Love Is Not Enough

October 20, 2008

If you love something, set it free
If it comes back, its yours
If not, it was never meant to be
– Sting (but he wasn’t talking about pet birds)

I’ve recently seen a few posts on bird forums about pet parrots escaping from their owners and, luckily in these specific cases, being recovered. One one such post, a fellow forum member congratulated the original poster saying “she obviously loves you very much to have flown back to you.”

I and the OP both understood that the statement was a show of support, but at the risk of being pedantic I had to jump in for benefit of the newbies and lurkers who might interpret that statement otherwise. I would hate for people to walk away with the assumption “if my bird loves me enough, it’ll come back” or “my bird would never fly away because s/he loves me so much.”

Love has very little to do with it. When your parrot gets outside, and for whatever reason takes flight, every bird owner needs to understand that they’re fighting millions of years of ingrained instinct. Your parrot may be tame, but it is not domesticated like a dog. Once outside, confusion, adrenaline, curiosity, fear, excitement… they all work together to tell your bird to FLY. Unfortunately, there is no instinct that tells that how to get back home.

Just because your bird is tame and is bonded to you, does NOT mean you can count on them to fly back to you if it ends up outside. The only way to ensure your bird will come back is lots and lots and lots of diligent training. Read up about Andrew and Tui’s story, for example. Even Raz had a scare with Carly Lu flying away and not returning when called, and Carly Lu is one of the best-trained free flying Greys out there. Andrew never found Tui again. Luckily, Carly Lu was recovered.

More recently, free-flight trainer Chris Biro lost on of his scarlet macaws while on a trip for his free flying show – because the macaw’s recall wasn’t strong enough. Luckily in this case, he was able to find his scarlet again and bring him home.

Now you might get the sense from the latter two examples that odds are pretty good that a parrot who flies away can easily be recovered, and that’s not the impression I want to give. Raz and Chris Biro are quite fortunate, but more than that they acted decisively and quickly to improve their chances of finding their lost birds.

The fact that both their parrots were extensively free flight trained helped lessen the odds of them escaping, but as you can see, even in their cases it was impossible to guarantee 100% that they wouldn’t fly away.

3 Macaws in Flight. Photo by lil moe72

In short, to all the newbies and lurkers out there: your bird’s love for you or the strength of your bond to each other is zero guarantee that an escaped bird will come back to you. Too many people had to learn this the hard way; please don’t become complacent. Always keep your parrot in a cage or on a harness if you’re bringing him outside or if people are coming in and out of your house and leaving the door open (yes, even if your bird’s wings are clipped!); or learn the proper way to train free flight first (as well as the risks involved) from a credible and recognized free flight training expert.

If the worst has already happened and your feathered one just got loose, here are some tips for how to recover your escaped bird.



  1. Thank you for linking to my blog about the loss of Tui and the video that Andrew posted to youtube. It is unfortunate that there continues to be a growth in the area of companion bird owners being encouraged to learn to free fly their birds through the Internet and video without being made fully aware of what is required; not only in terms of the knowledge and skill required but also the time commitement.
    Free flying birds is not something to be taken lightly and suggesting that it can be taught to anyone and everyone (an implicit statement in public chat group communication) through email and chat groups is at the very least misleading.
    Thank you for your cautionary comments,

  2. Our sun conure, Sunshine, has free flight privileges in the house whenever we are home. She loves to go outside, but knows she must be inside my shirt to go outside, and has never tried to escape. She is content to stick her head out to see where we are going.

    She flew out an opening door twice, simply because she wanted to be with us and thought we were leaving. Both times she flew less than ten feet then returned when called.

    However, one day four years ago I was taking my 14 year old daughter (her owner) to the train station in the car, with the bird. Forgetting the bird was in the car, she rolled down the window to clear the dew off it as we pulled out of the driveway, and I screamed ‘No!’. The sceam scared Sunshine, she bolted and disappeared. I walked the streets calling her for an hour, and left all the windows and doors open.

    No luck, no sight or sound of or from her.

    We live in a canyon, near San Franisco, but in a semimrural area, with lots of trees, hawks, raccoons, cats and other predators. I was starting to worry after the hours ticked away.

    Five hours later I heard a faint call from her and called her name. She returned the call. I found her in an oak in our neighbors yard.
    She would return calls but not come to me. I climbed up the tree, she stayed put, she did not flee, and once I drew close she climbed on my finger and then went inside my shirt.

    You can see a video of her on you tube called “Sunshine does parrot tricks”. She is fine, and as obnoxious as ever.

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