Before I begin, the first step before purchasing any bird is to DO YOUR RESEARCH! The internet is full of information about any bird you want to know about and it's free! There are also numerous books and magazines available. It's sad how many cockatoos and macaws end up in rescues because their owners were not prepared for their loud voices, big beaks and attention requirements. Do your homework and have your questions ready when you go to shop for your bird.
1. Is the seller offering unweaned birds at extremely cheap prices? Okay, I'm getting on my soapbox for this one! The old saying "you get what you pay for" applies here. Local online classifieds are full of these types of ads (many of them are scams). Selling an unweaned bird to a customer who is inexperienced at handfeeding is highly unethical. Would you buy an unweaned dog or cat? Of course not! Why purchase a bird this way? To save a few bucks? Or were you told you must handfeed a baby bird so it will bond with you? This is a myth. Raising baby birds successfully requires the proper equipment and knowledge. Young or weak babies may even need additional feedings through the night. It's best to leave handfeeding/weaning to the professionals that know what they are doing. If a seller is telling you handfeeding birds is easy and is pushing you to buy that unweaned baby, walk away.
2. Environment. What does the bird's cage look like? Birds are messy, so the cage won't be spotless but it shouldn't be filthy either. Cage grates and perches should be relatively clean (no caked on poop), food and water dishes should be clean, etc. Are there multiple birds in the cage? If so, is there space for the birds to move around and perch comfortably? Are there multiple food dishes to be sure everyone gets their share? Overcrowding is a HUGE red flag. If you see a bunch of birds crammed in a dirty cage, go elsewhere. And please, if you see this at a bird mart, pet store or other retail venue, complain to the manager.
3. Diet. What kind of food is in the cage? If you only see sunflower seed mix and water, keep walking. Any bird seller worth his salt knows an all seed diet is not healthy for birds. It is also very difficult to convert birds to a well rounded diet once those bad eating habits are established. All of our birds are weaned to a pelleted base diet with the addition of vegetables, grains, sprouts, millet, etc. Some birds such as parrotlets, lineolated parakeets, budgies, finches and canaries do require seed in their diet, so you will see seed in the cages of these birds. But, they should also be receiving fresh veggies in addition to the seed.
4. Enrichment. Does the bird have toys in his cage? Birds are very intelligent. It is important to give them something to do while their humans are busy. Our birds have toys available to them from a very early age. We believe teaching a young parrot to play with toys is as important as weaning to a healthy diet. It is crucial to that bird's future that he learn to entertain himself so that he does not become overdependent on human attention. Such overdependence can lead to problem behaviors later on such as incessant screaming and feather plucking. A seller who is too cheap to give their birds a few toys does not deserve your money.
5. How many birds is the seller handfeeding? Baby birds take a lot of time to take care for and socialize properly. Some sellers' definition of a handfed bird is a bird that gets handfed and stuck back in the cage until the next feeding. They have so many babies, they barely have time to finish feeding all of them before they have to get ready for the next feeding. We raise a small number of birds which enables us to spend quality time with each one. Watching our little ones grow into beautiful adults makes all the hard work and loss of sleep worthwhile! Our birds are allowed out every day to play and be birds. We handle them gently and take the time to talk and cuddle with them. I am cuddling a green cheek conure as I am writing this! Our motto is quality not quantity. It is better for the birds and better for the people who purchase them.
6. Health guarantee. Does the seller offer a health guarantee? Industry standard is that a buyer has a window of time (usually 72 hours) to have the bird checked out by an avian vet. If the vet finds an illness or defect, or if the bird should die during this time, the buyer has the option of returning the bird for a refund or a replacement bird of equal value. Some guarantees may differ from this however. It is best to get a health guarantee in writing.
7. After sale support. Is the seller available to answer questions that may arise after you get the bird home? Most people underestimate the importance of this. I get emails and phone calls quite often from people who have purchased a bird from someone else (sometimes, an unweaned baby). Now they have questions or there is a problem and the seller won't return their calls. When a customer buys a bird from us, we are here to answer any questions. The babies we sell come with free lifetime behaviorial support. We care about the babies we raise and want the best for them and their new owners. We love it when our customers keep in touch by sending us emails and pictures that tell us how great our birds are doing!
8. The Seller. The seller should be professional in appearance and manner. He/she should be extremely knowledgeable about the type of birds they are selling. All birds are not the same! Different species have unique qualities. Some will be more suitable than others for your particular living situation. I say it again, do your research! Don't be afraid to ask questions. We are always impressed when customers ask us a lot of questions before purchasing one of our birds. It shows they have done their homework and that they care about the bird they are considering purchasing.
9. How do their birds look? The million dollar question. Healthy birds will be clean, have smooth vibrant feathers, bright eyes, clear nostrils, clean feet, etc. Well socialized young birds will be playful and curious. A poorly socialized bird will appear tense and will try to escape the situation. It may even bite (this is not to be confused with curious nibbling which some young birds do). An unhealthy bird will have dull feathers and may be fluffed up and listless. Eyes will look glazed or be half closed. The bird will not appear to be be interested in it's environment. It may have feces stuck on it's tail or vent. Unweaned babies that are still hungry, may cry and beg incessantly and/or bob their heads. Young birds that have been weaned improperly or missed feedings will have black marks or "stress bars" on their feathers. Only buy a bird that appears healthy and be sure to take it to a certified avian vet for a "well bird" exam during the guarantee period.
10. Final Thoughts. Some people buy birds that are unhealthy or in bad situations because they feel sorry for them. "Rescue" stories abound on the chat lists. I know it is heartbreaking to see a bird (or any animal) in a bad situation. But when someone buys a bird from a bad seller, that person is actually keeping the cycle of abuse going. That seller will just take your money and replace the pitiful bird you bought with another one. And on and on it goes. Stop the cycle. How you ask? Vote with your money. It's as easy as that. The bad sellers can't stay in business if nobody buys from them. Only support good breeders and bird stores who are knowledgeable about the birds they sell, ethical in their treatment of their birds (and customers), and put in the time, money and effort into raising quality, healthy birds.