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?