How To Evacuate Parrots When You Only Have Seconds

fire

That not so fun moment when you have just received an emergency text message from fire authorities saying you’re in “immediate danger” in your present location due to an out of control bushfire. I was the blue dot (with the ring around it). The larger red circles relate to different levels of danger from a nearby bushfire. Would you know what to do if this happened to you?

We talk a lot about being disaster ready at BirdTricks because even getting people thinking about what could happen helps people and their pets survive if something does happen. If it saves one life – it’s worth it.

“I lost everything in the bushfire but at least I managed to release my bird! Now all I have to do is find her, can you help by sharing my advertisement?”

I’ve heard that more times than I care to think about. This post is dedicated to those of you who currently have: “If all else fails, release the bird” in your evacuation plan. I’m hoping this is reaching you before that “If all else fails” ever eventuates because I think we can all do better than that. If you release a bird in the chaos of a fire or a disaster, it’s as good as dead from smoke inhalation or the heat or whatever you’re fleeing from anyway.  I’d hope that if you’re in a bushfire area you’d be well enough prepared to have removed your birds early, however sometimes evacuations need to be performed without warning, very quickly.  In my ideal world, people have a plan that can help them evacuate with ALL of their animals in seconds if that need ever arises. For that to work, it isn’t enough to have evacuation cages simply on hand (although that’s a good start).

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I can’t carry this many travel cages in one hit without the help of a car. If you have seconds to get out, running back and forth to the car – not an option.

ULTRA FAST EVACUATION.

What is an ultra fast evacuation?

Let’s say a smoke alarm just woke you up and your house is already full of smoke. There is a fire. You’ve only got seconds to react. You have to get yourself and your animals out of the house immediately. Chances are you haven’t got time to go running for a travel cage or worse if you have multiple animals (I have 10 birds, plus cats and dogs) just try and visualise a person carrying 10+ carriers at once? That ability is not one of my superpowers but I still have a plan that allows me to physically catch and carry all of my animals out of the house in one hit.

Remember:

Whether you have 1 bird or 10, there is one thing that you need to know about birds in an emergency. When panicked – they don’t step up on command and they are more likely to bite. You need to plan for that and have a way of catching/containing them anyway. (Do you need to keep a net nearby?)

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My secret weapon in a fast evacuation is a pillowcase with an elastic band.

The trick to a fast escape?

My secret weapon is a pillowcase. It’s relatively easy to put your hand inside a pillowcase and use it to catch a bird (not unlike wearing a glove). When you have grabbed the bird, turn the pillowcase inside out over it and suddenly what you used to catch the bird is actually containing the bird. Even better, unlike 10 carriers, I can carry 10 pillowcases in one go. I don’t even have to put the pillowcase containing a bird down in order to catch another bird. I can tuck the end of a pillowcase through my belt or into my pants, (so the bird is swinging near my hips) which effectively keeps my hands free but still allows me to carry the birds that I’ve already caught.

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How NOT to do this. You don’t want a bird (or a stuffed toy) struggling to escape and getting the elastic band around its neck. Fold the pillowcase as you secure it (see next picture) to prevent this from happening.

Some things to pay in mind when choosing a pillowcase:

  • An animal can breathe through a pillowcase. The pillowcase will actually help to stop your bird from inhaling smoke in a fire.
  • The lower the thread count, the easier it is for an animal to breathe through the material. So don’t go and buy the most expensive pillowcase on the planet. In this case, the cheaper ones are usually better.
  • Cotton is a good choice of material as it is less flammable/likely to melt than a synthetic material.
  • Pillowcases come in different sizes. Standard is fine for most birds but if you have a Macaw or larger bird consider buying a King or Queen sized pillowcase.
  • Having different coloured pillowcases can help you quickly identify who is in a pillowcase if you have multiple birds.
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This is the correct way to secure a pillowcase to prevent escape. The fold at the neck of the pillowcase, should prevent a bird from seeing light at the opening of the case and will prevent it from getting the band caught around its neck in its struggle to escape.

How my fast evacuation works:

I have a large airtight ziplock bag that I keep in my bird room, which has everything I need in it for a fast evacuation. Its location means that in the same second that I pick it up, I’m already in front of the first cage door I’d need to get to.

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How I store my ‘fast evacuation supplies’.

