The rise in popularity of exotic birds has led to an increase in popularity of another activity: theft of exotic birds. Some large breeders have been devastated by large-scale thefts by professionals. In some states, such as Florida, the increase in bird thefts has led to major changes in how bird owners and law enforcement view this issue. There have also been some major thefts in California. Many of the breeders have had sophisticated theft protection that was evaded by criminals. Some victims have been threatened with guns. Pet stores have also been victimized, including cases where thieves smash store windows and grab birds. While this might seem to be a concern only of breeders and pet store owners, thefts of pet birds from homes have been on the increase as well. All owners of pet birds should consider taking precautions to prevent the loss of their beloved pets.
The first issue is visibility. If people can see your expensive bird, they can be tempted to steal it. It is up to each individual to determine what is a reasonable amount of exposure of their birds to the public. The larger birds tend to be the most likely targets, as thieves know they can sell them for a significant amount of money. If you display your prized bird in the front picture window of your home, anyone passing by will see your pet. It is advisable to give your bird a window that does not face onto a public area.
If you take your bird with you to public places, you are again letting the world know you have an expensive pet in your home. While it might be harder for someone to figure out where the bird is kept, it is still possible to be followed home.
If you have a lot of birds, beware of giving out numbers and other information. When people ask how many birds you have, the best response is a laugh and a comment such as, “One is enough to keep anyone busy!” It is noncommittal and doesn’t supply enough information for would-be thieves. Be careful about discussing your security measures with strangers or even on the Internet on bird mailing lists or chats. Since these forums often do not control who joins in, someone could specifically target these sources of information to plan thefts.
Be careful that you are not making it easy on thieves to take your birds. Many times they will use your own carriers and materials on your property to help them transport the birds. Make it as difficult as possible for them to take birds with them.
Many bird owners have started to microchip their birds. This is a tiny chip injected under the skin. If your bird is stolen and someone with a compatible scanner checks your bird, they will know that the bird’s ownership is in question.
If your bird is stolen, notify the police immediately. Put up flyers, post the information on the Internet, and let all the local veterinarians and bird or pet shops know. Have some good recent pictures of your birds and be sure you know any distinguishing features that might help someone recognize your bird. Know the band information if your bird is banded; however, many thieves cut these bands off so this is not always helpful. Keep an eye on classified ads in local papers to see if someone is advertising your bird. However, do not attempt to confront a suspected thief yourself. In some cases, thieves have been physically violent with bird owners.
Remember, you also can help stop theft by not buying suspect birds and by reporting to the authorities any person you believe has a stolen bird. If someone is standing in a public area trying to sell you a cockatoo for $100, you can bet the bird is stolen. In large-scale thefts, the crime scenes have sometimes been horrific; thieves often drop and kill babies, fertile eggs, and even kill adult birds that are too loud and threaten to reveal the thieves’ presence. Don’t believe for a second that these stolen birds are a “great deal.”
Many aviculturists have banded together to deal with these crimes and they often list stolen birds on the Internet, especially in Florida. Law Enforcement authorities have only recently begun to take seriously large-scale thefts of exotic birds so in many cases the bird breeders are left to deal with the heartache on their own. In many cases, the heartache is made infinitely worse by the fact that many of the stolen birds are rare and endangered species.
There are many forums now for listing lost and stolen birds. One of the most popular isBird Hot Line.