How to import parrots and other birds into Hawaii

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We imported 7 parrots to Hawaii and have gone through the process.  A comprehensive guide through the process does not exist, so we created this blog to save people the frustration and apprehension that we experienced when importing birds into Hawaii.

With its tropical climate and readily available fruits and nuts, Hawaii seems like an ideal place to have pet parrots or other birds.  Indeed, the climate in much of Hawaii is nearly identical to the natural climate of many South American avian species.  But importing your birds into Hawaii is not as easy as just putting them into an airline kennel and boarding a plane.  Hawaii has import restrictions on birds to prevent the introduction of invasive species including the birds and mosquitoes that carry West Nile.

We started planning our import nearly a year in advance.  Even with the most planning we could think of, the whole process nearly fell apart in the days immediately prior to our move.  We would hope to spare you the anxiety we experienced.

This is the Hawaii web page regarding importing birds into Hawaii: Read the first part very carefully.  Even though your bird is not a plant, it will require a plant import permit!  It will also require a poultry and bird import permit.  I do not link the forms needed for the process on the blog because I can't be responsible for keeping the links up to date but you can get them all from following the above link.  Your bird will also need a health certificate  from a licensed vet that very clearly states the birds are "free of external parasites".  This is not "standard" language on a health certificate so your vet will have to write that IN BLUE INK.  Hawaii does not accept faxes, photocopies, etc of ANY document and the only way to prove it's not a copy is for the vet to use BLUE INK.  This is very important.  NEVER USE BLACK INK.

Have your vet issue at least TWO ORIGINAL health certificates per animal signed in BLUE INK.  Some airlines will require (and keep) an original health certificate.  Don't give them your only copy or your birds will not be allowed into Hawaii.  They WILL send them back.  Even if the airline tells you that they don't require an original copy for themselves, do NOT trust that the person working the counter knows what they are doing when the price of failure is you coming to Hawaii and being told that your birds cannot come with you.  Hand carry your documents.  Do not put them into a checked bag for any reason.

All birds except canaries, finches, budgerigars, lovebirds, cockatiels and doves MUST HAVE A LEG BAND or MICROCHIP (microchip must be 'scannable' with an AVID brand microchip scanner) with a unique identifying number.   NO EXCEPTIONS.  If your bird does not have a leg band or microchip, you or a veterinarian can apply an open leg band.  After the import process you can remove the leg band if you prefer.  The leg band must be legible.  If you have a very old parrot with an old leg band the numbers may have been rubbed off over the years.  This type of leg band WILL NOT SUFFICE.

Not all bird species are allowed in Hawaii!  Your bird will either be on the prohibited species list, or the conditionally allowed list.  This list can change, so I am not going to post it but you can access it here:  If your bird is on the prohibited species list, you will have to find it a new home, or not come to Hawaii.

Honolulu is the only city/airport you can bring birds to.  If you are taking your birds to an island other than Oahu, you will need to get the birds cleared through the AG station at the Honolulu airport first, and then fly to your island.  There are no exceptions to this process.

Your bird must be quarantined at your veterinarian's office under mosquito netting or other mosquito-proof environment for 168 hours (7 days) prior to leaving for Hawaii, and the bird must arrive to Hawaii within 36 hours of leaving quarantine.  The bird MUST leave quarantine and arrive in Hawaii in a mosquito-proof container or the bird WILL NOT BE ALLOWED in.  Hawaii officials believe that Hawaii is free from West Nile and the quarantine and mosquito proof containers are an effort to keep it that way.  There is no "standardization" for the mosquito-proof container and we spoke to many different people at the AG station in Honolulu and never got a straight answer from them.  The only way we got information was by talking to people who have been through the process.  The problem is that the airlines require specific kennels be used for transport, and nobody makes one that is "mosquito proof" so you will have to make an airline kennel mosquito proof by using mosquito netting.

There are essentially two ways to accomplish this.  One is to cover all the vents and the door with mosquito netting using duct tape to make it stick.  The other way is to buy a big mosquito net, spread it out on the floor, put the kennel in the middle of it, and then pull the netting up around the kennel and seal it with a cable tie.  With either technique you are gambling that 1) an airline worker doesn't accidentally rip the netting and 2) a naughty parrot doesn't use its beak or toe nails to damage the netting.  IF THERE IS ANY DAMAGE, THE BIRD WILL BE SENT BACK AND YOU HAVE TO START THE WHOLE PROCESS OVER AGAIN. NO EXCEPTIONS.

What we did was fasten hardware cloth to the inside of the kennels so the bird wouldn't be able to access the netting on the outside of the kennel.  Hardware cloth is essentially just steel screening.  You can find it at places like Home Depot next to the chicken wire and fencing products.  Then we did BOTH cover the vents and doors with netting AND a second netting over the entire kennel.  The reasoning was that if one net got ripped, the second one would probably not.  Fortunately all 7 kennels arrived with the exterior netting intact so the secondary netting wasn't necessary but it was cheap insurance against a careless airline worker.  Here are some pics of what our kennels looked like.  Click on the images to make them larger:

First layer of netting
Second layer of netting with our "homemade" (not required) sign warning the airline workers not to open the netting.  You can see the red poultry import permit on the kennel under the netting.  It is required to be on the kennel in this fashion.

