Transporting Your Bird - Car and Air Travel

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

At some time, you may be faced with the task of transporting your bird, whether by car or on a plane, bus, or train. You may be taking the bird to your veterinarian, moving to a new residence, or traveling a long distance. Birds can be great travelers. Most tolerate cars and airplane travel very well, and some birds love the excitement of travel. However, some birds that are never taken out of the house may be stressed by travel. If you plan ahead, you can ensure a safe, enjoyable trip for both you and your bird.

What sort of container should I use?

If traveling by car, birds may be transported in small cages. Bird carriers that contain perches and small food cups are also commercially available for travel. There are many options at local pet stores and online sites for bird-specific transport cages, some made of plexiglass, some made of heavy-duty canvas. It is never safe for your bird to be roaming freely in the car while you are driving. Any unexpected movement, at any time, could cause serious injury to you or your pet bird.

For short trips to the veterinarian's office, small birds such as budgies, canaries, and cockatiels may be transported in a cardboard box with holes in the lid for air. The cover should be secured to prevent an accidental escape. Remember, many birds can chew their way out of a box, so they should not be left for long periods in boxes and should always be monitored.

Remove toys and swings from the cage or box to prevent injury to the bird during rough trips. All transport cages should be secured with a car seat belt to prevent movement or shifting. It is not recommended to place water dishes in the transport cage. Water is likely to spill and cause your bird to become soaked and chilled. You can place small pieces of fruit or vegetable in the transport cage to supply hydration. If traveling by car, bring your bird’s water bowl and a bottle of fresh water along to allow your bird to drink when you stop for gas or at a roadside rest station.

What about bad weather?

Birds can travel in bad weather. In cold weather, pre-warm your car and cover the cage or carrier using towels or blankets. In hot weather, your bird must have adequate ventilation or fresh air and should never be left unattended in the car due to the risk of overheating. Even birds from hot climates can suffer heat stroke very quickly.

What if I travel by airplane?

Airlines vary in their regulations for allowing birds to travel. Contact the specific airline to determine their policies regarding pet travel. With the airline’s preauthorization, a bird can be kept in a pet carrier that fits under the seat. For hydration, small pieces of fruit and/or vegetables can be placed in the cage. Succulent fruits, such as oranges and grapes, may also be provided for nutrition and fluids. Tranquilizers or sedatives should not be used in birds during travel due to the risk of reaction.

Certain hotels and motels will not allow pets, so consult your hotel ahead of time to determine its policy.

Can I travel out of the country with my bird?

Before making any travel plans, contact the consulate or border authorities of the country you are planning to enter. Medical testing and health certificates may be required before your bird is allowed to enter the country. Each country has its own rules and regulations with respect to traveling with pet birds, importing birds, endangered species, and disease control. Record the name of the person supplying the information as a reference should you encounter problems. Obtain this information in writing, well before your trip. Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) office in your region for more information.

If you are travelling by plane or going out of the country, your bird will likely need a physical examination and written health certificate from a federally accredited veterinarian, within a certain number of days of travel, depending on the airline and your destination. Certain countries require a microchip to be implanted for verification of ownership and identification. You may also require specific documentation, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) certificate. Certain countries require quarantine of birds for a period of days to weeks after arrival to prevent the spread of potential disease. Remember to also ask about the regulations for your return trip home with your bird.

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