Every pet purchase should be considered with great care. Never is this more true than with a parrot, because of the long life it can live with good care. A Grey Parrot or an Amazon could be with you for 50 years (if you live that long) or more and even a smaller bird such as a Cockatiel or a conure can survive for 30 years. So the adage we can adapt here is ‘Buy in haste and repent at leisure’.
The first aspect to consider is where to buy from. Here are the options available.
Advertisement in the local newspaper. This is seldom a good idea. It is a comparatively inexpensive method of offering birds for sale and sometimes attracts dishonest people who pose as owners when, in fact, they are dealers. They have been known to get up to such tricks as cutting an Alexandrine Parakeet’s tail short and selling it as a baby parrot. Such advertising might attract people who are not well informed and do not know about specialist publications. This probably means their knowledge of parrots is limited and the bird might have been fed on nothing more than parrot mixture. (A very common scenario.)
Internet advertisement. Again, buyer beware! There have been several instances in recent months about people who have sent off their hard-earned cash for what appeared to be a bargain. If it looks too good to be true it almost certainly is! What happens is that the money is being forwarded on to some overseas address from a UK address that operates for a very short period. No birds are ever forthcoming and the crook is unlikely to be traced.
Local pet store. Very few breeders would sell a young parrot to a local pet shop. They don’t need to. They can get better prices by advertising in the right place or from someone on their waiting list. In any case, caring breeders wants to know who will buy the young birds they have reared with such care. However, if the bird has come from a good breeder the pet shop price will be much higher than you would have paid if you had bought the bird directly from him or her. Obviously the shop has had its cut. So what sort of parrot ends up in a pet shop? It could be one whose owner has died and the relatives just want to pass it on quickly, so it might be a wonderful bird -- but its age will be unknown (unless it is closed ringed) and its temperament uncertain. Or it might even be stolen. Or it could have come from someone who needs cash quickly. It should be pointed out, however, that occasionally a really delightful companion can be acquired in this way. An experienced parrot person will have a good idea if they are getting one in this category.
Garden centre. Before buying, just compare the prices with advertisements elsewhere. Those in garden centres are enormously inflated. This means that a parrot will stay there for many weeks or even months. The often inadequate diet offered in such places could be detrimental to its health or cause a reluctance to try new foods later on. If it was a young hand-reared bird on arrival it will become neglected and lose its tameness. It will also be unhappy and stressed at lack of attention. It is sad to see this happening to a young parrot. Some garden centres keep their birds behind glass for fear of theft. The lack of physical contact would be mental cruelty for a hand-reared parrot.
Bird selling show. This has become the most common method of breeders finding new stock. The popular big shows, such as those organised by the Parrot Society, or the twice-annual event at Newark, are breeders’ show-cases. But the sale of young birds of the larger parrots kept as pets to members of the public is not permitted. You can still browse and if you find a good breeder, agree to meet at his premises, or elsewhere. Impulse buying of expensive and demanding species such as young macaws and cockatoos, especially young birds that are not yet weaned, can no longer occur. This has been a major improvement in such shows in recent years. Baby hand-reared parrots are just adorable and their instant appeal led to many bad decisions, later regretted.
Breeder. Yes! This is the wisest option. So how do you find a breeder? Look in the advertisement columns here or contact your nearest cage bird society or parrot club. However, there are good breeders and bad breeders.
Next problem. How do you tell a good breeder? Looking at the birds for sale will give some useful information. Is the bird ringed? All serious breeders ring their birds. Is it ringed with the correct size and type of ring? If the ring looks too large, too small or too flimsy for a strong-beaked parrot, seek advice if you are not sure. Inexperienced breeders can make serious mistakes in ringing parrots which lead to complications such as leg injury.
Is the bird in good feather condition? Usually you can disregard ragged tail feathers as playful young parrots might break these or have them chewed by another parrot. However, if you are buying a Budgerigar or a lovebird, acquiring one without normal tail and/or flight feathers could mean that you have acquired one with PBFD (psittacine beak and feather disease). This is a viral condition that is often fatal to young birds and can be passed on to other birds in your collection -- a very important point to bear in mind.
Equally, you need to be aware that bare patches where plumage should be are not due to the moult. If you ever receive this explanation, leave the premises immediately! The seller is not truthful. Lack of feathers in certain areas, such as the breast, are due to the bird plucking itself, or a bare patch on the nape means a companion bird has denuded it. A moult never causes bare patches. As feather plucking, with multiple causes, is one of the hardest conditions to deal with, and usually indicates a psychological problem, don’t buy a plucked bird unless you have decades of experience. You are more likely to find a plucked bird in a pet shop or at a bird selling show, and it will almost certainly be an adult.
Ask the seller lots of questions. You should soon get a feel for a caring breeder and one who will be willing to follow the sale with advice when it is needed. Beware the seller who acquires young parrots from breeders for the purpose of sale only. For this reason ask lots of questions about the parents and the conditions under which they are kept. A genuine breeder will happily answer your questions.
Finally, remember that many parrots are seasonal breeders. I have lost count of the number of people asking me where they can acquire a young Amazon parrot, for example, in the month of March. I explain they must be patient and wait until August or September when young birds, just weaned, will be available. If they buy in spring, they will be acquiring last year’s bird that might no longer be tame. Some species, such as those from Africa, can breed year-round, so this is not an issue.