The bag contains everything that I consider myself likely to need:

  • A headlamp:
    This is a torch that you wear on your head. I assume a power outage is more than likely in an emergency or that smoke from a fire could make it hard to see. I also assume I’m going to need my hands free… A headlamp solves both of those problems. They’re not expensive (mine was only $5) and are readily available from a camping supply store.
  • Spare keys:
    My birds are escape artists. I keep an extra copy of every key for every lock that I use on my cages. I label them with coloured labels so that I can tell them apart easily.
  • Pillowcases:
    I roll the pillowcases individually (no time to undo store packaging in an emergency). Each pillowcase has an elastic band (some countries call them rubber bands) around them. The bands are used to stop the animal from escaping the pillowcase (explained more fully in the pictures accompanying this article).
    I use colour to help me identify a pillowcase by its size. In my case, brown = standard size for my smaller birds, white = larger pillowcases obviously for my larger birds. Hint: the difference between a light and a dark colour will be easier to distinguish in low lighting/power failure. I also have a patterned pillowcase for my elderly disabled galah so that I can quickly recognise that the bird contained in this particular pillowcase will be more fragile than the others.
    I place the pillowcases in the large ziplock bag in a specific order. As I move anti-clockwise around my bird room the correct size of pillowcase will be at the top of the bag, possibly saving me crucial seconds.
    I have enough pillowcases for all of my birds and my cats.
  • Spare elastic bands:
    They break easily or perish when exposed to heat. It makes sense to have a few spares handy. You need to check their condition regularly to make sure they haven’t deteriorated while you have stored them.
  • A reminder note:
    This says “MEDICATION IN FRIDGE”. It’s a reminder, so that in the panic of evacuation, I remember that if I have a chance it would be very helpful if I grabbed the animal medication that needs to be stored in the fridge. I keep it in a bag, so it’s easy to grab. Some of it is specially compounded so would take weeks to replace (so think life-threatening consequences if I don’t have it). However getting to the fridge would require re-entering the house so it’s not as high a priority in my plan as getting all of the animals out alive.
  • Small ziplock bag of medication:
    This is my animals’ medication that doesn’t require refrigeration, so can be kept close to my animal’s cages. In my case, I keep a spare insulin pen for my diabetic cat.
  • Spare dog leashes:
    My dogs are in my plan. These leashes hook in to their collars. They’re spare only in the sense that I don’t use them for their daily walks (they have other leashes for that). This is about saving seconds, so I want everything I need in one place. My dogs are too heavy and large to carry, so they’d need to be led out by a leash.
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The headlight that I keep at the top of the ziplock bag.

That’s all I think I could carry in one go. I must stress the above is not my ideal evacuation scenario. It’s my “If I have seconds, this is what I grab” scenario. It can get me out of the house with all of my animals in less than 2 minutes. Remember, I have 10 birds plus cats and dogs so you may well find you’re faster. This plan is a lot better than: “If all else fails, release the animals into whatever anarchy I’m trying to escape from”. 

If you only have 1 or 2 birds: You may be able to simply use a travel cage in an ultra fast evacuation. I’d still consider having a pillowcase handy though because it does make it easier to catch the bird if you have something like that to grab them with. In this case though I’d probably not be using the elastic band but be dropping both the bird and pillowcase into the carrier, allowing the bird to make its way out of the pillowcase into the carrier while I got the whole carrier to safety.

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If you only have 1 or 2 birds, you can use a carrier. I still keep these near my larger aviaries, in case I ever need them for a slightly less hectic evacuation.  (Rope perches are soft and therefore easier on a bird’s feet for long distance travel.  I don’t recommend them if your bird is inclined to chew them or for everyday use.)

EVACUATING WHEN SECONDS AREN’T AS CRUCIAL… 

Fortunately not all evacuations need to be done in seconds. In many cases we get advance warning that a devastating storm is coming or that a bushfire is bearing down on a town.

If you have animals, the best advice anyone can ever give you is to act early. There is a reason that people in Australia leave high fire risk areas on days when they know the fire danger is going to be extreme or worse. It’s a lot less stressful for animals if you get them to safety before it becomes dangerous to do so.

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Rehearse your plans. Knowing how your cages fit in your car and what space you have left to pack other essentials will make your evacuation much more efficient.

For advice on how to prepare for an evacuation where you at least have minutes to pack instead of seconds, please click on this link for disaster preparation as even those sorts of evacuations run more smoothly with some preparation too.

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Some of my more evil minded birds like to unclip the bases of any neighbouring evac cages when in the car (I found this out thanks to a rehearsal). Consequently I now know to keep a luggage strap on each cage to prevent disaster, which has turned out to be a handy way to carry a copy of each bird’s medical records too.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

18 comments

susan wissinger

What a smart idea i am doing mine today i have 14 feather babies and would be devastated if anything were to happen

susan wissinger
Frank Huwer

My worst fear is the house catching on fire. With so many pets I don’t know what I’d do. BUT this WILL help for most. The rest will have to be released. Funny thing I was just going to buy that light you wear but they were out of them. Now I’m for sure going back for a few. I love the pillow case trick. That will be done and I will have them ready.

Frank Huwer
Terri Dee

Joe Krathwohl: Blocking my Facebook page to get the last word is cowardly. You clearly have no idea what people who keep companion birds do. You work with birds as an entertainer. There is no way you can tell me that it’s possible to drag a cage with a bird in it down a flight of stairs in a fire. Likewise, you have no idea about Macaw or Cockatoo cages. They are large. Look them up on any bird supply site. So you’re telling me that while a fire is raging inside a home, someone is supposed to drag a cage with dimensions of 61″ × 43 1/2″ × 73 1/2" through the house and out the door? That is the most RIDICULOUS thing I have ever heard. You are a discredit to birds. Do yourself a favor, and stick to putting on shows.

