Buying your first parrot

Parrot owner and enthusiast, Juann-Pierre Strauss, gives some advice on what to look out for when buying your first parrot.

A question that many prospective parrot owners are faced with is whether to buy directly from a breeder or to take the "safe" option and buy from a pet shop.

There is no easy answer to this because you can never be absolutely guaranteed that either of them are what they claim to be.

With a pet shop, you expect a certain minimum standard. Your new pet should have been vaccinated and weaned off of baby food. It should have been handled by humans a lot and they should have socialised with other birds in the shop. While it is easy to see whether the bird has been properly socialised or not, it is trickier to tell if it has been fed a proper diet and has received all the shots recommended by avian vets. How do you know that their guarantee is worth the paper it is written on (you did demand one, didn't you)? Many pet shops have a no-refund policy on livestock and you will have a hard time getting your money back in the event that you are unhappy with the state of your bird.

Hyacinth Macaw

The breeder

With a breeder, you have fewer guarantees, but you are also in a position to negotiate a better price as well as a refund agreement. While there is a bigger risk involved with buying directly from a breeder, this can easily be overcome by taking responsibility for the bird's wellbeing yourself. Ask the breeder if the bird has had all the necessary shots. Explain that this is not a deal breaker per se, but that you simply need to know this for the bird's first visit to the vet – medicines are expensive and some can be toxic if the bird is given a double dose. By buying directly from a breeder, you can also have a firsthand look at the state in which the birds are kept, something that a pet shop cannot tell you with certainty.

Red-sided Eclectus chicks

Things to look out for

A few things to look out for when buying a new parrot are its weight, mood and the state of its feathers. If the bird feels lighter than it looks, it has probably been underfed, or has gone on a hunger strike for some reason. If it seems lethargic, or is sitting very low on its perch, it is probably sick. Birds don't display signs of illness quickly, so at the point that they openly display these signs, it is critical that you take action right away.

Have a look at its feathers. Are they in a good condition? Bear in mind that a baby's feathers can look a little rough. This is normal, but there shouldn't be any excessively frazzled feathers. The feathers around the vent should also be clean and free of droppings. While on the topic, also take the time to inspect its droppings. It shouldn't be too runny and should be a dark green and clear colour with a small amount of white. Depending on the diet, the droppings can also be brown, rather of green. Also watch out for any semi-digested pellets. All these things can point to a digestive problem and should be looked at by a vet.

Life-long commitment

If you take the trouble to do many of these checks yourself, you can save a good chunk of cash on the price of your new feathered friend. But if you're lazy, you should stick with buying from a reputable pet shop. Either way, the purchase of a new parrot is a life-long commitment and it should never be done on a whim. Larger parrots like the Macaw can live up to 70 or 80 years and even their smaller kin like the African Grey and Cockatoo can live to be "pensioners". Even the fragile Eclectus or the tiny Senegal lives to be 30 years or older (and in some cases, MUCH older). And yes, those are human years.

- (Juann-Pierre Strauss/Health24, August 2011)

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