by Sheena de Jager Miles
Before buying any species of bird the prospective owner needs to do some homework. Perhaps the most important part is to read up and find out as much as possible about the bird you are about to buy. Speak to other people who have kept and bred the bird. What type of food does it like to eat, what does it need to breed, what type of environment does it prefer and what other types of birds is it compatible or not compatible with? The answers to these questions will determine if firstly you have the right type of aviary and secondly if you can provide the correct diet for the bird you want.
If you are just starting out with a new aviary then you do not have to worry about the new bird fitting in with the existing inhabitants but you might like to bear in mind the species that you are planning to keep in the future if space is at a premium. If you already have some birds in the aviary that you are planning to add the newcomers then you must ensure that the new birds will be compatible with your existing birds. If you are unsure then check with another breeder who has kept and bred your new bird if it will fit in with your current birds and the best ways to introduce the newcomer.
In addition if you have a job that is very demanding on your time so that you will only be able to feed your birds first thing in the morning as quickly as possible with the basics then it is probably not wise to buy a bird that has special dietary requirements that need to be provided twice a day for that species to breed for you.
Another consideration is that if the new bird is a native species, do you need a permit to keep it? If so then fill out the paperwork and get your licence before you try to buy.
Where to buy.
There are several sources where you can buy birds.
First of all there is your local petshop or markets, which may or may not sell the species in which you are interested. The downside of this purchase is that you cannot see the conditions in which the birds were bred and the feeding regime.
Another place to source birds is in the bird section of your local newspaper or avian newspapers or magazines or even internet sites. If the seller is in your local area then you can probably go to his premises to see the bird and talk to him about the care of it. Check if the seller is the actual breeder or a dealer. If the seller lives a long way away or interstate then you take the risk of buying sight unseen. You can talk to the seller but cannot be guaranteed that you will get what he says.
Another source is to buy from a bird sale or bird auction. These are normally run by bird clubs or organizations so contact your local bird clubs (check phone book or internet) and find out when they are next having a sale or auction. A bird sale is also a good way to buy birds as you can normally talk to the breeder of the birds you want to buy. However in an auction you do not normally know the breeder so you do not have this advantage.
The best source is the bird breeder as you can find out how the breeder keeps and breeds his birds. This will ensure you the best chance of success with your new birds because if you adopt the same feeding regime then they will not have to learn to eat new foods, which with some species can sometimes be very difficult. If you do want to introduce new foods to birds then it is much easier if you have birds that already recognize the item as food as they will teach the others that it is good to eat. If you don’t then you just have to persevere until the birds find out for themselves.
What to buy:
If you do not have much experience then you can consider asking an experienced bird keeper to accompany you and help you choose your new birds. In this way you can benefit from their experience and hopefully avoid buying sick or injured birds. Try to buy young birds as you will have more breeding from them. If the birds are too old they may not breed at all. Also some species, such as the Diamond Firetails, pair bond at a very early age so should be bought and paired up as young uncoloured birds.
Check that the pair that is for sale is actually a pair. In some species it can be very hard to tell the difference between the sexes so having an experienced breeder with you can be a real help. If in doubt check with the seller that if the ‘pair’ turn out to be two cocks that you can swap one for a hen. Also check that the birds are actually the species that you want. Some species can be quite similar and some can be crosses, especially the hens. Unfortunately it is really a case of buyer beware.
If a bird does not look healthy and alert up on the perch then do not buy it. Check that the bird’s eyes are clear and the feathers are neat and clean with none missing. Check the bird’s vent that it is clean and the feathers around are not wet. Watch the bird quietly for a few minutes to see what it does as sick birds try to look good but will drop their guard after a few minutes. A healthy finch normally hops around and does not just sit in one position all the time. Make sure that your bird can fly properly. Make sure that the bird has all its toes and that the feet look clean and healthy – no scaly scabs and funny lumps. If the seller says that the bird is just going through a moult do not buy the bird unless you are very sure this is the case. Listen to the bird’s breathing – is it normal or is it gasping? – if the latter then do not buy it. Do all the other birds in the aviaries look happy and healthy? It not then you might reconsider buying from that breeder.
