In picking birds, it's buyer beware

Posted: Sunday, October 05, 2003

This is the last part of a two-part series on choosing a pet bird. Part one ran in the Clarion on Sept. 28.

Now that you've done the research and know exactly which bird is the right one for you, the task of finding the right place to get the bird begins.

This, too, takes some careful planning, since there are many places from which to purchase pet birds.

Birds are most often acquired through pet stores. When possible, try to go to a store that specializes in birds.

Pet stores have many advantages. They sell most, if not all, of the supplies that will need to be purchased with the bird, such as cages, food, toys and books on husbandry.

Some pet stores offer bird training classes or can direct you to where classes are offered. Many also offer grooming services.

Many pet stores also offer guarantees with birds in case the bird develops an illness or has an injury that wasn't noticed at the time of purchase but was not the result of the new owner's care.

Breeders are another good source for acquiring a pet bird and have their own unique advantages.

They often will specialize in a particular species of bird or in similar groups of birds.

Breeders tend to focus on knowing a lot about relatively few birds, as opposed to the pet store employee who often know a little bit about many species of animals.

Breeders can answer questions that are often unknown to pet store employees, such as how old a bird is, what sex it is, what the temperament of the bird's parents was and where the stock originated from.

Another advantage to breeders is that they often work with a stable core group of birds, which can be just a few breeding pairs, or in some cases a ranch of several hundred animals.

So, although the number of birds going out can be quite high, the number of birds coming in is often very low, which greatly reduces the possibility of disease or illness in the breeder's birds.

Breeders raise many of their chicks by hand. This makes the birds more tractable as adults. However, this is very labor-intensive so breeders may often sell chicks prior to weaning to those with experience and interest in raising their own pet.

It's important to keep in mind that raising chicks isn't easy and is definitely not for those without experience. Unlike weaned birds that are often more fit to be taken home as pets, chicks are still in a state of development and aren't ready for play or social activity. Chicks also can quickly succumb to illness under the untrained eye of a novice bird rearer.

For those who have the time and can learn from the breeder, a veterinarian or an experienced avian friend, raising your own chick can be a wonderful experience and often can lead to a strong bond between owner and bird.

In addition to pet stores and breeders, birds can also be obtained from second-hand sources, such as rescue organizations and classified ads in the newspaper.

Many good birds can be obtained from second-hand sources, but something to keep in mind is, that unlike birds purchased from stores, those from private individuals don't come with a guarantee.

This makes it especially important to closely inspect the bird's health and ask several questions, such as why is the bird being given up, what is its temperament, does it have any physical or behavioral problems and was it captive born or wild caught and imported.

Rescue organizations may be a little more reliable than private sellers. The fees these organizations ask also typically more reasonable and go toward feeding and care expenses for rescued birds.

Birds also can be purchased over the Internet or from ads in the back of avian and pet magazines. However, birds from these sources typically fall into one of the three categories already mentioned.

Regardless of the source, birds should always be evaluated for good health. Their eyes should be bright and clear, without signs of swelling, discharge or redness.

The mouths and beaks of birds should be clean and not show signs of food build up. They also should not be cracked, overgrown or malaligned.

The nares (nostrils) should be open and not have discharge.

The wings should lay smooth and evenly. They shouldn't appear plucked, broken or damaged. There should be no bare areas or bald spots on the body.

Check to be sure the vent (anus) is clean. It shouldn't look crusty or have anything protruding out.

Birds should have all of their toes and toenails. Inspect the legs for any injuries and check to make sure the bird can use a perch.

Birds should be active and alert. Although their behavior may be different around strangers, steer clear of birds that show overt signs of aggression.

Bird buying basics

The bird's eyes should be bright and clear, without signs of swelling, discharge or redness.

The mouths and beaks of birds should be clean and not show signs of food build up.

The nares (nostrils) should be open and not have discharge.

The wings should lay smooth and evenly. They shouldn't appear plucked, broken or damaged. There should be no bare areas or bald spots on the body.

Check to be sure the vent (anus) is clean. It shouldn't look crusty or have anything protruding out.

Birds should have all of their toes and toenails. Inspect the legs for any injuries and check to make sure the bird can use a perch.

Birds should seem active and alert, and although their behavior may be different around strangers, steer clear of birds that show overt signs of aggression.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper and, most recently, as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conser-vation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.



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