Terri Dee
naqshpa

what about living in a flat. you cant just push cages out of danger that way like sum1 mentioned above. any ideas

naqshpa
Pat

When in an emergency the anxiety you feel in a fire will make a bird not want to get on a finger even if this is a regular routine. The pillow case is a good idea.

Pat
Laura Vicari

Mel, you’re a genius! Even though I do think I could get my Pionus’s cage out the door, I will keep a pillowcase and a towel near her cage and carrier. They’re in the same room. This way I will have options depending on which is fastest and which I can wrap my head around at the time! This article also got me thinking about our dog, a Bichon, who hides under my Dad’s bed whenever the alarm goes off. I think I will have heavy gloves (I assume that he will bite in a situation wherein someone is trying to drag him out from under the bed) and a spare leash kept at bedside. Thanks again for sharing your brilliance!

Laura Vicari
Tamara S

Only one thought, you mention the refrigerated medicines – Have you thought about having a dorm sized fridge in your bird room? You’d be able to get the medicines in a matter of seconds…..

Tamara S
Bonnie Steltzer

I use towels. Depending on size of bird I use either a large bath towel or the smaller hand towel of the same material as the bath towel.

Bonnie Steltzer
Dr Cathy Todd

pillowcases are a good idea but wash them in plain water first as many manufacturers use chemicals to set the colours

Dr Cathy Todd
Deni

I was just having this conversation with a family member recently. The plan in great! I have used the pillow cases for cats, but didn’t think about extending it to my birds. All pet owners should see this!!

Deni
Donna Hamilton

OMG…this is a brilliant post! In an emergency, (as much as you try), YOU will be panicked and this will transfer to your animals, so hoping your birds will “step-up” as per norm [may] not happen here. I always contain my birds into a smaller aviary at night, so should an emergency happen then, they won’t be (as hard) to catch [no wings clipped!!] Notes on where you have things placed is also a great idea (esp if others are helping out), and do keep bottled water in your pack too. Thanks, and hope we never have to put this into practice ;)

Donna Hamilton
dan sziber

Love the ideas got mine ready

dan sziber
Karen Candee

For birds that are hard to catch or bite I use a towel – it’s actually easy to toss it over them and then scoop them up! I have heard of the pillowcase idea – now I will definitely get more to have on hand next to the birds room!

Karen Candee
Bonnie Steltzer

I don’t know what “awaiting moderation” in this case means, I also use travel carriers. My birds are used to being handled save for one newer to the flock; soon to be trained. I drape the towel iover my hand so that I can cradle the head in my toweled palm, placing thumb and 3rd or fourth finger at the corners of the beak so that it could be gently restrained. The remainder of the towel is gently wrapped around the body and if the bird is large, held against my chest until placed in the transport carrier.

Bonnie Steltzer
Kay Young

Thank you so much for sharing, Mel! I live in a forested area and always worry about what if. Great ideas! Pillow cases will work for the tiels and budgies, but I also have 40 canaries in my aviary! It takes me a long time to catch them with a net when I trim their nails, so in an emergency I’m not sure what I could do? Any ideas?

Kay Young
kura

Thank you for this fantastic plan. I live in melbourne, but that doesnt mean that there wont be a emergency! I love your posts, they are always very informative and often funny :)

kura
Thomas Kohler

Thank you for this article. We live on an estate at the Atlantic on the West Coast in South Africa and had to evacuate two weeks ago! A bush fire was approaching the estate, the air was thick with smoke and we had to run down to the beach with laptops, photo albums, important files and our pets: one African Ringneck and one cat. Lucky enough, we found the travel cages quickly, my partner stayed down at the beach and I was able to run back and water the house down. We escaped the worst but I realized, that we should have been better prepared.

Thomas Kohler
Cherie Platts

Being a cat rescuer who has also had birds for more years than I want to think about, the pillow case idea has been in my house for at least 30 years when a cat shelter that had a fire got ALL their cats out in pillow cases. I went one step further and sewed velcro near the top and store my pillow cases so it ends up outside as cats can pop off the elastic. I used gardeners green velcro which has hook on one side and loop on the other in a continuous strip so you just have to wrap it back on itself. I cut off enough to wrap around at least 2×. When my bird population rose from one tiel to several conures, and amazon and a parakeet I added to my supply of pillow cases. These are also great for getting animals out of a multi story to someone waiting below or if you add a ring to the pillow casae you can snap hook them on to a prepared rope (or dog leash ) and lower your pets out a window. They will be waiting safely for you when you get out yourself. My next thing is going to be to train the new cats to come to a certain room if the fire alarm goes off. (feeding time is a good time to do this) Like doing a fire drill. that way if I need to I can push the button on my detector in any emergency to get everyone together quickly. Also doing this keeps them from panicking and hiding from the noise in a real emergency.

Cherie Platts

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