Preparing To Care For Your Bird During a Disaster
By: Sandee L. Molenda, C.A.S.

As I sit watching yet another storm drift in over the mountains surrounding the Pacific Ocean, I am reminded that I need to check our emergency supplies. Not only the ones for myself and my husband but for our animals, and, especially the birds. It does not matter whether one lives in earthquake-prone California, the bone-chilling snows of the Midwest and Northeast or braces for hurricane season on the East and Gulf Coasts, anyone at any time can experience a disaster. Whether it is Mother Nature or horrific man-made catastrophes, preparation can mean the difference between life and death. Although I am not an expert in emergency operations, being a native Californian, I have grown up with many disasters - earthquakes, floods, fire, mudslides - even a tidal wave warning once. I quickly came to realize that as a responsible bird owner, I needed to be educated, prepared and ready before disaster strikes in order to provide my birds with the best chances for their well-being and possibly even survival.

The most important item in any disaster kit is water. All living things need water and water is usually the first thing that goes no matter what the disaster. Therefore it is extremely important to have bottled water stored where it can be retrieved even if the house collapses - this is important whether you live in earthquake, tornado or hurricane country. I would recommend at least 1-16oz. bottle of water per bird four days. While the government recommends that people be prepared to be "on their own" for three days - in 1989, it was seven days before many had water and two weeks or more before electricity was restored. During Hurricane Isabelle last year, many did not have power for more than a month. If one obtains their water from a private well, there would also be no water. It is recommended to plan to be self-sufficient for at least a week. Also, if evacuation is necessary, it is best to be prepared because many disaster shelters will not accept animals.

Food is another thing. It will probably not be practical or even safe to feed birds their usual fresh or cooked foods so make sure to have plenty of extra seed and/or pellets. Millet spray is a complex carbohydrate and provides quick energy. It is excellent to feed birds that are stressed. It is also easy to store in plastic zip top bags so make sure millet spray in the kit as well. One spray per bird per day should be sufficient. If the bird will eat Nutriberries™ or Avicakes™, also put those in the kit. If the bird requires a special diet, such as one needed by lories or mynahs, make sure it is also provided and stored in airtight containers such as plastic zip top bags. Cans of fruit and vegetables (include a manual can opener) can be included as well but only if there is a place where the dishes can be safely washed. Paper plates can be used but make sure to store them in plastic bags to keep them from getting wet or contaminated.

A flat-topped travel cage can be easily stacked and one should be provided for each bird or pair of birds. Have it set it up with perches and food cups. Birds that are not normally kept in the same cage together should not be placed in the travel cage together. The birds will be very stressed and frightened and this can lead to aggression. Better to have an extra cage or two than to have to worry about fighting. If the bird has a favorite toy or something it likes to cuddle against, buy an extra one and place it in the travel cage. A small bag full of toys can be stored away to help distract the bird especially if things are not resolved in a day or two.

For those who worry about cold – such as during snow storms and power failures - hot packs made for athletic injuries can be purchased at a drug store. They are easily heated either by being placed in hot water or by shaking of the gel. This is also good if there are unweaned babies in a brooder and there is no access to a generator. Also, in the event the bird becomes really stressed, heat is always a good thing to have to offer supportive care. I use these when I fly with unweaned babies and they will keep them toasty for 6-8 hours depending on the ambient temperature of the air around them.

Emergency Bird Supply Kit

  • Flat Top Travel Cage with Food & Water Containers & Perches
  • Water (Enough to Last 7 Days)
  • Food (Basic Diet Normally Fed) Enough To Last 7 Days
  • Millet Spray
  • Toys
  • Extra Food & Water Containers
  • Extra Perches
  • Paper Plates
  • Newspaper
  • Paper Towels
  • Duct Tape
  • Tarp
  • Large Plastic Garbage Bags
  • Plastic Zip Top Bags
  • Small Hand Towels
  • Large Towels
  • Syringes
  • Hand-Feeding Formula
  • Gavage Tube
  • Bleach
  • Sponge
  • Dish Soap
  • Plastic Tub
  • Athletic Hot Packs

A large towel can be used to cover each cage and help keep the bird calm and quiet. Also, if in a fire area, the duct tape and tarp can be used to seal a room, car or cage to help keep out the smoke. It has been recommended by the Office of Homeland Security to also use this method in the event of a chemical or biological attack. A small syringe, hand-feeding formula, gavage tube and a small bottle of bleach should also be placed in the kit in the event the bird needs to be force fed or to administer medication. Bleach can also be used to de-contaminate water for drinking. If one lives in an area with frequent power outages, especially in cooler climates or if a breeder that usually has babies, the purchase of a generator is a very worthwhile investment that can often mean the difference between life and death, especially for baby birds.

If caring for unweaned babies, extra water, hand-feeding formula, a bottle of disinfectant, food bowls, spoons, syringes, an extra basket or container, thermometers, a bag of shavings, small plastic critter carrier, a heating pad, car converter and a small appliance to heat water will also be needed. An AC/DC portable brooder with a UPS for added power is a wise investment that can help save babies' lives. A four-wheel shopping wire basket such as those used for groceries is an excellent place to store bird emergency supplies and is excellent if evacuation is needed and walking a long distance is necessary. They can be pushed or pulled, work wonderfully and are not expensive. Plastic bags are perfect for storing supplies.

It is also important to have a bird first aid kit with the emergency supplies. This will give the ultimate protection for the bird in case of illness or injury. In the event of a major disaster, veterinary care is non-existent especially the first 24-48 hours so having a well-stocked first aid kit can truly save a bird's life. While there are commercial kits out there, it really is not difficult or expensive to put together a kit for use. It is recommended that all bird owners have two first aid kits – one for use around the house and one exclusively kept with the emergency supplies. This way, it will always be available when needed most.

Bird First Aid Kit

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Dawn™ dish soap (removes grease and oil)
  • Paper towels
  • Small hand towel
  • Flour, cornstarch, Quik Stop™ or other blood-clotting agent
  • Hand feeding formula
  • Syringes and tips
  • 8" gavage tube
  • Pedialyte™
  • Wavecide™ or other disinfectant
  • Heating pad or heat lamp (one for reptiles that does not give off light)
  • Athletic Gel Heat Packs
  • Plastic Critter Carrier™
  • Tweezers
  • Hemostats
  • Scissors
  • Cotton balls and swabs
  • Gauze
  • Veterinary tape (does not stick)
  • Emergency avian veterinary service telephone number
  • Primary avian veterinarian's telephone number
  • Telephone number of Animal Poison Control
  • Note pad and pen (write down veterinarian's instructions)

I truly hope that no bird owners ever have to be in a position to deal with a major disaster. However, we live in an ever-changing world and no one can predict the future. Therefore, it is much better to be prepared for disaster and hope that it never comes than to be suddenly confronted and have little or no resources available. Our birds have no one but us to depend on for their care and safety. A few minutes of planning now can avert major problems in the future and possibly even save a beloved bird's life.

- Sandee Molenda, C.A.S.
The Parrotlet Ranch