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Choosing a Bird
By Kathryn A. Smith

First, you want to take into consideration these things:
  1. What can I afford?
    Cost varies according to the type of bird being purchased. You can get a pair of Finches for about twenty dollars, a Budgie for about the same. Cockatiels range from $40 to $100, Amazons $250 to $800...and a Hyacinth Macaw can command upwards from $6,000! Set a budget, and work from there. But let the buyer beware of "bargain birds"--they're usually not worth it. Hand-fed birds are well worth the extra cost.

  2. How much space will the bird need?
    The larger birds and even some of the smaller ones, are very active and need large cages and areas to play in. It's not fair to cramp a bird in a small cage.

  3. Do I have the *time* for a bird?
    This is probably the most important question. Birds are intelligent, playful, and most of all, *social* animals. Will you have time to play with your bird? To properly care for it? Will you have an opportunity to be part of your family? Also, consider time in this sense--Birds are rather long lived. A little Cockatiel can live up to 20 years! An Amazon or an African Grey, could live 50 or 60, there are documented cases of some birds living to be 100! Can you commit to that?! It's not unusual for birds to be passed down to another generation. Don't buy a bird if you think you will quickly tire of it.

  4. How noisy is the bird? Will the neighbors complain?
    Budgies and Cockatiels are rather quiet. They are good for apartment dwellers. A Moluccan Cockatoo could work in an apartment, as long as you have neighbors on the sides and sixth floor that like to listen to head-splitting screams. Aratinga conures are noted for their squawking--Sun Conures belong to this genus. Pyrhurra conures are rather quiet. Of course, there are variations due to the personality of the bird. There may be a quiet Cockatoo somewhere. If there is, someone should market it, they'd make a fortune.

  5. How destructive is the bird?
    Do you have priceless heirloom furniture? Rare books? Keep in mind that birds have powerful beaks. Some birds are less prone to "chewing" than others.

  6. Does the bird need a special diet?
    Lories and Toucans, for example, require specialized diets. Do you have the ways and means to provide it? Once you you've done your research and decided what kind of bird you want, now is the time to go out and buy a bird. Never, ever, buy a bird on impulse.

First off, you want to make certain you get a healthy, happy bird. In general you want to look for:
  1. An alert disposition. The bird should be interested in its environment. It should be active. Avoid puffed-up and sleepy-looking birds.

  2. Feathering: Make sure feathering is shiny and without bare patches. On long-tailed species like Macaws, take a good look at the tail. If there are thin lines running across tail feathers, it's usually a good indicator of poor nutrition. Please note that baby birds often look rather tatty, with the feathers somewhat frayed. This is normal. Lutino Cockatiels will have a bald spot, which varies in size behind their crest. This is genetic and cannot be helped. Although do try to avoid cockatiels with extremely large bald patches.

  3. Eyes: The eyes should be bright and clear. There should be no discharge. There should be no swelling.

  4. Nostrils should be clear of any blockages. They should be of the same size and shape. In birds with bare facial patches (Macaws) the skin should be clear and white. A flush of red sometimes indicates an infection of the sinus cavities. A scaly appearance of the cere (fleshy part around nostrils) indicates scaly face (common in Budgies) a disease caused by mites.

  5. Upper and lower parts of the beak (the mandibles) should meet cleanly, with no signs of separation. In Cockatoos, the beak should be grayish, covered with powder. Never buy an older Cockatoo with a shiny black beak, it is a sure indication that something is wrong. Baby Cockatoo beaks will be somewhat shiny.

  6. Feet should have all toes, although a missing toe or claw for a pet isn't a bad thing. It is however, out of the question for a show bird. More than one toe or claw gone will hamper the bird's perching ability. The bird should be able to grip its perch or your hand firmly. The feet of a young bird should be smooth and soft. Older birds have feet which are more scaly. Excessive scaliness is not good, and can be indicative of vitamin A deficiency.

  7. Breathing should be regular and even. No wheezing, snorting or straining allowed.

  8. The bird should not be too skinny. To check for this, ask someone to hold the bird while you feel along the sides of its keel (breast) bone. It should be well fleshed out. If you can see the keel protruding, the bird is obviously underweight, and might be suffering some illness.

  9. While the person has the bird, have them turn it over and check the vent area. It should be clean and clear of stains or pasted feces.

  10. Ask to handle the bird yourself. Observe it. Is the bird steady? Calm? Does the bird come readily to you? Does it show good socialization behavior? Did it bite the beejeebies out of you?

  11. Look to see if the bird is banded. This is indicative of imported or domestic birds, depending on the type of band used.

  12. Aside from the bands, another way (not so accurate) to tell a baby or younger bird is by looking at its beak and feet. In a young bird, these are soft and smooth. Older birds have scaly feet and beaks that show wear. Also, in some species, the eyes change color as the bird ages. Baby Congo and Timneh Greys have dark eyes which lighten. Macaws' eyes lighten, too.

I've selected my bird and I'm buying it. What should I do now?
  1. You should make sure that if the bird does not pass a vet exam, you have the privilege of returning/exchanging the bird within a certain and reasonable amount of time. Some dealers include a vet check in the purchase price, but ask if you can take the bird to your vet as well.

  2. Get a *written* bill of sale, clearly stating the terms of the sale, which really should include:
    • The privilege to return the bird if it is not up to par.
    • Date of purchase and any other conditions of sale.
    • The amount that you paid for the bird, method of payment (cash, etc.)
    • The bird's band number.
    • The hatch date of the bird.
    • A full description of the bird, scientific name, any unusual marks, and the bird's sex (if known).
    • If the bird is imported, get all the proper documentation for it.

