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HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR BIRD

You've decided to get a bird - a new pet bird for yourself, your family and your home. Now it's time to choose one. The decision to adopt a particular bird should be made based on a mix of impulse and logic, but it should not be a spur-of-the-moment resolution. There are a number of factors to consider before you adopt a bird-factors that will help you identify the requirements that must be met when purchasing your bird.

Answer the following questions before you begin to look at birds so that you can maintain a sense of logic in your decision making and when dealing with the shelter, animal center, breeder's home or pet shop.

How much time do you have to spend with your bird?

This is probably the most important question. Birds are intelligent, playful and-most importantly-social animals. Will you have time to interact with your bird? To care for it properly? Consider time in this way: birds are really long-lived. A cockatiel can live up to 20 years, an Amazon or an African grey up to 50 or 60 years, there are documented cases of some birds living to be 100 years old! Can you commit to that? It's not unusual for birds to be passed to the next generation.

In addition, some species of birds can become frustrated or bored if they are not allowed time out of their cage every day for interaction. You should set aside a specific time for you and your bird. Don't buy a bird if you think you will quickly tire of it.

Cage cleaning is a chore for most bird owners. It is, however, a chore that must be done on a regular basis. Feeding and watering must be done at least once a day; wing and toenail clipping must be performed regularly.

How much space do you have in your home?

Larger birds, and even some of the smaller ones, are active and need large cages in which to play. It's not fair to cramp a bird in a small cage. If you have only a small corner in a bedroom you should get one or two tiny birds-finches, canaries, parakeets. If you have half your living space in the family or living room available, you may want to consider getting a large bird, such as a macaw. You might also think about a built-in aviary with mixed species of smaller birds. Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes.

What personality traits are you looking for?

Birds tend to have distinct personalities. Some species attach themselves to one family member and shower that person with all their devotion. That person may or may not be the one who loves and feeds them the most. Other birds will divide their love among all family members equally. Decide if you want a tame bird that will cuddle with you while you relax at night or if you prefer a bird that remains in his cage most of the time. Some species prefer minimal handling, while others crave attention to the point that they will become ill if they don't receive it. Be sure to take that into consideration.

If you have children, what size bird do you want?

Generally, hand-fed birds are gentle with everyone in the family, no matter what his or her size. But wild, captured birds usually bite the hand that feeds them as well as any tiny, probing fingers that are available. These birds may be tame but they will never be the same as one that has been hand fed. Different species of birds also tend to become nippy when they attain sexual maturity. If you have small children who aren't calm and quiet around the bird, you may want a smaller bird.

How much can you afford to pay?

Costs vary, depending on the type of bird you purchase. A pair of finches will cost about $20, a budgie is about the same. Cockatiels range from $40 to $100; Amazons, $250 to $800; and a hyacinth macaw can command more than $6,000! Design a budget and work from there. Beware of "bargain birds"; they usually aren't worth it. Hand-fed birds are well worth extra cost.

What about cleanliness?

All birds make a mess: careful planning of the cage and surrounding area can make things neater. Even a potty-trained bird has accidents. Remember, owning a bird can be like having a two-year-old-forever.

How much of a concern is destructiveness?

Do you have valuable antiques, family heirlooms or rare books in your house? Remember that birds have powerful beaks and some birds are more prone to chewing than others.

Is noise tolerable?

The best talking birds are the ones that can yell the loudest. If you would like to purchase a bird that will talk your ear off, get ready to hear a squawk and a screech once in a while. If you buy a bird that already talks, check his vocabulary to be sure what he has to say can be said in mixed company. Budgies and cockatiels are rather quiet and are great if you have sensitive neighbors. A Moluccan cockatoo could live in an apartment as long as your neighbors don't mind head-splitting screams.

Does the age of the bird make a difference?

Even though some of the larger species of birds can live to be up to 100 years old, they become set in their ways within their first year or two. Therefore, you should get the youngest bird available.

Reality Check

Just as there are situations where a bird is an ideal pet, there are others when one is most inappropriate. For example:

  • Immature Caregivers. Parents should not count on one of their children to be the pet's primary caregiver. They shouldn't get a bird for a child who makes promises readily but doesn't see them through. While a child may have the best intention to care for his pet, he may lose interest or become too busy. Meanwhile, the bird's need for care and attention remains constant.
  • Surprise Gifts. No matter what the occasion, presenting a bird as a gift is presumptuous and dangerous. All potential owners should have the opportunity to review their situation to determine if owning a bird is a good idea for them at that time. While the gift of a bird may be well received in some instances, more often than not it's an unwanted surprise.

Important Decisions

After selecting the type of bird for you, there are still other factors you need to consider.

Should you get one bird or two? It is nice to have company, but is it a good idea to buy more than one bird or get a companion for your existing bird? The answer cannot be made without careful consideration and planning. Keep in mind that

  • By nature, birds are flock animals, forming strong bonds with other members. Raising birds in pairs can foster their flocking instinct.
  • If both birds are kept in the same cage, one will prove to be more dominant, which could lead to problems. When you are training your birds, keep them separate; any distraction could be detrimental to the success of their training.
  • The younger the birds, the greater the chance of successful mixing.
  • The species should be the same, so keep canaries with canaries, parakeets with parakeets, and so forth.
  • Introducing a new pet to an existing one doesn't always work out; birds have their own personal preferences and might not be compatible with one another.
  • The birds should be allowed to get to know each other from separate cages initially; within a short time you can begin to move the cages together.
  • The birds' first encounter should be outside their cages; observe their behavior and be prepared to separate them. Never leave the area until you are certain the two birds will be compatible.
  • Even if your birds cannot occupy the same cage, they can still enjoy each other's company.
  • If you plan to use your birds for breeding, make sure they are the correct sex.
  • Play time is double the fun with two birds, but to prevent jealousy, be sure you give each bird the same amount of individual attention.
  • Birds learn from each other quickly, teaching one another new words or phrases. Quite often they will mimic each other, making it difficult to determine which bird is speaking.
  • When two birds socialize be aware that they can transmit diseases to each other. You should monitor each bird daily and note their weight, food consumption and droppings. Also be on the lookout for accidental injuries.