When any animal arrives into Hawaii the airline is required to transport them directly to the AG station located at the airport.   There they will be processed and hopefully released to you.

Most airlines will not transport an animal to Hawaii if the weather is forecasted to be over 85 degrees, so you may want to book an evening flight.  The AG office closes at 4:30pm, plus it takes up to an hour for them to receive the animal from the airline, so if the flight lands after 3:30pm your bird will have to spend the night at the AG station and you will get it in the morning.  Bring food in your carry-on.  Even though the facility is closed a caretaker will let you in to feed and water your birds and visit briefly.  Pick your birds up before 10:00 am the next day or they will charge you a fee.

If your destination is another island, you may have to transport them on Aloha Air Cargo.  They charge BY THE PIECE. If you have multiple kennels, you can duct tape them together (if it is practical) and save hundreds of dollars.  I saw three kennels duct taped together when I was there, with the largest on the bottom and the smaller ones on top of that.  They must be taped together before you get to their counter.  When being transported to a neighboring island a small sticker is needed from the AG department authorizing the transportation.  I had no idea this was required but fortunately the folks at the AG dept knew I was proceeding on to the Big Island and gave me the sticker.  Make sure you get one.  It's one sticker per shipment, so you only need one regardless of how many birds or kennels you are transporting.

Many parrots can quickly chew out of their airline kennels.  One of our macaws can chew his way out in less than 5 minutes, and hardware cloth will not slow him down.  If your bird can chew it's way out of a kennel, you will have to come up with a solution.  What we did was put each macaw into a steel wire dog crate which is unfortunately not approved for airline use.  Then we put the wire crate into a plastic airline kennel.  Because our macaws like to grab things (like mosquito netting) outside their cages with their feet and pull them in and chew on them, we had hardware cloth on the inside of the plastic kennel.  So: bird in steel crate, placed inside of plastic airline kennel with the vents and doors reinforced with hardware cloth on the inside, mosquito netting taped to the outside of the vents and doors, and another layer of mosquito netting for the entire kennel.  It took roughly an hour each to prepare the kennels and we had 7 of them.  So, about 7 hours worth of work.  You will want to get them ready several days before you leave so you aren't scrambling to get them together at the last minute.

All major airlines will transport parrots. I don't think it has to be said that you need to book your pet travel arrangements well ahead of time.  All airlines limit how many animals they are allowed to put on each plane.  MOST AIRLINES ONLY TRANSPORT DOGS AND CATS AS CHECKED BAGGAGE however they will still transport your parrots.  The airline's "normal" customer service number will be staffed by a person who doesn't handle air cargo or know their own air cargo rules.  If you are told that your airline of choice does not transport parrots, thank them for their time and look up their AIR CARGO number and talk to somebody there.  Make sure you specify that you need to transport a PARROT and not a BIRD.  Some airlines do not transport poultry but they will transport parrots (sometimes they refer to them as a "house bird").  Also be aware that the air cargo office of each airline is usually miles away from the ticket and checked baggage counters.  Sometimes they aren't even at the airport, and sometimes their offices aren't well marked.  Make sure you know exactly where the air cargo office is before your travel date.  Go there in person and verify their hours and know exactly what the check-in time is for your parrot... BEFORE your travel date.  Lastly, most airlines have "pet travel embargo dates".  These are dates that they do not transport animals by air cargo at all- usually during the Christmas and other seasons where they have more air cargo to transport than they have room for.   There ARE ways around the embargo however they are complicated, and this blog is not the place for it.    If you are stuck in such a situation of trying to ship during a transport embargo and another airline can't help you, I recommend using a pet transport service to assist you.  If you need to transport poultry, your best bet might be through the postal service.  Yes, its legal to mail poultry and its a heck of a lot cheaper- however I have not been through the process and I do not know the regulations.  NEVER try to mail a parrot.  A parrot's biology is completely different and its unlikely to survive.  It's not only unethical, it's also illegal. 

Importing birds into Hawaii is expensive, time consuming, and complicated.  But with proper planning and preparation it is definitely possible so long as your bird isn't one of the few prohibited species.  Whatever you do, don't try to skip a step or not follow the rules exactly.  The Hawaii AG department does not allow for any deviations.  If you have any questions that weren't covered in this blog, let us know and we will try to answer them.

After buying a home on the Big Island of Hawaii we built large parrot aviaries so our birds can live outside in enclosures large enough to fly around in.  All of our birds are in better health now than when they were living inside. 

It is important to note that Alaska Airlines (and possibly others) do NOT allow pet kennels that use a hinged clasp to secure the two sides together.  Get one that bolts together.