Inspecting And Choosing a Healthy Bird

Published in Caged Bird Hobbyist, Sept., l993

Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723

It's fall again, time for a little rest from the constant round-the-clock care that we, as breeders of macaws and cockatoos, have been doing since last March. It is the time of year that most birds are ready to go to their new homes, particularly for people who will not be doing their own handfeeding. Now that there are very few parrots coming into the United States via the import stations, people are seeking private breeders as sources of supply for pets.

Most people are aware of the advantages of owning a domestic, close banded, hand-fed baby bird by now. There is a difference between an imported, wild bird, and the companion animals we produce. Their are still pitfalls along the way in selecting a pet bird, even if you've done it before. I have certainly learned from a few mistakes over the years, and try hard not to repeat my errors. I will discuss only young birds, as choosing adults for breeding stock has a somewhat different set of criteria.

Choosing a young companion

Several things should be considered in choosing a pet. First in importance is picking the supplier of the bird. All future working relationships will be based on congeniality and communication between yourselves.

Does the supplier answer the phone? I have had experiences with people that were difficult to deal with right from the start-if they are hard to get along with before a sale, they well be impossible to work with after the sale. We do have an answering machine, simply because I cannot run 100 yards in the time it takes for the phone to ring four times. This is not to screen calls, but a matter of convenience for everyone.

Begin by asking questions. Do they have the parents to the bird you are inquiring about? Some people raise babies for other breeders, and should at least know where the baby came from. This is important. At a later date you may wish to purchase an unrelated mate for your bird.

Is the baby banded with an open band or a closed band? An open-sided band is an indication that the bird came via an import station, and you will want to do a bit more in the way of an examination at the veterinarians just because of the exposure factor to other birds. A closed-banded baby from a breeding facility is sometimes more costly, but in the long run there is justification for the extra initial expense. We close-band our large birds. The bands have a tiny stamp with my name on them, as well as an individual number. We keep a master set of records reflecting dates of birth, parentage, weights and development, and who owns the bird.

It is important to know whether the bird was tube fed, spoon fed, or syringe fed. Spoon feeding is preferred by many breeders; tube feeding is only used for sick birds. Syringe feeding (with a catheter tip syringe) is quite acceptable, and many babies prefer it. A combination of spoon and syringe feeding is the norm.

Was the baby hand-fed from day one? It is sometimes necessary to do that. Our preference is to let the parents rear them for the first two weeks as weight gains are greater than for incubated babies. It is not a requirement, and every situation is difference. If you will be finishing the formula feedings, continue with whatever the supplier was using, as changes can upset the digestion of babies.

Make a personal inspection

If you can see the baby in person, do. It is worth the price of an airline ticket to do business in person. When you first see the bird, do not approach it. See how it sits on the perch or the cage floor before it sees that you are looking. Are the feathers puffed up? Is it perching on two feet? Does it look alert? I remember at one quarantine station I visited; a worker would always make certain the birds were looking lively before the customer were allowed in-this eliminated quite a bit if the explanation as none of the birds appeared lethargic.

Are the birds kept clean? Keep in mind just how messy they can be e, and allow for the daily cleaning. Are their eyes shiny? Are their noses clean, including the feathers around the nose? There should be no matted or dirty feathers at all. A bird that is not keeping itself properly preened probably has a reason. Do keep in mind that baby macaws LOVE to wrestle, and so can have ratty tail feathers until they reach about a year of age.

Turn the baby over and check the muscle mass on both sides of he breastbone. The muscle contour should be level with the keel bone. A bird that feels like a scrawny chicken should be examined more closely. A little fat is not bad. Many babies are a bit fat depending on their state of development.

Check the vent feathers. A dirty vent is an indicator that you do not want that bird. If you can, hold the beak open and check the inside of the mouth for lesions. There should be nothing out of the ordinary. Every time someone buys a bird here, we do over those three things; keel, vent and mouth. The condition of each is noted right on their receipt.

Find out what the bird weighs. If the seller does not use a scale, find one that does. I weigh them for the last time just before they go to a new home. This gives a customer a starting point for their records, and gives my veterinarian the information he needs to have when the bird is presented for a checkup.

Get service from breeder

Make sure you can get support services after the purchase. You should feel comfortable asking questions-no one is born knowing how to raise or care for birds. A quick call to the seller can solve problems quite a bit of the time.

How to trim a wing or pull a broken feather, and other simple things, can be directed by phone.
Can you speak to persons who have done business with the seller before? I ask for references whether I am able to visit in person or am doing business via phone. Spend a few dollars in phone time and check the references.

If you cannot go in person, there are more questions to be asked. What is the bird's overall condition? Does he have both eyes, all his toes, and no imperfect feathers or feather-picking problems? Ask about existing or previous medial conditions. Has it ever been on medication at all? Some bird handlers maintain babies on antibiotics as a matter of course and this has a bearing on how you manage the bird.

Can you have a photo of the bird? Pictures do tell a thousand words. How tame is it? Does it show a preference for men or women? Has it been raised around other animals or pets? Prices may fluctuate depending on personality. Some birds will go to anyone, others will not. Extroverted birds sometimes cost more than a shy one. Don't pass up a shy one; they just take a little longer to adjust. A quiet bird will work better for and apartment dweller.

Don't believe everything you read about a particular species. It seems if a type is labeled "noisy" in print just one time, it is like a written curse. Perhaps the author was just not exposed to a quiet one. Babies are as different from each other as our own children, even among clutchmates. Who raises them definitely makes a difference!

Keep in mind always that what you see is what you get. Keep your eyes open wide and try hard to control your heart. If you don't have the time to raise a bird, buy it already tame and trained. There is no place to insert a key, wind them up or turn them off, so make doubly sure the bird suits your lifestyle before you finalize your commitment. Remember too, what you put into a baby is what you will get back. Have fun!