Often, as staff members, we come across a particular animal who captures our heart. We've all adopted one or two (or more, over the years), and the stories we share are endless. Here is the story of Lola and Pam, our Animal Care Supervisor for the Equine Center, who also happens to be our bird expert. While it is a sad story, it is one that we hope can help others in similar circumstances.
|Pam Nixon with her adopted cockatiel Lola, shortly after adoption.
When it comes to birds, flight is often the first quality one uses to describe them. Those who live with and love birds marvel at their ability to defy the bonds of gravity and be truly free. As pet bird owners, we try to tame this nature as best we can-by clipping wings or keeping our feathered friends in cages. But what happens when the unexpected occurs? A fire alarm goes off and people run for safety outside, a window or door is left open by mistake, the bottom of the cage falls off when transporting your bird from your home to your car for a vet visit. The scenarios are endless. These catastrophes happen frequently and many loving families lose their dear pets-leaving them heart-broken and full of remorse. Losing a pet is very difficult because there is no closure - no answers - only sadness, emptiness and guilt. In this time of great stress you must have hope in order to bring your bird back home.
I lost my pet cockatiel a year ago, last December. Her name is Lola and she was truly a special bird. She was abandoned in her cage in front of the MSPCA small animal adoption center and I happened to find her. I carried her to the holding room; she was frightened and climbed onto my finger that was poking inside her cage. I considered bringing home a third cockatiel-she could be my buddy since the other two I had at home were paired up. I gave her the weekend at the shelter and if no one adopted her, I decided that she would be coming home with me.
The first thing I noticed about Lola was that her previous owner had clipped her wings and tail severely. I could not let her perch on anything over 3 feet high. If she slipped she would not be able to slow her fall and could possibly injure herself. Lola’s feathers gradually grew back and she experimented with flight. Often she would flap her wings and slowly hover upwards. She was a natural and soon was quite skilled. I thought, “How could I take away this gift?”-so I left her fully flighted.
As with any bird, they choose who they LOVE and all of the other family members are less significant. Lola loved men and preferred to spend most of her free time with my boyfriend. She would happily ride around on his shoulder, quite content. In the mornings, I would see him walk past and a few seconds later Lola came flying behind him to perch on his shoulder.
My nightmare occurred on a mild day in December. Lola had flown onto my boyfriend’s shoulder just as he was heading outside. That was the last day we saw our lovely Lola.
I have learned a few things over those next few heart-wrenching months and would like to pass along a few tips to help pet bird owners 1) Prepare in case you lose your bird and 2) How to find your lost bird.
-Identification is crucial to finding your bird if it ever becomes lost.
-Take photos of your bird from many different angles. This will be very important to you if you need to identify your bird to a finder, ACO or rescue.
-Write down your bird’s legband number, color and which leg it is on. This typically is a permanent form of identification.
-Photograph or note any physical abnormalities or unique feather color/ patterns. Note any personality traits, tricks, words or sound your bird makes.
-Keep your bird’s wings trimmed regularly. This may seem unfair but it could slow your bird enough to give you a chance to catch up with him or her. Some birds can easily fly several miles in a day.
Tips to help you find your bird
-Get help. Call friends and neighbors to help in the search.
-Try to put your bird’s cage outside. Birds often feel safe in their cages and may fly back if they see it.
-Play recordings of your bird/s or find recordings of your particular breed of bird and play it loud outside. This could call them back.
-Call local police departments, veterinarians, pet stores and rescues. Friends can help with this.
-Make a flyer. Use clear photos of your bird. Make the heading and contact numbers large enough for drivers to read easily at a distance. Post flyers where many people can see them. Consider the seasons-people gather in different areas in winter than they do in summer. Try to post where outdoorsy people gather. Kids play outside a lot too, so post around schools.
-Canvas your neighbor hood and surrounding areas for your bird on foot. Call, whistle and bring favorite treats. This works best at dawn and dusk hours-that’s when birds are hungry and will come down for food. Understand that your bird can revert back to a wild nature very quickly. It will do what instinct dictates in order for it to survive-the more time it is in the wild-the less tame it could become.
-You may choose to offer a reward for your lost bird. A reward may motivate a finder to make contact. Be wary of scam artists.
-You may choose to post online. One of the best websites for finding a bird is www.911Parrotalert.com. They scour internet postings, Craigslist, and newspaper articles for lost and found birds and then post them on their site. Some people choose to post on Craigslist. Many people can be reached with this method but some responders are not ‘nice’. If you include your phone number, be prepared for prank callers. I learned to only use the anonymous option for reply emails. You will also need to repost every week. There are many sites online –try to get the word out in as many areas as possible. Create a dedicated email address for this - one that you can cancel later.
-Search regularly online and in newspapers for found birds. Also check in regularly with police departments, pet stores, vets and rescues. This will keep your bird in the front of their minds if a stray does arrive at their facility.
Above all, don’t give up hope. There are amazing stories where birds have been reunited with their families many years later.
Having a bird as a pet is truly a rewarding experience. They quickly become integrated members of our families with their cheery ways. Potentially losing them is usually the last thing we want to think about but if we prepare ahead for any bad times, hopefully it will help you reunite with your special friend.