HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.



How to Go about Buying a Parakeet:


If you have made up your mind that you want to buy a parakeet, look around with a critical eye in several pet stores. Are the birds kept in large enough and clean cages? Do they have sufficient food and fresh drinking water? Is there clean gravel on the bottom of the cages? All this will be the case at reputable pet dealers and well-managed pet sections of large department stores. Perhaps you will have a chance to talk with a salesperson and find out something about the breeding background of the birds. It is always better if you can avoid lengthy transport because a long trip is traumatic for the birds. If you do not find a bird that seems just right at a pet store, inquire at an aviculturists' association to see if there is a breeder of parakeets near where you live. You might get an address from the nearest animal shelter, or perhaps you will see a notice of a bird show where breeders exhibit their birds. At such an exhibition you can not only get addresses of breeders but you may also find out when a certain breeder expects his birds to have offspring and therefore when you can go and pick out a young parakeet. I would strongly discourage you from buying a parakeet from a mail-order company. A bird that has undergone a long and uncomfortable journey is likely to arrive in a state of shock and possibly half-starved and dehydrated. If the miserable creature turns out to be sick or impaired you cannot simply mail it back. In other words, you've bought a pig in a poke. That is why I urge you to buy directly from a breeder or from a pet dealer, here you are likely to get good advice and reliable information.

Tips for Buying a Bird:
No matter where you decide to buy your parakeet, you should know what to look for if you want to end up with a young and healthy bird. So-called "nest-young" (5-to-6-week-old) parakeets adjust more easily than older ones to human company as well as to members of their own species (important if you plan to introduce them to a partner). They become tame more quickly and usually develop more speaking proficiency. I do not mean at all to suggest that older parakeets cannot grow into tame pets and good learners if treated with plenty of love and patience. Watch the bird of your choice for a while from a distance and observe its behaviour. Is it active or is it sitting in a corner apathetically? Is it busy working on some object and interacting with other birds? Is it eating and drinking and preening itself? A lively and active parakeet will not long be subdued even by the change in surroundings when you bring it home and will soon start to respond to your overtures. A quiet and sleepy-looking bird, on the other hand, might be sick, though that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps it is just in a resting phase, and you should have another good look at it after a while. Pay close attention to the plumage of the Parakeet. The feathers should hug the body smoothly and have a dull sheen. The ends of the tail feathers may be somewhat worn.

This can be the result of transport, confined space in the nest, or some rough play with other birds. But the tail and wing feathers must be fully formed and should never be bent and stick out at an angle. If the feathers around the vent are dirty this suggests diarrhoea, which may be a sign of temporary indisposition or real sickness. The feet and toes should be straight and clean. The two central toes point forward, the other two backward. The nails should not be too long, and the scales on the feet should form a smooth surface. You can tell a 5 to 6-week-old parakeet by its large, shiny, and perfectly round "button eyes," which do not yet show a light iris. In young birds, the wavy pattern of the neck feathers extends over the entire head of the ceres (the swellings at the base of the nostrils), and the spots of the throat are still small or barely there at all. The bill of a oung parakeet is darker than that of a fully grown one and often somewhat mottled, the ceres are still a light pink or beige in both sexes. In males, the ceres turn a bright blue after the juvenile moult, with the color intensifying during the courtship period. The ceres of the female remain light beige past the juvenile moult but change when she gets ready to mate. They then turn brownish to dark brown and in some cases even get somewhat wrinkled. There are exceptions to these rules: Albinos, i.e., white birds, have red rather than black eyes from the first, and in harlequin parakeets the ceres stay light beige into adulthood in males as well as females. You will simply have to trust the salesperson to catch the exact bird you have chosen from among the group in an aviary and that it will be a male or a female according to your desires.

Only a true expert can reliably tell the sex of young parakeets, and there is only a small hint I can give you: Female parakeets have fine, hardly visible, light to whitish rings around the nostrils. Take one more look at the plumage around the vent while the salesperson is still holding your parakeet. Ask the clerk to blow at the feathers of this area so that you can see if the skin around the vent is red. This might mean that the bird is sick. Also run your finger gently over the bird's sternum (breastbone) to make sure it is rounded like the outside rim of a bowl. A collapsed sternum would indicate sickness. If you plan to participate in bird shows and your bird is not already wearing a band on its leg, ask a member of a budgerigar society to put one on. However, bear in mind the injuries and trouble this band can cause. It can catch in something, and the bird may break its leg in an effort to get free. Or if the band gets too tight--which happens not infrequently since parakeets have strong, muscular legs--and you fail to notice it in time, circulation may be cut off, and in an extreme situation the leg may have to be amputated. If you decide to have your bird banded (or leave a band that is already there), check regularly and make sure the bird is not hampered by the band. If, at any point, you decide to remove a band, have it done by an avian veterinarian.

