Melissa J. Nixon, DVM
First thing to remember is safety! One thing to remember first off is that many birds have the ability to inflict serious harm upon us. Take appropriate precautions, and always defer to the people with experience with birds. NO ONE should handle wild birds, such as birds of prey or water birds (such as pelicans, cranes, or egrets) without learning how to handle these specific species!
Another, possibly forgotten, aspect of handling birds such as parrots is the NOISE. Macaws and the like can easily damage hearing with their vocal abilities, especially in a close room. Make sure to wear approved hearing protection whenever you are dealing with a loud bird.
Hopefully, cage birds we are sheltering will have their own cages with them, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, a large bird's cage will be too big to bring along and the owner may not have thought to purchase a transport cage.
Large parrots should never be transported in cardboard containers. We are going to watch a demonstration of a parrot chewing its way out of a cardboard cat carrier. Large parrots can chew their way out of a plastic carrier too.
We always need to make sure that metal cages are not rusty. Also, some very old, antique or imported cages may have been painted with lead base paint. We should check toys and their hangers for problems as well, especially rust or easily ingested materials, such as "twisty ties."
Smaller birds can be housed in metal or plastic cages, while larger birds will need stronger metal or acrylic cages. Small birds up through African greys or small amazons can be transported in plastic cat carriers. We have a few of the collapsible metal dog crates with plastic tray bottoms, and they may work for transporting something the size of a macaw.
We need to be aware that larger birds can get their feet caught in tight bar spacing, and smaller birds can get their head stuck - or even escape - between widely spaced bars. There is no one-size-fits-all in birdcages.
Birds need to be transported and housed in warm areas that are dust-free and as smoke-free as possible. For instance, at the fairgrounds we keep the birds in the log cabin we use as a command center, not in the horse barns. They are more easily stressed by cold than most humans and tend to like the room a bit warmer than we do. If possible, prewarm the interior of the transport vehicle before bringing the bird out.
Try not to leave birds in the middle of a room or open area in an open cage. The bird may feel very exposed and stress. You can slowly cover part of the cage with a sheet or towel to give the bird a "safe place" to hide from everything if they wish. Avoid boxes or "cozies" inside the cage, as this may stimulate unwanted reproductive behavior. If covering birdcages at night, leave the bird space where it can peek out and see what's going on.
Never remove a bird from its cage unless you are in a confined room, windows and doors closed. If you cannot temporarily lock the door, post a guard to ensure nobody opens it when the bird is out of its cage. Less handling is better, and covering the bird with a towel in a darkened room may be the safest method of handling for both handler and bird. Make sure that when holding a bird, you do not hold its body too tightly, as a bird needs to be able to expand its body to breathe! Also, remember that ANY stressful event, such as handling, can compromise a bird's health, especially if it is already sick. Avoid handling birds as much as possible is a good policy in a rescue situation.
Always talk to birds in calm voices and quiet whistles. Daily interactions (or preferably more) with the birds may help them adjust to their new stressful environments. Some birds may even enjoy a quiet radio or TV on during small periods of the day.
Birdcages need to be kept locked with padlocks - to prevent theft, and to prevent escape. African greys are rather notorious for undoing clasps and C-clamps, and even simple combination locks!
Simple bird toys are paper towel or toilet paper rolls, or pieces of clean cardboard. Also, many birds will "play" with their food. Make sure all bird toys are "bird safe," i.e. no treated woods, no zinc clasps or chains, no nylon ropes, etc.
Lories and mynah birds may have looser droppings than other cage birds, due to diet.
A grate on the bottom of the cage is preferable to keep the bird out of its droppings. Newspaper is a fine cage liner as most inks today are nontoxic, but avoid magazine type papers. You can also use paper towels or paper grocery bags.
We hope that some of the bird's regular diet will come into evacuation with it. If not, then a diet will be determined by the bird specialist volunteer and/or the veterinary team. Many birds benefit from supplementation with washed fresh fruit and veggies, but never ever give them avocado! In a crunch, wild bird seed mix with sunflower seeds may come the closest to a "universal" diet for most evacuated birds, but this is because a large percentage of bird owners do not know that all-seed diet is unhealthy. If at all possible, try to avoid feeding seeds to a bird who is used to pellets, as the bird may become a "seed junkie" after the owner may have spent months converting it to pellets. On the other hand, you can always offer healthy vegetables and occasional fruit to a bird who is on seed or pelleted diet, just make sure it does not remain in the cage long enough to rot or grow mold. Soft bills such as lories can eat hummingbird food, but it is not the ideal diet. If anyone can get access to vegetables and fruit, this would be a better option for lories.
If the owner is present when we evacuate a psittacine bird such as a parrot, or if they bring it to the shelter themselves, advise them to keep the bird's paperwork or medical records with their own important papers during the disaster. Because cage birds can carry potentially serious diseases like Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease, it is important to be sure they are not illegally imported birds or perhaps coming from a quarantined area, especially in California. Some birds may also have microchips, so check any found or rescued birds for chips on admission.
All birds can also carry an infection called Psittacosis, caused by the bacteria Chlamydophilia psittaci. This can be contagious to people who handle the birds or clean their cages. If you have been working with cage birds or poultry and develop signs of a respiratory infection or "flu," report to the human first aid station promptly and be sure to tell the doctor or nurse you have been working with birds.
Signs of illness in a cage bird include: sitting on the bottom of the cage, trembling, fluffing, sleepiness (especially if sleeping in front of a "predator," such as you), lack of appetite, depression, diarrhea (watery droppings), green or yellow urates instead of the normal white appearance (note that this does not apply to the color of the actual stool, which is often green), paralysis, twisted neck, difficulty breathing, discharge from the eyes, weight loss, and noisy breathing, or an obvious "tail bob" coinciding with the breathing motions. If you see any of these signs, contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.
My thanks to John Edwards, DVM, for the gift of his avian experience in putting this information sheet together!