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Parrot Buyers Guide

African Grey

Before taking on a parrot or parakeet do think twice!

A parrot is for life. They can live as long as humans and require as much care, love and attention as any other member of the family. If you have made up your mind that a parrot is what you really want, the following points should help you make the right choice when buying a bird. Read up as much as possible about the species you are planning to buy, its particular characteristics and requirements.

Armed with this information and having given the whole matter plenty of careful thought, you will be well on the way to a mutually happy and rewarding relationship with your new bird.

The right bird
Consider carefully which species will best suit your family, living accommodation and lifestyle. Pet birds need company. They shouldn't be left alone for long periods as boredom and stress can set in producing a raft of problems.

  • Is someone at home during the day?
  • Have you got enough time and energy to give to your bird?
  • Is there room for the right size cage and play-frame?
  • Will noise be a problem with neighbours?
  • Are there any other animals in the house that might cause problems?
  • Would children be a problem?
  • Do any of the family suffer from allergies?
  • Are you thinking of starting a family?

Most birds, particularly cockatoos, like lots of activity and love to interact with humans.

Aviary birds
If you are buying for an aviary, make sure your chosen birds will not upset neighbours. Noise, mess and unwanted visitors (for example, squirrels, rats and mice) can create unpleasantness with those who live in close proximity. Will the birds you have purchased suit your environmental conditions?

Pet birds
Make sure the bird you are buying is captive-bred and hand-reared or, preferably, parent-reared, and not imported. Birds bred in captivity make much better pets than those that have been wild-caught and imported and should be tame.

With wild-caught imported birds there is always a high risk of disease and they rarely become as tame and relaxed as a captive-bred bird. Also, you will be supporting a cruel and unnecessary trade. Make sure you get written confirmation that your bird is captive-bred and not imported. Some birds can be captive-bred in another country and still be subjected to the trauma and risks of importation - so be aware! If the seller cannot provide confirmation of captive breeding in your own country, you should question whether or not you want to buy?

When buying a captive-bred bird
Make enquiries and try to ensure you are buying from a reputable breeder or retailer. A personal recommendation is often helpful. A responsible seller should willingly provide you with all the information you want and offer help and advice after your purchase. A baby parrot should never be sold before it is weaned - that is when it can feed itself independently. Most breeders will fit a closed ring to a chick's leg (that is a 'one piece' ring - not split). This can be very useful as it will establish proof of captive-breeding and will often include the hatching date. Closed rings can only be fitted to a chick when it is a week or so old - after this time the foot will be too large for the ring to go over it.

Micro-chipping is the more favoured way of identification and consists of a tiny chip, about the size of a grain of rice, that is implanted into the bird. It is not a painful procedure but should be carried out by a suitably qualified vet. These chips carry a unique number that can be 'scanned' for identification and are extremely useful if a bird should escape and is subsequently re-captured.

Make sure you are given a detailed receipt for your purchase. This should include the exact description of the bird(s) you are buying, whether it is a cock or hen, exactly what the species is, preferably with its scientific name and if purchased for a pet, it should clearly say so. Also, the price paid and whether or not the bird has had a veterinary health check to establish it is free of disease at the time of purchase - this can often prove extremely advantageous in avoiding future veterinary bills. If the seller cannot include a health check within the agreed price, offer to pay for one yourself - it can save a great deal of trouble at a later stage. If the seller refuses this, it may be advisable to not buy. Reputable sellers of parrots will usually supply instructions on feeding and proper care for your bird.

When buying an older bird
Care must be exercised when buying older birds as often their histories cannot be guaranteed. The owners of such birds may well be selling it in all good faith, but he or she may have been misinformed previously. Why is it being sold? Was it wild-caught or captive bred? Does it scream, bite, particularly dislike men or women? Does it pluck its feathers or have other health problems? Of course, if you are a responsible person and are able to offer lots of patience, love and understanding, even the most difficult of birds can be transformed. But newcomers to bird keeping should be certain they know just what they are taking on.

The bird's condition
The condition of a bird is not always easy to establish. The best and easiest way to judge is to use one's own common sense. Whether young or old, a bird in good condition will appear 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed'. This means, its eyes should be clear and not watering or discharging. Nostrils should be clear and breathing should be silent - without wheezing or coughing. The bird should be of a good weight - a protruding breastbone may signal a problem.

The consensus of opinion is moving quite heavily to keeping birds fully-flighted although some breeders still support wing-clipping. It is not advisable to purchase a chick or young bird that has had its wings clipped as young birds need to be fully-flighted to enable healthy development until at least a year old. If wings have been clipped, check that it has been done with care and both sides are equal so as not to 'off-balance' the bird. Hacked feathers may point to a general lack of care and can cause feather picking and ongoing psychological problems.

Plumage should be clean and bright in colour although a bird that is kept in a confined space for purposes of selling may well have some marked plumage but generally the above will apply. But don't necessarily be put off by plumage that has been soiled as once a bird is purchased and in the care of a responsible owner, it will soon clean up or moult out.

Beware of birds that seem lethargic, with puffed-up feathers - this can often be an indication of an ailment. A captive-bred bird should appear steady in its cage and have little fear of human hands. Wild-caught birds will generally appear timid, wary of humans and will often cower away to the back of a cage. Wild-caught African Greys will often make a 'growling' noise and cower away from human attention - think carefully before you buy. Don't necessarily be put off by a bird that might be sleeping, as life in retail establishments can often be very tiring.

When you are not around
Have you considered who will look after your parrot when you go on holiday? And what will happen to your bird outlives you? In the event of illness, would vet's bills be a problem? Always make sure you have contingency plans in place.

Veterinary help
As soon as you have your new bird(s), make enquiries about the nearest avian veterinarian. You never know when there might be an emergency - so be prepared! There is a list of vets on this website and at the back of Parrots magazine.

There are no cheap deals!
Do not be tempted by what you think will be a bargain. 'Cheap' birds usually turn out to be the most expensive. If a bird is sold cheaply, there is often a good reason. It may have something wrong with it or could be diseased or stolen. There are no reasons why a parrot in good condition should be sold cheaply. Always avoid auctions. Birds in good condition that would make good pets or intended for aviaries, would never need to be sold at auctions. You can never be sure of what you are getting. It is an unfortunate fact that many sick, diseased or stolen birds are disposed of at auctions. There are many documented sad cases of grief and high veterinary costs from birds purchased in this way - so auctions should be avoided at all cost.

And finally . . .
As you can see, there are various reasons why parrot purchases can end up in tragic and costly circumstances. But if the above points are borne in mind, there is no reason why you should not make a successful purchase and enjoy the companionship of a wonderful pet for many years to come.

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