My cockatiels were my first parrots and they were very patient with me while I learned how to be a good caregiver. I hated the idea of them being confined and they spent their days out of their cage intermingling with the humans. Most often, they were riding on a shoulder while we went about our activities but, as ground foragers, they would often make their way to the floor to explore.
I bird proofed the house as much as possible, removed electrical cords and any toxic substances from reach, and made sure the doors and windows remained shut. Our birds were out so often that we actually knocked on our own front door before entering the house just to be sure the coast was clear.
The biggest danger to them, as it turned out, was one we couldn’t eliminate: the movements of the much larger humans they shared the house with. We had a young child who, though she was excellent with the birds, would sometimes race recklessly through the house, or fling herself onto the couch without out first checking for feathers. Ther were some near misses in the early days.
I, personally, have sat on two cockatiels, and my ex-husband accidentally dropped a heavy boot on one. Luckily, and it was just a matter of luck, none of these occurances resulted in injury. One day, my daughter raced out of her bedroom and pulled the door shut behind her. One of the cockatiels raced out behind her and his head was caught in the closing door. There was a visible injury and he was dazed and off balance.
We rushed him to the vet, where he was treated for a severe concussion. He fully recovered but I never really did. From that point on, I felt nervous when the tiels were out and about. We had a family meeting discussing the birds’ safety and decided that they would no longer be allowed to roam freely throughout the house. We had to step up our game.
We turned a spare bedroom into a cockatiel play room, where everything inside was safe. We had a great time filling the room with new finds that would provide exploring or chewing opportunities for them. We brought them out into the rest of the house ONLY when we knew we could be constantly aware of their presence.
We love to let our birds out to join in the family fun, but allowing them too much freedom often puts their lives at risk. For obvious reasons, birds are not aware of the many things that pose danger to them in the human world. There are reports of birds that die each year in accidents related to cooking, fireplaces, electical shock, and broken necks when they fly into windows or mirrors. There are many more accidents that we do not hear about.
Birds are explorers and they WILL find all the things we missed when we bird-proofed the house. They are safest when confined to a designated play area – it is easier to control the happenings in a single room. We should never have to ask: “Where are the birds??”
Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. A reader wrote in to us that she lost her beloved, young cockatiel recently when he was accidentally stepped on. Sadly, her other cockatiel witnessed the tragic event and now views humans as less than trustworthy. She asked that we pass this important message along to all of you as a reminder. We are very sorry for your loss, Ruby. We thank you for thinking about the welfare of other birds in your time of grief.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.