Guide to buying your first bird.

Let’s assume that you’ve done your research, contemplated the pros and cons, and decided that a bird is for you. Now all that’s left is to buy one.

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Setting up:

First, you will want to have everything set up for your new companion before he or she comes home. Make sure that you’ve bought and assembled a cage with perches and accessories. You can get a play gym or T-stand, too, although these aren’t necessary. They are useful, though.

You’ll also want a bird-safe travel cage, which will depend on the size of the bird you want. This is a must.

To choose a daytime cage, you will want to make sure it’s big enough. Common sense should be your guide – if it looks too small, it is. Bigger is nearly always better. I’m not a believer of housing a bird into a minimum sized cage, but a good rule of thumb is that a bird should be able to comfortably spread his wings without knocking into anything.  Avians of all kinds like corners, as these help them feel safe, so buying a square or rectangular cage is ideal. Longer is usually better than tall, too, as it encourages flight. Extra space so often means a happier bird.

There’s more to consider:

  • Material. Stainless steel is expensive, but will last the longest, and is safest. Although powder-coated metal is okay, it can rust or flake over time.
  • Practicality. Does it have wheels? Space? How large is the door?
  • Bar spacing. Bigger cages often have wider bar spacing – and birds can wedge their skulls through these, possibly breaking their own necks when they try and escape. It is possible to find large cages with small bar spacing.
  • Shape. Round is not a good cage shape for any bird. Square or rectangular are best, as I mentioned.
  • Construction. Don’t doubt your bird’s ability to unscrew screws and open doors. Check the way it’s put together, and the way the door closes. Also have a look for sharp edges and general sturdiness.
  • Grates. These metal grids keep birds off the bottom of the cage, where all their waste falls. Even if you’re very on top of bird chores, a grate is still a good idea.
  • Secondhand? A great way to save money, but make sure you sanitise everything and air it well, first.
  • Access. Finally, how are the food and water bowls accessible? Ones that you can get at from the outside can be a lifesaver.

You can also purchase a smaller sleeping cage that can go into a quiet, dark room. Your bird needs 12 hours of undisturbed sleep per night, so this can really be a lifesaver if the main cage is in a busy place. If you choose to use a sleeping cage, you don’t need anything more in it than perches, as your bird will only be there at night.

Where to place your new cage? The main one needs to be in the hub of activity for your home (hence having a smaller cage set aside for nighttime). Your bird depends on you for its happiness, and being near your activity helps it feel like part of the flock. But the cage should never go in the kitchen. This is one of the most dangerous places for a bird, and they should be kept from that area at (nearly) all times. Birds feel safe in corners, so try putting the cage there, so that it looks out across the room. One half of the cage can be covered by a towel or large piece of cloth.

Inside the new cage, you’ll want to put:

  • Two or three stainless steel bowls. Plastic is is porous, meaning germs can get in and be much harder to scrub away – so you can use these, but be much more diligent about cleaning.
  • Perches: A minimum of three, but more is okay depending in the size of the cage. There are many kinds to choose from – wood is preferable as a main perch, and java branches are great. There are also mineral, leather-padded, cement, plastic, and rope (manila or sisal only, never cotton). Your bird’s foot should wrap 3/4 of the way around.
  • Toys: put some in of all different kinds of material, from wood to plastic to paper. Beware, though, of bits that can be swallowed or catch toes/necks. Cosy Huts (or parrot tents) can be a comfort to baby birds, but can cause hormonal symptoms in older birds. If you choose to put one in, be aware that they can fray over time and catch unwitting necks and toes – so be diligent. Try not to clutter everything up. Your bird should still be able to stretch out comfortably.
  • Newspaper bedding. This is the safest cage liner for your bird. Use a recent issue, so long as it is made with nontoxic material, and cover the floor. It should be changed once daily.
  • UV Light. A UV bird lamp placed near the cage will help your bird build stronger, prettier feathers – and improve the likelihood that he’ll eat well and stay healthy.

Once the cage is set up, make sure you have food and treats all ready. Pellets and a boxed seed mix are a good base diet, and you’ll also be feeding lots of fruit, veg, and protein. You should go ahead and put a bottle of tap water into the fridge to de-chlorinate. Chemicals of any kind really aren’t good for your bird.

At this point, you should locate an avian vet near you and schedule your bird’s first avian-wellness exam. This is your opportunity to ask any questions you may have. The exam is particularly important if you choose to buy from a pet shop.

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Buying your new bird:

When you choose the actual source of your bird, it is important to do your research. Pet shops are not ideal sources for baby birds, as these animals aren’t necessarily going to be the happy, well-adjusted pets you imagine. They’re also much more likely to be sick. Instead, focus on finding a breeder or rescue. These latter options should be a bit cheaper, as well.

It’s important to note that an avian rescue will have many birds that aren’t ‘damaged’ or ‘problematic.’ Sometimes people give these birds up because of finance, a new addition to the family, or a death – or something else. This option is considerably less expensive than buying a new bird, and you should feel good about it, too. Rescues are clogged with birds needing a home. In them, you can find birds that are well-trained and mannerly, which, trust me, is nothing to sneeze at. Raising a baby bird and teaching it the behaviours you want is a daunting task.

