Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Selecting a Bird


Manuals Staff

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2011 | Modified Oct 2022

Individuals seeking information about selecting a bird can turn to their local library for information about breeds, cage and diet requirements, typical temperament, and other important information. Once you have developed more specific questions, your local bird club or avian veterinarian can be great sources of practical information. Bookstores offer many current books with information on companion birds. In addition, there are hundreds of web sites that have information on birds and offer guidance on selecting the bird most appropriate for your family.

The temperament and behavior of a bird is important ( see also Temperament Temperament Understanding your bird and providing an appropriate habitat can go a long way toward building a good relationship with your pet. Learn everything you can about your bird, its normal habits... read more ). Canaries and finches, for example, rarely like to be handled and are quite happy “doing their own thing” in their cages. In contrast, large parrots and some cockatoos often demand attention and require daily interaction with their owners. You need to consider how much time and attention you will provide for the bird and select a bird that will be happy with that level of attention from you.

Other factors to consider include cost of the bird and its upkeep, size, and noise level. Rare birds and many larger birds can be quite expensive, and larger birds require a larger cage (thus taking up more space). The cost of cages, diets, and veterinary care should also be considered. Some birds are quite noisy and may not be the best choice for people concerned with neighbors and noise.

Sources for Pet Birds

Once you have decided what breed of bird you want to acquire, you will have to locate a source. It is best to buy directly from a breeder or a high quality pet store that specializes in birds. Whatever the source, you should ensure that the bird you purchase was bred and raised in captivity. Not only are wild-caught birds less tame, they can also carry diseases that may shorten their lifespan or even diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Many birds are smuggled illegally into countries such as the United States. Although this practice is less common than it once was, beware of anyone selling birds for a much cheaper price than other sources, and always ask for documentation regarding the source of the bird you are considering.

Choosing a Healthy Bird

If you are considering bringing home a companion bird, take the time to ensure that it is healthy before purchasing it. No matter where you buy the bird, look carefully at how the birds are housed. Your bird should come from a clean environment in which the handlers show care and consideration for the animals. Birds should be housed in roomy cages with fresh, appropriate food and clean water.

Look carefully for any signs of illness or other physical problems. Birds should be clean and alert with bright, clear eyes. A healthy bird should move easily in its environment and interact with other birds in the cage. Huddled birds or those with bunched or drooping feathers should be avoided. There should be no obvious injuries or feather loss. Check for any unusual discharge or staining around the eyes, beak, or tail that could indicate illness. The feet should be clean and free of injury. Wings should be carried normally, not dragged or held awkwardly.

Any new bird should have a wellness check before it permanently joins your home. Preferably, this should be done by a veterinarian specially trained in bird care. The seller should be willing to accept back (and refund the purchase cost for) any bird that is not found to be healthy. It may be wise to get this agreement in writing from the seller, particularly if the bird you are purchasing is expensive.

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