Choosing a young bird:
In most cases, it is best to buy a young budgerigar. This will probably be cheaper than an adult bird and certainly should be easier to tame; budgerigars that have recently left the nest should sit quite readily on a finger extended parallel with the perch, provided they have not been disturbed. Apart from the basic distinction in cere coloration, a number of other features can be significant when assessing the relative youth of a budgerigar. Look firstly at the eyes, which should be solid and dark in a young bird, showing no trace of the white irises that will appear around the perimeter in an adult bird. These start to become evident only when the youngster is approaching 12 weeks of age. The head markings of a young bird are also distinctive, especially in the so-called 'normal varieties'. The darker wavy pattern of banding in the plumage extending up to the cere and the barred pattern on the forehead have given rise to the name of 'barhead' for young budgerigars. This pattern is lost at the first moult, and is replaced by clear plumage. You should also be able to see the spots that form the so-called 'mask' on the head. These are relatively thin and slightly elongated in youngsters, but become much more prominent in older budgerigars. In some of the lighter colored varieties, including lutino and recessive pieds, however, this distinction may not be apparent, because of the total or partial lack of the dark pigment melanin. Although legs that appear heavily scaled will indicate an old budgerigar it is virtually impossible to age an adult budgerigar accurately and usually you will have to rely on the vendor's honesty. However, if you are buying from a breeder, the birds may be ringed. Closed rings, which can be fitted only to young birds in the nest, provide a reliable indicator of the budgerigar's age. These rings are marked with the year of hatching and may also carry a sequential number, the breeder's initials and club details. Split rings, however, are used more for identification purposes. One way of ensuring that you have birds of known age is to purchase current-year budgerigars, which should be ready to nest during the following year.

Choosing a healthy bird:
Naturally, you will want to buy a healthy bird, and many of the signs of ill health are clearly visible if you know what to look for. Choose an individual that is lively and plump. You can assess the bird's weight by feeling the breastbone, down the center of the lower part of the body. This should be well covered with muscle, with no distinct gaps on either side of the bone. Check the wings for signs of French moult, a viral condition that results in the loss of flight feathers and sometimes tail feathers in young budgerigars. In a mild case, these may re-grow; often, a badly affected budgerigar may never be able to fly properly. This might not be a handicap in a pet bird; in fact, you may prefer to have a budgerigar whose flight is handicapped, so that it will be easier to catch when at liberty in the room and there is no risk of the bird escaping. However, the moulting period can bring on additional problems. In a budgerigar suffering from French moult, the new flight feathers can prove brittle and may break at their bases. As the feathers are still receiving a blood supply at this stage - clear from the reddish tips at the end of the feathers nearest to the wing - this can lead to bleeding. If you have a budgerigar afflicted with French moult, always have a styptic pencil available, so that you can stop any blood loss without delay. If you are buying adult stock, you will find it more difficult to spot the effects of this virus. Where a budgerigar has been afflicted with a mild case of French moult as a youngster, the flight and tail feathers will have re-grown and the symptoms will be virtually undetectable in the adult bird. Open the wing and look closely a short distance along from the bases of the primary flight feathers. In a healthy bird, the shaft should appear clear.

If there is a reddish brown area along the shaft, this shows that the budgerigar was almost certainly affected with French moult earlier in life. The tail feathers may show similar symptoms. Since this disease is caused by a virus, for which there is presently no cure or vaccine, you should avoid purchasing such birds. Another point to check for in young budgerigars is the shape of the beak. Under normal circumstances, the upper part of the beak should overlap the lower part. In some cases, however, the beak can become undershot, with the upper mandible failing to make contact with the lower and curling round inside the bill, under the tongue. The lower part of the beak will then start to grow excessively and will need to be cut back regularly with a stout pair of clippers. Although this problem may be of genetic origin in some cases, dirty nesting conditions are often the cause - droppings stuck under the tongue, at the front of the lower beak, can be responsible. The upper mandible may also be malformed for the same reason, but this is less common. Check the beaks of young budgerigars periodically and remove any accumulated food. Unfortunately, by the time that an affected chick leaves the nest, nothing can be done to deal with the problem, apart from regular clipping to ensure that the budgerigar can continue eating without difficulty, If you do not feel able to undertake this task, it is probably best to avoid purchasing such a bird.

When you open the wings, you may see feather lice - relatively long, thin parasites - running parallel with the contour of the feathers, at right angles to the feather shaft. These parasites are less mobile than mites, and can be killed with the same treatment. One type of mite not usually obvious on young budgerigars is Cnemidocoptes, responsible for the condition described as scaly face. These parasites tend to localize around the beak, and often on the legs as well. Look closely for any trace of snail-like tracks across the upper beak, which is an early sign of this disease. In more advanced cases, coral-like encrustation's around the sides of the beak may be apparent. These can spread around the cere and even over the body. The legs may show similar signs. Scaly face can lead to malformation of the beak, but it a mild case treatment is straightforward and the bird will not suffer permanent damage.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc. 1996