But if you choose the way of a new baby bird, any breeder should be willing to answer your questions. He (or she) should let you tour the aviary and see his breeding pairs. He should have questions for you, too, such as what is your living situation like.

Questions to ask a potential breeder:

  • How are the babies raised? Incubator, parent-raised, co-raised hand-raised? There is no right answer. I personally am of the growing opinion that co-raised and parent-raised are actually superior to hand-raised. Babies raised by humans don’t fully realise they’re birds, and will select humans as mates when they grow up. Other birds won’t. Read this about it on http://www.parrots.org.
  • What is your breeding aviary like? Do you give tours? The aviaries should be clean and quiet, and a breeder should be willing to show them off.
  • When are the babies weaned? The answer should always be ‘at their own pace.’
  • Do you clip wings? The answer can vary – if yes, however, it must be after babies fledge. And no is a very good answer.
  • What species do you raise?
  • How are they socialised? Do multiple people handle the babies?

Those are just a few. You’ll also want to inquire what and how the babies are fed, whether they get toys, and if they’ll be introduced to many new foods – especially fruits and veggies. If a breeder is willing to sell you an unhatched egg or un-weaned baby birds, RUN. Only experienced breeders should take on hand-feeding babies, as it’s a very delicate process. You do not need to be personally responsible for hand-feeding your bird to have it bond to you. Just as a reference, my birds are all very strongly bonded, and I had little to nothing to do with them growing up (depending on the bird).

A breeder should never sell un-weaned babies.

The bird itself:

When choosing, a bird should be visibly energetic, vocal, not fluffed, bright-eyed, and alert. Nostrils should be clear, and there should be no discharge around the cere (nose). Feathers should be sleek and not damaged. The vent – butt area – should be clean. The bird should respond to its environment, and should be trained to step-up on command. If a breeder or pet shop staff member has to pick up the bird forcibly, it is likely not hand-tamed.

You can ask breeders to meet the un-weaned baby as it’s growing up.

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Bringing your companion home:

Be aware that, baby or not, your bird will be stressed by moving. When you get him home, put him in his cage (with fresh food, water, and treats), and let him settle. Give him time before you approach the cage, at which point you can sit by him quietly and talk to him. He should look calm – if not, back away. Let him decide. For this first little while, you can go about your daily activities as you would ordinarily, so that he can get used to the bustle of your home.

Then it’s all up to the bird. The next day (after 12 full hours of undisturbed rest), the baby may be looking to come out! Our parrotlet, Ptak, was very excited to come out, so we let him. It’s important to remember that your bird is still so young, so 30 minutes out of cage, then back in for rest and refreshment. If he doesn’t want to come out, don’t force it. Let him decide, and he’ll respect you for respecting him. Push it, and he’ll probably bite.

Let everything go at the baby’s pace.

Be sure, also, to set the standard for later. It’s important not to let him spend all day out while he’s brand-new and exciting, because when the novelty wears off a bit, he’ll demand that same quality of attention in ways you will most definitely notice. Screaming, biting and plucking!

You’ll want to begin training as soon as possible, so once he is out of his cage, practise step ups. Don’t forget to reward with praise and treats! Experiment to see what foods are your new bird’s favourites, and offer them from your own fingers. As an adult, you shouldn’t touch outside your bird’s head/neck and feet – but as a baby, you can get him used to being touched all over. This is a great time to start clicker training, as well! Ignore bites, and set boundaries now.

Never hit or punish a bird. They don’t understand it.

Bath time can come whenever your baby seems ready. Parrots both love and need to shower, and in the summer should have a bath once a day. Showering promotes preening and good feather health, and keeps birdie dust to a minimum. Frequent baths also help prevent plucking. Always let your bird decide: if he rejects a bath, let him. He can waterproof himself quite well, if he wants, but will change the angle of his feathers to get wet if he’s enjoying it.

Finally, enjoy your new bird. Bringing a pet home is a wonderful time for any family. And if your bird is a baby, just as with human children, it will rush past. Make sure to take lots of photos and savour every moment. 😉

Note: If you’re still stuck on what bird to buy, I’ve done an article here that debates the different kinds of birds for first-time owners. Hint – it’s not what you may think.

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The nevers:

I don’t feel that there are many times when the word ‘never’ is appropriate for bird owners to use. But there are some instances:

  • Never feed your new bird avocado (or guacamole), chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, apple seeds, or salt/fatty/sugary foods.
  • Use Teflon in the same household. Same for aerosol sprays and other strongly scented things.
  • Put the cage in the kitchen or toilet, or near a window or radiator.
  • Let your bird chew wires or roam unsupervised.
  • Smoke around your feathered companion.
  • Leave the toilet seat up.
  • Let your bird come into contact with your saliva or your pets’, as the bacteria is very harmful to them.

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Sources:

Bird Channel – buying a new bird.

Doctors Foster and Smith – choosing a new cage.

About.com – living with a bird.

Avian Network – perches.

Parrots Canada – choosing your bird.

Parrots.org – why parent-reared is so important.

Me – on wing clipping.

Cockatiel Cottage – healthy birds.

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3 thoughts on “Guide to buying your first bird.

    • Just the one parrotlet, yup, although we have three other birds as well. I do want a second p’let eventually – dilute blue or just green! 😀

  1. Pingback: A Guide to Basic Parrot and Finch Care. | Students and Birds

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