Buying Birds at Bird Fairs – Be Educated and Beware

With the end of summer and the beginning of fall upon us, bird fairs are in full swing all around the country. At any of these fairs, prospective buyers can find almost any species of exotic bird, cages, cage accessories, feed, treats, toys, breeder supplies, and anything else that could be remotely bird related. For many bird lovers, breeders and prospective owners, bird fairs are the place to go to make their purchases; often goods are priced well below what would normally be paid in a pet store, and “price haggling” is almost expected during the sale of companion parrots. Beautiful parrots are often on full display sitting on top of cages or playstands, an open invitation for visitors to touch and hold them, feed them treats, and revel in the beauty and glory of these magnificent creatures. Sounds like the place to go if you’re in the market for a companion parrot, doesn’t it? For informed, educated buyers, it very well can be. For those new to companion parrots, or those inadvertently caught up in the “fever” of their first bird show, it can be heartbreaking as well as costly.From my experience attending bird shows, (I’ve been a vendor at bird shows in my area for the last 5 years) I’ve learned that sellers come from all walks of life. While most vendors are reputable, respectable people who will offer and honor a verbal guarantee for the purchase of a bird, there are others who won’t…… or who say they will, but reneg on that guarantee when problems arise. I’ve seen vendors sell unweaned babies to inexperienced buyers, giving 2-minute verbal instructions on how to handfeed, and no physical demonstration, while claiming that handfeeding is “easy, and anyone can do it”. I’ve seen vendors sell birds that looked sick, birds that were fluffed up and sitting on the bottom of their cage, all the while claiming that the bird was “just tired”, while pocketing the unsuspecting buyer’s money and offering no guarantee on the bird’s health. I’ve heard vendors tell buyers that the buyers need to finish handfeeding the unweaned bird, in order for it to “bond” to the new owner. I’ve seen people intentionally misled, such as the sign taped to a cage that housed 2 quaker parrots, stating, “Pair of Breeder Quakers for sale”. After questioning the owner of those birds, it came to light that the “pair” had not been sexed, had never laid, sat or raised any babies, nor did she know their ages. I’ve probably heard every justification there is to sell an unweaned, unhealthy or questionable bird. How can prospective buyers protect themselves from fraud?

The answer is simple. EDUCATION. Education of the general public, the prospective bird buyers, and yes, even those that currently own companion birds. Because there are current owners out there who are not educated, or have been misinformed for the sake of a sale. Prospective bird owners need to seek out those breeders and experienced people who are willing to help educate them, without requiring a “sale” to benefit from. These are the breeders and owners who truly care about the health and well-being of birds….. not just their own, but all companion birds. These are the people who will give you their phone number and tell you to call in the middle of the night if you suspect a problem, who give you a health guarantee on their birds, who require you to practice handfeeding under their direct supervision before they will allow you to take a bird home. These are the people who will question you, asking about your experience as a bird owner, what your lifestyle is like, whether you have children, and other questions that will help them determine if you will be a responsible owner for the bird that they have so painstakingly raised, These are the people who will admit it when they don’t have an answer, and will help you find someone who does. These are the people who will spend time sharing their experiences and their knowledge, at no benefit to themselves except knowing that the information they are sharing could possibly save a bird’s life someday.

Prospective bird buyers, especially those who have no previous experience with companion birds, need to know -which- questions to ask of a potential seller. They don’t automatically know that the method used to handfeed, wean and socialize a bird is critically important and could effect it’s behavior several years later. They don’t know that previously abused birds may never learn to trust again. They don’t understand the reasons for wing-trimming, nor the risks that an unflighted bird is facing. They don’t realize that a particular species requires more fruit in their diet, or that another species is prone to Fatty Liver Disease and shouldn’t eat sunflower seeds. They don’t know that taking a newly-weaned bird to a new environment could possibly cause that bird to stop eating, and starve to death in a short time. They don’t know that offering a bird a different pellet/seed mix than the one the bird is used to could cause the bird to stop eating, and starve itself to death. They don’t know that birds need to take baths, or that Vitamin D cannot be absorbed by a bird unless he has contact with direct sunlight, not light through a regular window. They don’t know that they can observe for signs of illness not visible to the naked eye by regularly checking a bird’s droppings. They don’t know that a fluffed-up bird sitting on the bottom of the cage is a danger sign, and needs to be addressed immediately.

