We just moved our six pet birds and one human (me) from New Jersey to San Diego, CA in one move. In as much as the birds and the human survived, we thought to share what we learned about carriers.Once it was decided that we were going to move our birds (four umbrella cockatoos and two conures) by airline, we set out to do it the best way we could. Several telephone calls to Continental Airlines (the only one with a non-stop from Newark, NJ to San Diego, CA) told us that our two conures could be counted as one if they shared one carrier under my seat. The cockatoos could fly with me as excess baggage.
Since I was accompanying the birds, excess baggage was an option. We paid $50 for the one carrier which would go under my seat with the two conures and $50 each for the additional two items which would go in the cargo hold. A total of $150 for the six birds. Had we sent the birds unaccompanied and as live animal cargo, each item would have been $149 each.
There was also a difference in the ability to insure the birds. As excess baggage, we had to provide our own insurance (privately) if we wanted it. If the birds were sent as cargo, then they could be insured with the airline if we had a veterinarian certificate of health for them not more than 10 days old.
We asked many people for advice about how to ship the umbrella cockatoos. It was decided to use the two large kennel carriers we had and to purchase two more smaller ones. We used 4 – 3/16 bolts 3/8 of an inch long to attach the two smaller carriers to the top of the two larger ones. Attached this way, one can carry two carriers by picking up the handle of the top one. Two carriers so attached are about the size of a large suitcase.
The next order of business was the decision of whether to use perches or not. Some people favor using a perch, some favor just paper in the bottom of the carrier and some think that 3 or 4 slats fastened to the bottom is best. Of course, being me, I used a different method. I installed wall-to-wall carpet. If you don’t happen to have an end of a roll of carpet from a room in your house, most carpet stores will sell their old samples for a $1 or so.
To fit the carpet to the carrier, lay the carpet up-side down on the floor. Sit the carrier on it and use a magic marker to trace the outline of the bottom of the carrier. Use a sharp knife (razor blade) to cut out the outline. Be sure to cut inside the lines. Put the carpet in the carrier and note where it bunches up against the sides. Use a pair of sissors to cut away one or two threads of the BACKING and replace. Repeat these steps until you have a snug fit. (Usually two or three fittings.)
I re-use the carpet. It can be washed with a good soap and then rinsed with a bleach. Later, it can be allowed to dry in the sun for a day or two. It tends to fade the carpet, but who cares? Moreover, as I get two or more bottom liners from each sample and each sample usually costs $1 or two for $1, they are not so expensive. Throw them out when they get too dirty. I like the carpet as it affords a little more protection if the birds fall on their pointy heads during take-off or landing.
Now it is time to cover the air holes and slots so that the poor birds are not forced to watch what is happening to them. Also, the dark helps to calm them. We decided to use two layers of burlap so the measuring was easy. One yard wide burlap can be folded in half, so the amount needed for each carrier was the length of each side and the front as there are no air slots on the back of these carriers. We used burlap as it still allowed air to circulate through the cloth.
The correct amount of burlap was purchased and we washed it in the washing machine. This may not be necessary, but my wife is more careful of the birds than she is of me. Fold the burlap in half so that you have a long piece 18 inches wide when folded. Start on one side at the back of the carrier with the fold up. Tape the fold to the top of the carrier. I used packing tape, but duct tape, masking tape, etc would work. Use the tape as if you owned shares in the company making the tape or selling it.
When you come to the front of the carrier, use a hospital bed tuck to ease the corner so that the flap door to cover the front is not too tight. Use the same tuck on the other corner of the front and continue down the other side to the back. At this point in time, if you already bolted the top carrier to the bottom one, you will note that you may have to un-bolt them to put the burlap on the bottom one. You may also want to consider shooting the wife for saying, ‘I told you so’!
As the carriers have air slots only on the top half, take a pair of sissors and cut away the bottom half and tape the top half to the carrier. Remeber not to put tape over the air slots as the birdies do not breath well with tape over the slots. Take care to leave as much burlap as possible for the front door flap. Tape the side down firmly.
For the front door flap, I used athletic white tape (like we used to tape bat handles with, am I giving Johnson & Johnson a plug here?), to create a taped seam. Keep in mind that you are going to raise the flap to open the door to put the bird in. Then after you close the door, you will tape the flap in place ‘for the flight’. KK’s song was ‘Help me make it though the night’ and all you want is to ‘Help me make it though the flight’.
OK, so we are now ready to ‘bolt up’ and ‘tape the flap down’! But first we put a large sprig of millet in each carrier and filled each attached bowl with grape, apple, orange, etc which provided moisture.
We also made a file of copies of all the documents (including a boarding confirmation for each of the birds) and placed them in an envelope which we marked ‘offical’! No one asked me for them, but it made me feel good to have an ‘offical document’ if questioned.
We arrived at the airport about 1 1/2 hours before take off and went to the regular check-in counter. I showed my tickets, including the confirmation from the airline that the birds were flying along with me. A special attendant was called and the birds were taken by him personally to the plane.
All that was left was to board the airplane (my wife watched to ensure that the birds were loaded aboard). I noticed that the Flight Attendant seemed little older than my three year old granddaughter. I wonder what she wants to be when she grows up? Then, like any good dirty old man, I took a nap.