      Such information might prove useful when retrieving a stolen bird, or if you should ever have to prove ownership of your avian friend.

  3. Get written instructions on diet, care, and such.

  4. Get the number of the breeder/store and the number of an avian vet, if you don't have one already. (Which you should!!!)

    Bringing the bird home in a cage would make sense, but it is less stressing for the bird if you bring it home in a secure, darkened carrier. A cardboard box with some air holes in it is ideal for small birds. A plastic carrier the ones for used for cats and dogs, and covered with a towel is excellent for larger birds. Move the birds individually whenever possible. For a journey of an hour or so, no food is needed. For a long haul, sprinkle some food on the floor of the carrier. Use firm, moist fruits to provide liquids. Never put the birds in the trunk of a car. Try not to stop too often.

    Try to have the cage already set up at home. You can then put the new arrival into its new cage, and let it rest and get used to the new scenery. It is a good idea to isolate it from the rest of your pet birds. Two weeks is a fair time.

    If you are buying a bird that will have to be air shipped, you will pay for a carrier and the air freight. You may also pay what is called a "crate" or "box" fee. You will then pick up the bird at the nearest airport.

      Any feather which still has a blood supply to it.

      A male bird has two Z(sex)chromosomes and a female one Z and one W. These can be seen under a microscope and are used in chromosome analysis to determine the sex of the bird. (See KARYOTYPING)

      (C)onvention on (I)nternational (T)rade in (E)ndangered (S)pecies. This body regulates trade of parrots throughout various countries. Most parrots are on CITES Appendix 2, which means that the country that is exporting the birds may only issue export permits if the exportation of the bird does not endanger the survival of the species. Extremely rare and threatened species go on appendix I, which means any sort of exportation is explicitly forbidden and illegal. Palm Cockatoos and Hyacithine Macaws are an example of CITES Appendix I birds. As of this last FAQ update, importation of Amazon parrots has stopped completely (Appendix I status).

      A completely closed ring of metal that can only be put on a bird within a certain time, usually from 8-10 days in a small bird and up to four weeks in the larger species of birds. The bands are usually imprinted with hatch date and place of origin. They are generally accepted as proof of domesticity and age. However, some unscrupulous people may force a closed-band onto an imported bird. Look for a band that seems too big. (See OPEN-BAND)

      Any male bird of a species. (See HEN)

      A species is said to be dimorphic when there are distinct visual characteristics between the sexes. Gray Cockatiels are an example of this; the male bird has a bright yellow head. Eclectus are also dimorphic, the male bird is green, and the female, red. Eclectus are unusual in that the female is more colorful than the male. This is called "Reverse Dimorphism". (See MONOMORPHIC)

      A bird that has been bred within the country. (See IMPORTED)


      A baby bird that is out of the nest, but not eating by itself.

      Also "Hand-reared" or "Hand-raised". The babies are taken from parents at about two weeks, and then fed by people, using spoons, pipettes or syringes and a special baby-bird formula. This results in a bonding of the bird to people, and a friendlier, more tame bird.

      Female bird of any species. (See COCK)

      A bird brought in from another country. An imported bird will have an open-band on its leg. (See DOMESTIC)

      A method of sexing which is non-invasive. A drop of blood is taken from the bird, usually by pulling out a blood feather. The pulp and blood from the feather is then cultured until there are enough cells to do a chromosome preparation. The number of chromosomes then is looked at to determine the sex of the bird. (See SURGICAL SEXING)

      Both sexes of the bird appear identical. (See DIMORPHIC)

      This type of band, which is squeezed shut around the bird's leg is indicative of an imported bird. (See CLOSED-BAND)


      (P)sittacine (B)eak and (F)eather (D)isease. A serious viral disease which is highly contagious. There is no cure. PBFD causes deformed feathers which eventually fall out, the beak softens and becomes misshapen, and affects many of the internal organs. Birds usually die from a secondary infection. The virus can be spread through the feces and feather dust and can be found in the birds' crop as well. It can affect several different species of birds, but is most common among Cockatoos.

      A curable bacterial disease that can affect BOTH humans and birds. It's also called "Parrot Fever", "Chlamydiosis", and "Ornithosis". Psittacosis is spread through inhalation of feather and fecal dust. Bacterial tests are used to detect it. The disease manifests itself with flu-like symptoms in people. Infected birds are quarantined (isolated) and treated with Tetracycline or another broad-spectrum antibiotic.

      A period of isolation required for new or imported birds. A quarantine period for imported birds was started by the government in the early 1970's. This policy was put into effect to try to reduce the chance of introducing Exotic Newcastle disease to the poultry industry. It is also recommended that sick and/or newly acquired birds be held in quarantine before being introduced to an existing flock of birds (either pets or breeders).

      Also abbreviated as S.S. or S/S. Since many bird species are monomorphic, one way to tell one bird from the other is to do it surgically, using a method called laproscopy. The bird is anesthetized, and a small slit is cut into the bird's abdomen. The laproscope is inserted, allowing the vet to view the reproductive organs, thus sexing the bird.

      The bird is out of the nest, and eating on its own. In hand-fed birds the bird is no longer on baby formula and eating seeds and other solids.

      A zoonosis (singular) is any disease of animals that can be contracted by a human being. There are over 100 known diseases of this type. One of the most widely publicized is Psittacosis (See PSITTACOSIS).

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