Buying a Healthy Budgerigar

During the course of research work at the University of Liverpool, sponsored by the Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales Budgerigar Society, it has become obvious that many outbreaks of disease in aviaries are started by buying diseased and unhealthy stock. Many fanciers, when obtaining new out-crosses to improve their studs have in mind the defects in their own birds and the features they want to introduce, but take no regard of the health status of the stud and the healthiness of their proposed purchases. Buying a sick or ill bird is dangerous as, not only can years of work be wiped out but also, with a few diseases, the fancier’s own health may be placed in jeopardy.

Assessing the health of the selling stud and individual birds will not totally eliminate the risk from purchased birds as some carry disease without showing symptoms, but it will certainly help. Quarantining purchased birds outside the main birdroom for 3 weeks will also help as the stress of movement, the new environment and quite possibly a change of water and food will often trigger illness in these carriers of disease, so that they can be treated or disposed of without placing the birds in the main room in peril Quarantined birds should be attended to, fed and watered after you have finished your chores in the main bird room.

Health assessment of a stud starts before you get to the bird room. As you are walking down the garden path, listen for the amount of noise from the birdroom, healthy budgerigars make a lot of noise, a quiet bird room is a danger-sign. When you, as a stranger, enter the bird room the birds will be quiet for a few minutes and a little while can be spent chatting to the owner while the birds become used to your presence and the noise starts up again. Budgerigars are active birds, when you enter the bird room they may stop what they are doing, and eye you up with their heads cocked to one side, but their activity should soon resume. If there is not much activity and the birds remain quiet make your excuses and buy elsewhere. If the noise and movement appear satisfactory cast your eye over the seed bowls do they contain seed and husk or has the food been ground to a powder, indicating a digestive problem? Look at the floor of the flights or cages, are the droppings the normal black and white and dry or are they wet, sloppy and an abnormal colour? Look at the birds, are they bright-eyed, their feathers groomed and lying properly and the feathers round the vent free from soiling? If more than a very occasional bird is affected in this way go elsewhere for your out-crosses. Only when you have decided that the stud is healthy, (and a surprising number are not) should you start looking at individual birds.

Having discussed with the vendor the types of birds you are looking for and having picked out a few likely ones he will probably present these to you in show cages for you to make your choice. Are these birds an overall normal shape? How do they behave? Are they bright, alert and upright on the perch or are they skulking on the floor half hidden by the bottom of the cage front? The latter are very probably highly stress-susceptible and are best avoided. A healthy bird will watch what is going on and you can judge this by the way it will turn its head so that one eye is pointing directly at anything moving in its field of view. Some birds are blind in one eye these will always look at you with the same eye, move the bird around the cage with a judging stick to check that it can watch you with both eyes. While looking at the eyes, are they bright and clear? Any sign of redness around the eyes, matting or loss of feathers around the eye and any swelling in this part of the head are signs of disease. You should also check the beak and cere, avoid hens where the cere has grown into a little brown horn and of both sexes in which the cere is not good blue or brown (except in lutinos and albinos where the cere colour is different. Also have a good look at the cere and beak for any sign of scaly-face. Have a look at the bird’s feet and legs – does it put its weight equally on both legs or does it hold one off the perch or out to one side; does it grip the perch properly with two toes in front and two behind? Look closely at the feet and lower part of the legs for signs of scaly-face as this part of the bird can also be affected. Also examine the toes for smell pin-head sized swellings – these are a sure sign of kidney problems. How does the bird hold its feathers, all fluffed up or in the normal way which gives a smooth outline to the body? Are the individual feathers of normal shape and more important, are they all there? Missing flights and tail feathers sometimes never re-grow. Are the undersides of the tail feathers clean or covered with droppings of either the black or white variety? The latter ran be a sign of severe internal problems. Are the feathers around the beak on the “chin” and on the top of the head clean or are they matted with vomit? This is not always easy to see, feeling the feathers is often better. While the birds are being shown to you may pass droppings, are these normal or not? Having picked out two or three birds that you are interested in, get hold of them and handle them. Are they of normal weight, too thin (with a prominent keel bone) or too fat (large masses of fat at front and back of the keel bone, easily felt). Is the crop full or empty? Has the bird got a hernia (prolapse), a swelling in the vent region? Consider the bird’s age, old hens in particular may take a long time to settle into their new home and may never breed. If the fancier is reluctant to let you handle the birds don’t buy.

Don’t be pressurised by the selling fancier and don’t rush in to buy a bird with features you want without assessing the health of the stud and the individual birds put up for sale. If in doubt don’t buy, there are fanciers elsewhere with equally good and healthy, birds.

Original text Copyright 1995, Dr John R Baker.

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