As nicer weather is upon us, I feel compelled to once again repeat the tale of the worst day (so far) of my life in hopes that it will save some other bird from a similar fate. Every year, I hear tales of people whose birds were lost because they took their bird "who never flies" outside.
In July 2005, I returned home from a 10 mile run to see my across-the-street neighbor wave me down. He wanted to chat; we'd just moved into the neighborhood the month before. He started asking me about my parrots -- with the windows open he could hear them in his house and was curious.
Even though Thomas and I had a rule that the parrots were never allowed outside unless in a secure carrier or harness, I wanted to make a good impression on my neighbor. Max was clipped and never tried to fly in the house -- she always perched nicely on my hand. I knew there was no wind (I'd been outside for well over an hour) -- what's the worst thing that would happen? If she took off, she'd fly into a neighbor's yard and I'd pick her up.
The people-pleasing aspect of my personality got me into trouble that day, and almost cost Max her life. Out of nowhere, a tiny gust of wind came, something spooked Max, and she took off over the rooftops of the houses across the street.
To make a long story short, we did find her, after she spent 34 hours outside. I lost her at 8 am on Thursday and we found her at 6 pm on Friday.
Here is a picture taken last weekend of the field in which she was found -- quite a way from my house. She landed just beyond a pond and just before a very busy road. The field is currently cut back, but she was in chest-high weeds.I cannot describe the horrible feelings I had when she was missing. It was entirely my fault. She could have been killed by a wild animal, mowed over, or just starved to death -- she doesn't have survival skills!
Here is a link to one of the best articles I've read about recovering a parrot that's lost outside.
Interestingly enough, after going through this ordeal, we later decided to allow Max to fly. Remember, when Max was lost, her flight feathers were clipped. Because of what we went through, we are fanatical about making sure that none of our parrots gets outside, unrestrained, again.
We have a double door policy in our house. We usually enter through our attached garage, but make sure that the garage door is completely shut before opening the door to the kitchen. On the rare occasion that we open the front door, we double check all of the parrots' cage doors. This means that usually people who ring our bell have left before we get there to see what they want!
We also take steps that we hope will provide us with a better chance of finding them should they somehow get outside. We work on contact calls. When Max was first missing, I was calling her name until I realized that she never responded when I called her name -- she responded to my whistle in the house, so I changed my tactic. Ultimately, we found her because she responded to Calypso's call. We'd walked by the place she was probably more than a hundred times searching for her and she didn't respond to us; we might have found her sooner had we worked on contact calls before she was lost.
Additionally, we work on recall with a special focus on flying down, as if they were in a tree. I'll place the flighted bird on a high place, like the top of the fridge or a door, and then squat down and call the bird to me.
I'm hoping I'll never have to test how well they know these skills, but it makes me feel more confident of being able to find them should something happen.
I'm very embarrassed that such a thing happened to one of my birds. It's my job to keep them safe and I failed. Luckily, Max survived and was no worse for wear. Instead of pretending this never happened, I tell people about it because many people believe that a clipped parrot can't fly, and that's not true. With the wind, Max was able to gain height and go much further than we thought possible.