On August 23, 1992, I lost more than 20 beloved pet birds in the flood and devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Miami, Florida. I had never lived through a big hurricane and neither had my family — the last big hurricane to hit South Florida was Carol in 1954, so we never could have anticipated Hurricane Andrew’s capability for destruction.
I evacuated to a friend’s house with 10 lovebirds, but we left our three cats and more than 30 other birds inside the house in a back room, where we thought they would be safe. I had wanted to take all of the birds and the cats, but I was living in my parents’ home, at the time and they insisted that I was overreacting. We had nowhere to take them, anyway. Shelters would not accept pets, and my friends were gracious enough to allow me to bring one cage of birds.
We stayed up all night through the storm, and once dawn broke it became clear that I had to get home immediately. The neighborhood was unrecognizable. Roofs littered the street, cars were turned upside-down and crushed, and 100-year-old trees were uprooted and tossed aside like Popsicle sticks.
I trudged home in the August heat over mounds of debris, boats, sewage and seaweed. I found more than half of my lovebirds drowned. It was one of the saddest sights I have ever seen, before or since. Some of the birds were loose, so I caught them and put them into cages. There was no fresh water or food, and the water lines had broken, so I begged the neighbor to keep and eye on them — they had also left their birds in their home, but the flooding wasn’t as bad on the other side of the street.
After three days the roads were clear enough to come back for the birds (we had already found and saved the cats). All of the remaining birds had survived, thanks to the neighbor bringing them some bread – but no water. When I was finally able to get them some water they all drank and bathed for what seemed like an hour.
In the years after Hurricane Andrew, I became an expert at hurricane preparation and evacuating with birds. Every time a hurricane showed up on the National Weather Center’s radar, I began to prepare, and if the storm looked like it was headed our way, I bolted north with all of the birds – sometimes more than 40 of them, from macaws to conures to parrotlets.
Hurricane season is June 30th through November 30th, every year. Here are some tips about how to prepare for a hurricane and how to get out of the way if you need to:
During a hurricane, keep your bird in a carrier in case you need to leave right away.
Keep the carrier in high spot away from potential flooding, and away from windows and doors.
Pack an avian survival kit to last at least three weeks. You will need it if you stay home because your water and electricity may be out for weeks. If you evacuate, you can easily take it with you if you pack the dry goods in covered plastic storage bins.
- Bird food for three weeks
- Canned fruits and veggies that your bird likes – ideally, use the very small cans with a pop top
- Can opener
- Paper towels
- Bottled water – at least a half gallon per day
- Fruit juice
- Extra toys
- Extra food and water cups
- Peanut butter
- Birdie snacks (unsalted crackers, etc.)
- Avian first aid kit (hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, medical tape, scissors, cotton balls, gauze, e-collar, styptic powder, flour or corn starch).
Your bird’s medication.
- All of your bird’s medical records.
- Photos of your birds in case you are somehow separated.
- Cash. ATMs will be inaccessible, empty, or not working due to lack of electricity.
- Mosquito netting. If your electricity is out you will open your windows and flying bugs can get inside. Cover the cage area (but not the cage itself) with mosquito netting to keep these disease-carrying pests away from your bird.
Microchip your parrot now if he’s large enough. You will need permanent identification on your pet bird in case you get separated (this is a good idea regardless of the situation).
Keep a spray bottle handy to mist down your pet birds. Most hurricanes happen in warm months in the southern states and your air conditioning may be out for days or weeks.
If your electricity is out, remember that candles, oil lamps, and torches contain deadly toxins to birds – do not use these around your birds and make sure that your bird’s area remains well ventilated.
The city may drive around spraying mosquito repellent, or may send helicopters to spray it over housing developments, especially if you are near standing water. When you notice this happening, move your bird away from the windows and place him in closed room, like the bathroom, until the poison settles.
Mold growth can occur if moisture has gotten into your carpeting or woodwork. Once your electricity comes back, make sure to thoroughly dry out your bird’s area and check for mold, which can be deadly to birds if inhaled.
- Prepare all of the above.
- Most public shelters do not take pets, but some do. Find out right now which shelters in your area will allow you to bring your birds.
- Drive there as a “trial run” so that you know where it is when you need it.
- For entry into a shelter, bring proof of residency (driver’s license, mail, etc.) in the evacuation zone or you won’t be allowed in. Also bring your bird’s medical records. Remember that most shelters limit the number of pets per household.
- Pre-register with your local hurricane shelter if your county requires it and let them know you will be bringing pets.
- If you choose to board your bird, make sure that the facility is prepared in the case of an emergency and can withstand the storm.
- Ask a few relatives and friends if you can evacuate there in the case of a hurricane. When the time comes, choose the most likely area not to get hit by the storm. The more inland you go, the better.
- Have a safe, hard-sided carrier for every single bird or bird pair. These carriers stack more easily than cages and resist opening if they fall. Also, people are less tempted to stick their fingers into a carrier than they are into a cage.
- Tape a note card to the top of each carrier stating the bird’s name, species, age, and temperament. Include your phone number, your vet’s phone number, and the phone numbers of any responsible friends and relatives – or write this info directly onto the carrier with a permanent marker.
- Equip each carrier with a perch, a food and water dish, and one or two toys. Keep fresh newspaper or paper towels on the bottom of the carrier – it should be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- Keep your car fully fueled at all times.
- Anticipate the storm and leave early. The roads will be packed with other people evacuating as well.
- Before leaving, find a list of pet friendly hotels near the area where you believe you’ll end up – you may just keep driving north until you find a vacancy.
- If you end up at a hotel that doesn’t take pets and it’s your last resort, speak to the manager and explain that you’ve evacuated from a dangerous situation and that you desperately need a place for the night.
- Use caution when allowing your birds outside of the carriers in a strange place.
I hope you never have to use any of this advice, and I also hope you are well prepared in case you do. Have a safe hurricane season!