Is the store clean? Are there poops everywhere on the perches and the swings and on the floors of the cages? Does it smell clean (a little feather dust is okay, but the smell of rotting carcasses is not)?
Are the store workers knowledgeable and good with the birds? Can they answer all your questions? If they have Fischer’s lovebirds labeled “Peachfaced Lovebirds” or answer all your questions with, “I don’t know, isn’t he a cute bird though?” you aren’t going to get any help with your new baby.
Did they finish the handfeeding of the birds or did a breeder? What method of handfeeding did they use? Syringe and spoon are best. Be careful about birds fed gavage-style (where the food is pumped into the stomach by a long metal tube), as they can sometimes have eating issues later in life.
Do the birds seem well socialized? Or are they unreasonably frightened, throwing themselves around the cages in terror? A terrified bird in the store will be difficult to train and requires special attention. Some birds will never calm down.
What food is in the birds’ cages. If there is just a bowl of sunflower seeds and some semi-clean water, these birds might have food issues. Birds should have fresh foods like vegetables, clean water, and a healthy seed mix atleast.
Do they give a health guarantee? Be reasonable. A lifetime health guarantee will never exist, but a 48 hour to 72 hour guarantee that allows you to take the bird to an avian vet upon purchase is always important. This time period should be expanded to allow for any test results to come back, since these sometimes take a week or more.
Are there too many birds in each cage? If the cages are overcrowded and the place looks like a medieval prison for parrots, these birds are not well treated. Diseases run rampant in stores with overcrowded conditions, as owners don’t have the space for proper separation of babies from different breeders.
Are there any large birds house in small cages (can’t flap their wings freely) with no toys in a dark corner of the store? Hey, there’s something wrong with that and I wouldn’t trust people who keep a thinking, feeling animal in such conditions. Run out of the store.
Use all the same criteria as above. You have the added risk of disease at Bird Marts since hundreds and thousands of birds from various breeders are all brought into the same airspace.
Avoid sellers who let everyone play with their baby birds. Hand cleaners are ridiculous since people often hold the babies against their clothing, then go hold another breeder’s baby against their clothing. If you have other birds at home, resist the tempation to touch birds at a bird mart. You may bring home a disease to your own pet. Wash you clothes and shower when you return home before touching any of your own birds. New birds must be quarantined from your current pets for atleast 6 weeks. A full checkup is advised to prevent the spread of disease. If you think this is paranoid, you haven’t seen the devastation lack of quarantine can cause. Read our section on the necessity of quarantine.
Direct from Breeders
This clearly is one of the best ways to buy a bird. You have direct contact with the person who bred the bird so you can check out its genetic background if you’re planning to breed the bird. You can get more information on that particular species since the breeder generally knows more about the species they are breeding than does a pet store worker who only sees the breed when they have them to sell.
Don’t be put off by a closed aviary. In truth, this is the safest type of aviary as long as they give you a health guarantee. The reasoning behind a closed aviary is that the fewer exposures to outside influences, the less likely it is that the birds will be exposed to disease. You might think your birds are healthy, but they could be silent carriers of polyoma or other diseases. You can carry feather dust on your clothes and shoes into a clean aviary. Generally, closed aviary means the breeders keep the same birds in the same aviary space and they do not bring in other birds. If new birds are purchased for breeding, they will quarantine for two months and get a battery of blood tests to make sure the new bird won’t infect the rest of the flock. Even if you don’t own a bird, if you visit a pet shop with birds then go into a closed aviary with the same clothing and handle birds (particularly baby birds), you are breaking the closed aviary guidelines. In this day and age these types of guidelines are essential. The proliferation of massive bird farm breeding factories (equivalent to the puppy mills you hear such terrible things about) means that diseases are rampant.
Again, ask questions. How many times a year do they breed each pair? If they are breeding pairs more than three times a year, they might be overextended. This is very hard on the birds and is only done by people who need those four or five extra babies to make ends meet. It is not a humane or ethical breeding practice. Some do it by creating a constant Spring environment in their aviaries. Needless to say, everyone needs a rest from forming, laying, incubating, hatching, and feeding young!
There are many rescue operations around today. They are a welcome sight, but still a sad testament to the fate of many companion birds. They give fuel to my passion about discouraging people from buying parrots unless they are absolutely sure they know what they’re getting into. Abandoned birds can sometimes be delightful pets, but beware of birds that are already beyond repair and need special care and treatment. This includes feather pluckers who can easily cross the line into vicious self-mutilation. This can entail many emergency trips to the veterinarian to stop bleeding that’s out of control. A bird that is nervous around humans can calm down once it finds itself in a stable environment, but you need to be especially patient. Imagine what it would be like to suddenly lose your mommy, daddy, friends, home and end up in a totally strange place. It is unsettling for these birds to say the least.
Buying from individuals who can no longer care for a bird can be fine, but make sure you really know why they are doing it. If they are moving to another country, just had a baby, or are too ill to care for the bird, chances are it will be fine. If they have neglected the bird for years and left it in a dark closet to shut it up, you are going to have a handful. If you have the kind of determination and patience it takes to reach such birds, more power to you. It will be a blessing for these creatures to find someone like you. But don’t lie to yourself. If you can’t devote the extra time and care to this bird, don’t take it on then find yourself needing to abandon it in a few months.
Please note: if you find a bird in truly despicable conditions, there are rescue organizations who can help. Contact your local animal welfare group or one of the many bird rescue organizations on-line and try to find a way to save the bird. Once you see a living creature in distress, it becomes your responsibility too and you can’t just look the other way (okay, bleeding heart!).
There is a rescue shelter in San Diego that is one of the best. They require every potential owner to go to training seminars on how to take care of parrots. This prevents the abandonment merry-go-round so many birds end up on (particularly cockatoos it seems!). Check out their web site at www.peac.org