Choosing a Healthy Baby Bird

Signs to look for when choosing a feathered baby

Small bird being fed by human
Gael Lafond / Getty Images

Those who decide to add a pet bird to their family often have their hearts set on a young baby. While baby birds are especially cute and captivating, prospective buyers should know how to distinguish healthy babies from those with potential health problems.
While it's true that many avian diseases and disorders are invisible to the naked eye, there are a few important points that buyers can keep in mind to help them choose the baby bird with the least possible chance of illness or disease.

Judging by Appearance

When you visit a breeder or pet shop, have a look at all of the baby birds that are available. While they are all likely to be absolutely adorable, before you buy it's imperative to look each of them over thoroughly, bearing the following points in mind:

  • Choose a bird that is active and alert. Birds that appear sluggish or weak have the potential of being extremely ill. While it may seem tempting to "rescue" such a bird by taking it home, these situations all too often lead to heartbreak and great financial loss if the bird is indeed sick. Set yourself up for success by only purchasing a baby that is lively and animated.
  • Look for bright, shiny eyes and clean feathers. A healthy baby bird will have bright, sparkling eyes that are wide open and free of any discharge. Eyes that are runny, squinty, or discolored can be an indication of disease of infection. Check the bird's plumage to make sure that it is bright and clean. Dull, dirty, or scruffy looking feathers can be a sign of abnormal preening behaviors.
  • Check the bird's nares and cere for signs of infection. Many birds with respiratory problems will exhibit a runny, crusty, or inflamed cere as a symptom. Avoid birds who show any sign of obstructed nares or any discharge whatsoever coming from the nasal area.
  • Only buy a bird that is weaned and fully feathered. While hatchlings can be nearly irresistible to bird lovers, it is highly recommended that those without hand-feeding experience purchase only babies which have been fully weaned. While hand-feeding may seem like a simple process, it is tedious work and can easily be done incorrectly by inexperienced owners. Many times, botched feedings cause irreversible harm and even death to baby birds that are sold too early. Save yourself the trouble by choosing a baby that is old enough to eat independently. Your relationship with the bird will not suffer for it in the least.
  • Buy a hungry bird. If it's possible for you to observe the birds that you're interested in during feeding time, you should watch closely to see which ones are the most voracious eaters. Choose a bird that displays a large appetite. This is an indication of good general health and well being.
  • Choose an outgoing baby. If possible, interact with the baby birds that are available for you to choose from. A well-adjusted baby will not fear human hands, and you should have no problem stroking and gently petting the bird. Place the bird on different perches and offer the bird a few different toys. A bird that is curious and inquisitive rather than frightened should make a happy and emotionally sound pet.
  • Observe the bird's living conditions. Is the bird's enclosure clean and free of feces or other potential havens for bacteria? Birds that are kept in hygienic enclosures are far less likely to harbor illness or infection. Make sure that you buy a bird from a breeder who upholds only the highest standards of cleanliness and sanitation.

Talking to the Breeder

Sometimes the biggest clues as to the health of a clutch of baby birds are those that come from their breeders. To ensure that you end up with a healthy baby, keep the following questions in mind when speaking with a breeder or pet store employee:

  • When were these birds hatched? In order to make sure that you get a baby who is old enough to leave its aviary, inquire as to the hatch date of the bird that you are interested in. Avoid buying birds that have been force weaned or that cannot yet sufficiently feed themselves.
  • Do you keep an open or closed aviary? Birds bred in a closed aviary have a much lower chance of disease due to the fact that all birds in the aviary are essentially quarantined from any outsiders. As many avian diseases are airborne and spread quickly, it is always best to buy from a closed aviary in which the chance of contact with questionable birds is eliminated.
  • Have these babies been sexed? While most avian enthusiasts will tell you that either gender makes a wonderful pet, some owners like to know the sex of the bird that they are buying, particularly if they already own a bird of the same or similar species.
  • Have the babies been tested for disease? Since most diagnostics labs offer combination testing, if the birds you are looking at have been sexed, there is a great possibility that they have also been disease tested. If the breeder has had them tested, ask to see the documentation or certificate from the lab that processed the results.
  • Are the bird's parents on the premises, and if so, can I see them? Healthy parents generally make healthy babies, so it's always a good idea to observe your bird's mother and father if you can. Keep in mind that many breeding birds are not treated as pets, and will likely not be tamed. Base your opinion instead on the overall appearance of the birds, their activity, and their appetites.
  • Have these birds been handfed or parent raised? While many of those involved with aviculture swear by handfeeding to produce tame birds, a considerable amount are quick to point out that parent raised babies usually do just fine as pets, provided that they were adequately socialized by their breeders. This is completely a matter of personal preference but is helpful to know when considering a training schedule for your new pet.
  • What sort of diet have the birds been eating, and what do you recommend? Switching a baby bird's diet "cold turkey" can be harmful or even fatal to the pet. Some birds can be extraordinarily picky eaters and will starve themselves to death rather than try a new or different diet. It's always a good idea to purchase a supply of whatever the bird has been eating before you bring your new pet home. Your bird can always be switched over to a different diet later on once he or she is settled in your home.

By following these guidelines for choosing a healthy baby bird, you can greatly reduce your risk of bringing home a pet with a serious disease or illness. Buying a healthy baby bird is the first vital step toward a long and rewarding relationship with your new pet. Make sure that you get the most out of your baby bird by choosing one wisely, because when it comes to your pet's good health, there's no such thing as being "too picky."