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The Importance of a Good Birdsitter

November 3, 2009

A recent, last-minute trip out of town reinforced my appreciation for my friends. Despite already dogsitting for one sick dog and some personal issues of their own, they graciously let me drop my birds off at their house when I had to rush out of town on a family emergency. When I came back a few days later, my birds were happy to get home, but none worse for wear.

Mika in her travel cage

Contrast that with two birdsitting horror stories I heard about. In one case, a young woman left her flock of small birds under a friend’s care and came to find two of them missing upon her return. It turns out they had died and the friend wigged out and refused to explain what happened. Eventually, she confessed that the two escaped out the door and she had to catch them with a net… the experience so stressed the birds out that one died from a heart attack and the other sustained critical injuries. The second story was not quite as tragic, but also disturbing. Another woman left her macaw with a friend and when she got the bird back home, it refused to eat its bird food and was getting aggressive when asked to go back in its cage — something it had never done before. Apparently the friend had fed the bird nothing but pancakes with syrup and allowed the bird to roam around the house unsupervised when the birdsitter was gone. Now the bird expected to be fed junk food and wasn’t used to his routine of mid-day cage time anymore.

Both these stories underscore that you can’t just leave your birds with just anybody… even if it’s someone who “likes” birds. You wouldn’t leave your children with someone who isn’t mature enough to talk to you if something goes wrong, or someone who blatantly disregards your instructions regarding their health and safety. For the same reasons, you shouldn’t leave your birds with people you can’t trust to follow your wishes regarding your birds’ well-being.

When leaving your bird with a birdsitter, at the very least you should provide clear directions about:

  • Your bird’s diet (what food it gets and how much, what kinds of treats and how often, what foods are NO-NO’s)
  • Important safety precautions (no chemicals, no teflon, etc)
  • Whether and how your bird is allowed out of its cage (e.g., never go outside with the bird!)
  • When and how to reach your avian vet/ Signs of illness

And you should be able to expect your bird sitter to follow those instructions. Ideally, your bird sitter also likes birds and will pay lots of attention to them.

Don't let your friends feed your bird junk food. Photo by shesaleo licensed under Creative Commons.

If none of your friends like or are comfortable around parrots, consider lining up some birdsitting resources before you run into a last-minute emergency; when you’re stressed out and in a hurry is not the best time to start interviewing sitters. Start looking now.

While pet-sitters who advertise through Craig’s List and similar online classifieds might be fine, you should also consider other sources, such as recommendations from people you trust. Remember, a dog-sitter isn’t necessarily qualified to take care of your birds.

Some ideas for where to find a good bird-sitter:

  • Your local bird club. If you’re a member of a club, you can get to know other people with whom you can trade bird sitting services. The advantage is that you may not need to pay anything if you trade and you have the advantage of picking people you know and like personally. Phoenix Landing, for example, has a list-serve for sharing information with its volunteers and adoptive families, which also includes a database of members who are available if fellow members need a bird sitter.
  • Your avian vet. Vets usually know of pet sitters who come recommended by their clients. Some also offer boarding services.

Keep in mind that anytime you board your birds where a lot of other birds are present, you run some risk of exposing them to avian diseases. How big of a risk depends on the situation and may or may not be a calculated risk worth taking.

So, do you have any bird sitting horror stories? Or do you (and your birds) love your bird sitter? If so, where did you go to find people to watch your birds when you’re out of town?

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6 comments

  1. I use Tails of the City in the DC/VA/MD area and they’re great! They come to the house each day, change my amazon’s water, freshen up her food and give her some treats. I also make sure they spend the remainder of their time with her sitting next to her cage and talking to her, singing to her, just keeping her company. I have lights and radio on a timer.

    I’m a little nervous about dropping off a big bird with someone, and she has a super-deluxe cage that I know she loves.


  2. I have recently launched my own bird-sitting service in Northern Virginia, covering all of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. I have four cockatoos of my own and have many years of experience caring for birds as a volunteer with wildlife rehabilitators as well as taking care of the parrots of friends and clients. Please contact me if you would be interested in finding out more about my bird-sitting services. I would be happy to provide references.


    • Hello,

      I have a Blue & Gold Macaw that is 22 yrs old. At time I have to be out of town for a week at a time.
      What sort of services do you provide? I live in the Springfield area.
      Salem has a big cage that is about 7’x7’x7′ in a room of his own.


      • Hi, Mike,

        I’d be grateful if you could send me your e-mail address to my e-mail address listed above (rather than on this blog), and then we can discuss specifics.

        Thanks,
        Gemma


      • Mike, I just realized my e-mail address doesn’t appear here. I’m not too familiar with blogging! Please send me a note at dehnbost@yahoo.com. Thanks, Gemma


  3. In the North Idaho/Eastern Washington area, the very best place I’ve found is Sparky’s Bird Store (Wellesley and Division across from the Northtown Mall, for anyone who knows the area). Everyone who works at this shop is phenomenal in everything relating to companion birds, including bird sitting. They all have a love for birds and are extremely knowledgeable about their care. We would take our Lilac-crowned Amazon, Groucho (may he rest in peace) there once a month for beak/nail care and let him hang out there for the day to help socialize him. Groucho had earned his name long before we brought him home and he was extremely distrustful of humans in general but on our first visit, he was willing to step-up for Sparky without hesitation (I about fainted that first time!) Every time we visited, there was at least one bird whose human flock was out of town or having a few hard days and needed to keep the bird out of a stressful situation.



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