly he stepped up onto it and rode down like an elevator. Of course I always reward him for coming down to prevent him from avoiding the stick in the future.
I have actually come up with two versions of the parrot recovery perch. One is a compact lightweight portable version for most casual trainers and at home users. This version extends to about 10ft long which is plenty in a home with even the tallest ceilings. The extra large version I used in the video to get Truman down from the stage curtains, however, is for advanced flight trainers who may be flying their parrots in gyms, theaters, arenas, or outdoors. The large version is longer and heavier but has the benefit of extending over 20ft if necessary. The familiar natural wood perch on the end is similar to my Parrot Training Perches so it does not take long for the parrots to become accustomed to stepping up onto it. Just to play it safe, I practiced at home with Truman before using it to make sure he was used to it. Whenever I would bring the perch up to him and ask him to step up, I would simply reward him with a treat. These are not yet available on my website because I am still working on perfecting the design, however, if you would really like one before they are released, contact me privately and we can work something out. Otherwise, stay tuned for a release announcement of the 10 and 20 foot Parrot Recovery Perches for getting parrots down from high places.
Here is the video from the sixth flight training session in the high school (third in the theater). This session introduced bright stage lights, balcony flight recalls, and talking into a microphone.
I have begun advanced flight training with my parrots Kili and Truman to prepare for some upcoming performances we are giving. They are generally good birds and I don't expect them to fly off their stands on stage, however, if something frightens them or they slip, they wouldn't know what to do. So the best way to make it safe to have them in a large open space is to flight train them in one so they would know what to do. In coming weeks I am going to share with you the details of our indoor flight training so that it may help you with your parrot whether you're flying it in a large building or at home.
I made an arrangement with the high school I used to go to - and which my brother currently attends - to come twice a week to fly the parrots after hours. In return I am going to give a performance in front of the students in March. Not only is this a good justification for all the training practice, but the performance itself will be a test of their capabilities in preparation for the big show coming up (can't tell you about it yet so don't even ask).
On the first day of training, my brother and I brought Kili and Truman to the school after it had already turned dark and the bustling classrooms and hallways had long been vacated. Though the night was cold, there was little more comfort from the cold that we could provide the parrots beyond a towel covering their carriers. We brought two carriers, two training perches, a box full of toys and treats, and a roll of paper towels. We set up in the wrestling room, essentially a small gym about 60ft x 30ft x 18ft. The space was not that much larger than my apartment which the parrots are accustomed to flying around at will. However, there were two notable differences aside from the novelty of the room. The ceiling was significantly higher and one wall was entirely lined with mirrors making the room appear twice as big.
I let the parrots sit on their Training Perches for a few minutes just to become accustomed to the new room but soon proceeded to cue tricks from Kili and Truman to get them focused on training. If they refuse to do tricks, then there is little hope for flight recall. However, Kili was performing tricks quite eagerly so flight recalls were in order. I started with shorter recalls and after just a few calls, she did fly to me willingly from her perch. Truman on the other hand did not want to budge and was pretty much stunned by the novelty of the room.
I continued expanding my recalls with Kili until I was able to recall her from the far end of the room. She adapted quickly to the mirrors and did not fly toward them. Truman on the other hand would refuse to do anything besides staying still and staring. In order to break the trend, I began doing forced return to perch flights with Truman. However, I gave him treats every time he went to the perch. This way he at least did some flapping in the room, learned that flying there is safe, and had a way to earn treats. Furthermore it was teaching him that if he needs a place to go, the Training Perch is the best place to return to.
However, things did not run so smoothly with Truman. On one slightly longer return flight to his perch, Truman took off. He flew laps around the room getting faster and higher. He was not showing any inclination of flying back down to me. After a few exhausting laps he landed on a high beam and stayed there for a while. There was no use calling him down because he just wouldn't do it. He did make a few attempts to fly but they would just result in doing a lap and coming back to where he started off. Although I knew he knew how to fly down, it appeared as though Truman did not know how to descend. At home, I've seen him fly down 10ft lots of times, but here the ceiling was higher and the angle required to descend was much steeper.
After a while of not being able to get him to fly back to me, I resorted to plan B. I held Truman's Training Perch as high as I could first trying to get him to fly to it but then just to step up. As I approached him with his Training Perch, he finally took a leap and flew a few feet to land on it. I slowly brought him down and rewarded him generously for allowing for his recovery. It wasn't because Truman did not want to be with me but because he was unaware of how to return.
It didn't seem that I could motivate Truman to fly to me for bits of food, so I broke out the toys and tried to get him to fly for those. It still was not working so I let Kili show him the way by flying to me for a chance to bite off a piece of wood. Finally Truman began doing recalls to me. He did several recalls of increasing length and although they weren't instantaneous, they were finally leading to him flying on his own.
Toward the end I got out almonds to give to the parrots for some good recalls. Kili was stuffed from all the nuts she earned before and did not recall for it. Truman on the other hand did - his longest recall for the day. However, instead of landing on his perch when I sent him back, he ended up flying onto the high beam again. Luckily he dropped his nut on the way up. Otherwise he would have sat up there enjoying his nut and feeling reinforced for going there. Then there wouldn't be any hope of him coming down. I picked up the nut he dropped and walked to the far end of the room with it. He had a keen eye on that nut and the moment I recalled him, he flew right down to me. This was a highly valuable lesson learned for Truman that day was that coming down to me is a very good thing. I let the parrots relax on their perches and play with toys for the remaining bit of time I had prior to packing up and taking them home. And so concluded my first advanced flight training session with Kili & Truman in an unfamiliar place.