Should you get a male or female? Most pet birds do not show any external sexual characteristics. Males and females all look alike-same size, color, shape and behavior. Special testing methods are required to differentiate between a male and female, and having the correct sexes paired up is obviously essential for breeding. Consult with a veterinarian that specializes in avian medicine to determine the sex of your bird(s).

Should you get a bird with or without leg bands? Most commercially sold birds will have metal bands around the lower portion of their legs. These bands are used for identification and to indicate where your bird was bred.

The decision to remove the bands is not a simple one. Closed bands should never be removed because they serve as the bird's birth certificate. However, removing open bands may help prevent injuries because bands can catch on cages, wires, toys, and other objects. If your bird's leg is injured and swells, the band can cause additional damage. If you decide to remove the band, never do it by yourself; have your avian veterinarian remove the band. Save the band, or copy the information down for safekeeping.

Should you get a young bird or an older one? Most bird owners prefer to choose young birds because they are wary about having to deal with an older bird's training and habits. Although adopting an older bird can be challenging, there are also rewards and advantages. Older birds may actually be well trained and friendly; and they tend to be less expensive.

If you choose to get an older bird, be sure to check his background, and gather as much information as possible on his previous owner, diet, medical history, age and personality traits.

Remember to keep your expectations realistic. Some older birds may have developed behavioral problems, such as biting, screaming or feather picking, that could be the reason the bird is being sold. Sometimes a bird's problems will moderate, or even disappear, in a new environment-a lot of TLC can help with that.

Patience is an important requirement if you adopt an older bird. Some may bond with you right away, while others may take months. Some previously owned birds may have been neglected by uncaring owners or due to ignorance. Worse yet, some may have been abused. Birds raised under these circumstances will most likely require an extra dose of TLC to adjust properly.

Some older birds may require a dietary change. This should be made gradually so that you can be sure your bird is eating enough to maintain a healthy weight. Although an older bird may be finicky, continue to offer the new food to him. Even if he refuses to eat it at first, he will come around eventually!

Basic Rules in Choosing Your Bird

Purchasing any pet can be an emotional decision. When selecting your bird, remember: choose from your head, not just your heart; both you and your bird will be happier for it.

To help you with that, follow these basic rules:

  • If a child is making the selection, remember their choice is usually based on sight and emotion. They also can be easily overwhelmed by too many choices. If it is vital for your child to pick the pet, pre-select several options, put them in a separate room, and then have your child choose.
  • Choose a time to view your potential pet. Call ahead to the pet store, breeder or shelter and find out when their feeding and adoption times are. Ask what the best viewing time would be.
  • Allow for an adjustment period. Leave yourself adequate time for introductions if you have other pets. Your new addition will need to be left alone for a while so that he can acclimate himself to his new surroundings in peace.
  • Don't wait until you bring your bird home before setting up his space. Have everything ready so that when you come home you can attend to your bird. He will need a quiet room to settle in before he has company.

Now that you have purchased your bird you have to transport him safely home. Bring your new bird home in a box rather than cage. He will find this less stressful and should settle down instead of flapping about and possibly becoming injured. Pet stores and bird farms can supply suitable carriers, but if you are purchasing your bird from a breeder, you may need to bring one. Be sure the box is the appropriate size; punch small ventilation holes around the top, and close the lid. Line the base with old newspaper and take tape and scissors with you so you can seal the top securely once your bird is inside.

Making A Healthy Choice

With careful observation and the help of the following checklist, you should be able to tell if the particular bird you are singling out is healthy. A healthy bird should look alert when you approach him; those that appear dull and have fluffed-up feathers may be ill. Don't be misled by the plumage of a young bird; his feathers rarely are as sleek as his adult counterpart's.

When shopping for your bird, check the following signs to determine if you have a healthy bird.

  • Nostrils should be even in size and free of blockages.
  • Eyes should be clear, without discharge or a whitish opacity.
  • His bill should be a normal length with no signs of abnormality, such as the upper portion curving into the lower.
  • The feathering around his bill and on his head should be clean.
  • He should have a complete set of flight feathers located on his wings.
  • Locate your bird's breastbone by running your fingers down his underside to the mid-line. Distinct hollows on either side indicate poor condition, possibly a result of a chronic illness.
  • Legs should be smooth; heavy scaling can be a sign of old age.
  • Overgrown claws will require clipping.
  • Check for swelling on the bottom of his feet, the result of a bumblefoot infection. Your bird's toes should all end in claws, although on occasion, a claw may be missing.
  • Check his vent area for soiled feathering that could indicate a digestive disturbance.
  • Droppings can also be a good health indicator. They should be firm with a creamy-white component.

A Final Word

You should arrange to visit your vet on the way home from picking up your new bird. The vet will check him to be sure he is healthy and answer any questions you may have.

Know how to properly handle your bird before you attempt to put him in his cage. The store, bird farm, breeder and your veterinarian can show how to do this. Even a tamed bird is likely to be nervous, so allow your bird to settle down on his own.

Advances in domestic breeding and rearing of birds has resulted in healthier, tame young birds. Their increased availability has made birds even more popular. For many, the company of these magnificent, unique and, in some cases, talking pets can make adopting birds an attractive alternative to choosing other pets.