With the increasing popularity and appreciation of birds comes an added risk from burglary and theft. Unlike some other pets which decrease in monetary worth to practically nothing, birds maintain their value. Because of this value, coupled with a growing awareness among thieves and the difficulty of positive identification, birds have become a prime target for theft. Whether as a secondary target in a home burglary along with the TV and VCR or as a primary target with only birds stolen, more and more birds are being taken from their owners. Some bird owners have hired armed guards to protect their valuable collections.
Fortunately, there are some things that we can do to protect our birds. First, do not give a thief access to your bird. Keep your house locked. Invest in a burglar alarm system. Know your neighbors. Do all of the normal things that you do to protect your family and property.
Second, don’t advertise your bird to thieves. Do not keep your bird in an area that is visible from the street. Don’t let your bird scream his presence to the world at large. Resist the urge to brag about all the cute things he says and does and how much he is worth to strangers in the pub.
Finally, mark your bird in a way that provides identification. If you purchased a domestic bred, closed banded bird, find out if the band is unique and traceable – not all closed bands are. (The USDA Quarantine band consisting of a three letter and three number code on an open ring band that is clamped around an imported bird’s leg at the quarantine station is not a unique identification number since these codes may be used over and over again.)
Microchips can be implanted into the muscle of larger birds. The problem with microchips is that you need a microchip reader to tell that it’s there. On the other hand, it can’t be removed or get caught in cage wire like a leg band. By the way, tattoos do not work as an individual marking system for birds. Because of their skin construction, numbers and letters become illegible in a short time. (Tattooing for sex identification consists of a large blob of ink in the right wing web for males and in the left wing web for females.) Keep a record of the complete ID code (include the organization that issued the device).
If a potential thief does gain access to your house, you can make it as difficult as possible for him to remove your birds. Keep your bird in a large sturdy cage with heavy padlocks. Keep in mind, however, that you need to be able to remove your birds quickly in case of fire or smoke.
If the worst happens, report the theft to the police immediately. Emphasize to them the value of the bird. Back up your estimate with sales receipts and advertisements from national sources. Many non-bird people don’t realize that we aren’t talking about sentimental value, although, that is considerable, when we value our collections at ten, twenty, or even a hundred thousand dollars. Many aviculturists have breeding birds that are necessary to the species survival. Remember that there is only one Spix Macaw left in the wild. If that species is to survive, aviculturists are the only hope.
Most insurance policies do NOT cover birds. Check with your insurance company to see what yours covers. Ask about adding your birds to your homeowners’ or renters’ policy. AVICARE is one company that issues separate insurance policies for birds.
Advertise. Have a good picture of your bird. Meet the school bus when it stops in your neighborhood and show the picture to the children. Offer a reward for information about your bird. Remember that your bird may have escaped from his captors, so investigate all sightings. When information given by children is verified, even if it doesn’t lead to the immediate return of your bird, $5 will encourage them to keep looking. Put an ad in the newspaper. Post fliers.
Notify your local bird club. Thanks to the New Mexico Bird Club, many bird clubs have reciprocal agreements with bird clubs in neighboring states. Post fliers in pet shops, feed stores, grocery stores and veterinarians offices. Follow up with phone calls twice a week. Don’t try to do it all alone. Enlist help from family and friends. Move fast. Don’t give up.
Unfortunately, there are bad people out there who will take advantage of your misfortune. Scam artists frequently go through newspaper lost and found ads collecting information. A favorite trick is to call claiming to have found your pet at a truck stop. Not knowing what to do with the bird, he takes it with him to “Chicago”. If you will wire money to him through Western Union for the freight charges, he will ship your bird back. Don’t believe it. Tell him to ship the bird “freight collect” and you will pay when the bird arrives. A variation on the theme is that he has a buddy coming back that way, but he’s only going as far as “Santa Fe”. If you will pay the trucker’s rig charges, your pet will be returned. If you wire money through Western Union, the money can be picked up at any Western Union office anywhere with the right codes.
A less malicious, but just as heart-wrenching trick is that prison inmates call to tell you that their mother has found the bird in a parking lot and taken it to a motel. These people are lonely and want to talk. The big tip-off is that it’s a collect call from a nearby prison.
Finally, never go to meet someone alone. I don’t care if you are sure that this little old lady has your pet. Don’t ever go to meet a stranger, especially carrying reward money, by yourself. The little old lady may have a vicious grandson. Not all little old ladies are nice either. Take two friends if you can. Have one friend wait in the car while you collect your pet. Arrange to meet in a public place where there are a lot of people around.
GOOD LUCK! DON’T GIVE UP HOPE! DON’T DO ANYTHING DUMB! GET HELP!