Beaky, Come Home!
The challenges of finding the original owners of stray birds can seem daunting—so many small gray cockatiels look alike, it seems it would be difficult to figure out whether the cheeky little bird in your shelter is the same cheeky little bird someone is looking for. But bonds between birds and their owners can be quite strong, and there are ways beyond noting the animals’ physical markings that can help you reunite lost birds with their human companions. Larger birds like parrots and macaws are quite intelligent; they can develop an extensive vocabulary, and sometimes they just have to say the right word in order to be reunited with a panicked human friend.
“A lot of the larger birds will have particular sayings or characteristics,” says Rick Chaboudy, recalling a case in which a woman from St. Petersburg, Florida—some 20 miles from Clearwater—called the Humane Society of North Pinellas looking for her Amazon parrot. Staff at the shelter, where Chaboudy serves as executive director, were indeed caring for a parrot, but they thought it unlikely that the bird would have come from so far away. “This lady had lost her bird a week earlier, and she said, ‘He sings “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” ‘ So we went up, and sure enough, the bird sang it. He looked like most other Amazons, but that was one of the ways we were able to know for sure.” Big birds are more likely to display unique behaviors, but even cockatiels have individual vocalizations that, regardless of how they sound, often end up meaning, “I’ll help you find my family.”
It’s yet another reason to make your birds as comfortable as possible: When stressed out, birds won’t display their normal personalities. But give a bird some food, a few toys, and some gentle, talkative companionship, and she may start warbling the Billie Holiday songs her owner taught her, making identification—even over the phone—much easier for everyone.
When someone comes in to claim a bird, staff should follow the same procedures they would for any other animals, checking the proof of ownership and following up on the information the person provides, says Debra Boswell, director of the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in Jackson. “We check with veterinarians—they can usually say, ‘Yes, I’ve treated that person’s bird,’ ” she says. “The more documentation, the better.” Because some of these birds are so valuable, it’s especially important to check the owner’s documentation: exotic birds are frequently stolen, and documentation demonstrates that the person who claims to be the bird’s “family” isn’t a thief.
If pet owners aren’t coming to you to find their lost parrots and cockatoos, chances are they don’t even know your shelter houses birds. When birds arrive as strays at the Peninsula Humane Society, shelter staff frequently place ads in local papers, hoping the notices will be seen by anxious caregivers. “We hold on to animals for six days by law,” says Rathbun, “and sometimes we’ll keep expensive, large birds longer.” The larger birds are often extremely valuable animals, but an owner’s financial loss is never the main concern, says Rathbun. “We have people who check the papers for lost bird listings, and we try to do everything possible to reunite the birds with their families,” she says, “because especially for the larger birds, it’s very traumatic for them to be separated from their people, because they really bond.”
The Internet can be particularly helpful when a bird goes missing. If a bird gets out of his house and catches a strong breeze, he can be halfway to the next state before his owner notices he’s gone; the Web can do great things by putting distant “losers” in touch with “finders.” The site www.Petfinder.org provides listings for lost and found pets of all types. There are also several bird-specific sites catering to those who have lost or found birds; www.birdhotline.com is one, and http://members.tripod.com/~feathered_friends/directory.html is another. Shelters can post stray bird listings on both of these sites with minimal effort and no cost. The search engine and general information site www.About.com also has a great section on pet birds, which includes information about how to deal with lost and found birds.
Animal Sheltering, Mar-Apr 2001 Issue