Buying the bird:
Before you go to buy the bird check out the normal price you can expect to pay for the species you are interested in. Price guides will give you a general idea but it is still a market of supply and demand and the seller has a right to charge whatever price he sees fit. You should expect to pay slightly more for a really good quality specimen and less for a poor quality bird. It is a good idea to buy the best birds that you can find. If they are a bit expensive then wait a bit longer until you can afford the price. If you start with quality birds then you should be able to breed quality birds. Poor quality birds will just degrade the species.
Speak with the seller and find out the price he wants for his birds. Decide if you are prepared to pay this price for good birds. Check how he wants to be paid. Most breeders prefer cash for their birds so you will need to be prepared. Bird sales and auctions normally demand payment in cash. Pet shops will take credit cards.
If buying from a breeder then you can check out the conditions that the bird has been bred and kept in. Are the cages clean and the food fresh? Discuss the feeding of the birds and get demonstrations of preparation of food supplements if necessary. Get a bottle of the water used and a container of the seed mix so that your new birds will have the same water and seed that they are used to for the journey to your home. Once home then you can wean the birds gradually onto your water and seed.
Remember that you are the buyer and you can say no.
Transporting the bird:
If you are buying birds from far away or interstate then the birds will be transported in a box and normally sent by air or by train if not too far. It is up to you as the buyer to make sure that you are there to pick the birds up as soon as possible after their arrival.
If you are picking up the birds yourself from the breeder or dealer then you will need a carry cage to transport the birds home. The cage should be large enough to allow the birds to move around and not have to stand on each other but able to be carried easily. The cage should have a fine mesh on the front and no sharp edges that could injure the birds.
Plenty of seed should be available in the cage and clean water provided. Birds can survive without water for a few hours but not without food. Seed provides nourishment and pecking the seed calms the nerves. The water dish can have some cotton wool in it to stop the water from spilling all over the cage. Some probiotic in the water can help keep the birds from getting too stressed. Use the same water as the breeder and take a bottle of the water with you to wean the birds onto your home water. Also use the same seed as the breeder.
While transporting the birds never leave their cage in the sun. If you have the cage in your car then make sure that it is not being blasted by the air conditioning. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES LEAVE CAGED BIRDS IN A PARKED CAR IN THE SUN. If you stop for something to eat then take the cage out of the car with you. Even in the shade the temperatures can get very high inside a parked car. If the journey is long then check the water and seed regularly.
Never put birds in the car boot as exhaust fumes kill, but keep them in the inside of the car. Keep the family pets at home when you go to pick up your birds. They will make the journey too stressful for the birds.
If you get home late in the afternoon then keep the birds in the carry cage in your bird room until the next morning making sure that they have enough seed and water. You can release the birds early the next morning. In this way they have all day to explore the cage, find the food and water stations and find somewhere to sit and sleep.
After you get home with your new birds they need to be kept in quarantine for at least a couple of weeks to make sure that they are not sick or carrying disease to pass onto your other birds. Any empty cage, such as a breeding cabinet, well away from your other aviaries can be used as a quarantine cage.
While the birds are in quarantine watch the birds closely for any signs of illness. Check that droppings appear normal and take faecal swabs to check under a microscope for any signs of worms, eggs or bacteria. Newspaper in the bottom of the cage under the perch is a good idea to collect droppings for checking. A few days before the end of the quarantine period, the birds should be wormed as a precaution before putting them into your aviaries.
All dishes, seed and water used in the quarantine cage should not come in contact with those used for your other birds to prevent transmission of disease. Probiotic can be used in the water for the first couple of days as the birds acclimatize.
At the end of the quarantine period, as long as there are no signs of illness, your new birds can be introduced into your aviaries. This is best done early in the morning for the reasons mentioned previously. Extra care needs to be taken if it is currently the breeding season for your birds as some can be very territorial. After releasing the birds into the aviary, watch for some time to make sure that they are finding the water and feed and that they are not being attacked by any other birds. Just like people, birds can have different personalities and not conform to the norm for that species. So keep an eye on the newcomers and make sure that they are safe. If you have any problems then remove the new birds and try them in another aviary.