THEY JUST DON”T KNOW.

Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating to be asked the same questions over and over again. It’s tiring to explain details that are considered “common sense”. But if we don’t, who will?

The subject of this article started out to be “Buying Birds At Bird Fairs”, and the general pros and cons of such an act. I realize now that somewhere in the middle it’s turned into a desperate plea for education. Why? Because I’ve just returned from a local bird fair held this past Saturday, where I sold a beautiful little quaker parrot, weaned for at least 2 weeks, eating a varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, Zupreem pellets, millet, and birdie bread (no sunflower seeds for these guys, as they are prone to Fatty Liver Disease). I handfed these gorgeous little creatures from the age of 2 weeks, played with them, laughed at their antics, cuddled and loved them. I gave them a healthy diet, weaned them abundantly, and socialized them with the help of my family. I raised them to be the best little quakers that they could possibly be, and prayed that I could find the right homes for them. And I did.

One family in particular caught my attention, and I knew they would give one of my babies a wonderful home. A recently-divorced woman who was going through chemotherapy in an attempt to stop her rapidly-spreading cancer brought her 10-year-old daughter to the fair. The woman had previously owned a conure, and had some experience with birds, though she had never handfed or raised a baby. The daughter, Jenny, immediately fell in love with one particular quaker, and the quaker with her. She petted, stroked and held the bird gently, and the bird snuggled into her neck, hiding under Jenny’s long, brown hair. Jenny’s mom hadn’t intended to buy a bird, but when she saw how much in love Jenny was with the quaker, she couldn’t refuse. I suspect that her impending death also played a part in her decision, since she confided to me that Jenny had recently suffered more heartbreak than a child should have to at the tender age of 10, between dealing with her mother’s sickness and her parent’s recent divorce.

I spent time with both Jenny and her mom, explaining how to take care of the quaker, what to feed it, and everything that I thought they should know. I suspected that money was tight for this single mother, so I threw in several toys, a birdie bed, a pedicure perch and a can of treats. I gave her my phone number at work and at home, so she could call if she suspected a problem, though I didn’t foresee any. I gave her a 7-day health guarantee as I do anyone, because I’m confident of my babies’ health. I gave her a list of unsafe food and plants, and the warning about Teflon. I gave her a small booklet of recipes that Jenny could make for her new friend, and explained how important it was to keep the bird’s wings clipped. Jenny’s mom had purchased my book on quakers, and after many questions and answers I felt they were ready to take my baby home.

Jenny’s mom called me this morning. The beautiful, loving little quaker is dead. She suspects that it starved to death, reporting that while the little bird would take pellets into his mouth, he let them drop out and didn’t actually swallow any. She did attempt to handfeed him, but only after realizing that the bird hadn’t eaten for almost 2 days. While discussing the conditions under which the little quaker had died, Jenny’s mom revealed to me that Jenny, in her love for her little friend, had made a little cardboard house that fit inside the cage…..and painted it.

Did the little bird revert back to wanting to be handfed when it moved to a new environment? Is that why he stopped eating? Or did the paint fumes make him sick enough that he didn’t want to eat? I am full of grief and guilt. I thought I did everything I could to educate these people, yet that helpless little quaker suffered and died a needless death anyway. This family came to me for education, to help them learn how to take care of this bird, and I thought I had done a good job. But not good enough.

I still have the remaining 4 quakers from that particular clutch, and they are all eating and doing fine. Jenny and her mother are on their way to my house tonight, to pick up another quaker. I will honor the 7-day health guarantee that I gave her, because I feel it’s only right. Regardless of which reason caused the little bird’s death, I feel that the responsibility still falls upon me.

If you are in a position to educate people, please, please do so. Help stop the myths. Without education, more and more of these birds will die. If we don’t do our part to stop it, no one else will. In the end, it’s the birds who suffer. They pay with their very lives.