Choosing Your New Bird
Birds have diverse personalities, but can always be relied upon to entertain!
From backyard birds like chickens, up to the highly-intelligent parrots, birds bring joy to thousands of homes across the UK – in 2016 we had over a million birds living with us!
Looking into the personality of each of the bird species and seeing which might be the most suitable for you is a really important first step. From there, it’s time to think about where you might get your new family member or members from – unfortunately, plenty of birds end up available for adoption.
More about choosing your new bird
- Budgies: These popular, brightly coloured birds are intelligent, alert and need stimulation. With a lifespan of 5-10 years, these little birds need to be a part of the family, and can be very affectionate.
- Finches: The smallest of the common pet birds, finches need to be kept in groups, and have the space to stretch their wings and fly. Susceptible to stress, keeping these little guys in a stable and interesting environment is an important part of management.
- Cockatiels: Originating in Australia, these pretty birds can live up to twenty years. Social birds, they love company, and can also be trained to do tricks! They are also noisy and can be destructive though, so it's important to know what you are taking on.
- Canaries: These small birds need to live in pairs or groups, and can live up to ten years. Difficult to train, and often not keen on handling, canaries will get their stimulation from toys in their environment so it is important to get creative.
- Chickens: Although often kept for eggs, chickens can quickly become part of the family! Highly lovable, these characterful birds enjoy company. Be warned though, their enthusiastic scratching can quickly damage garden plants if they are given free rein.
- African Grey Parrots: The intelligence of these birds is famed, along with their long lifespan and ability to learn words - these birds are a huge commitment. In return though you get an amazing bond that can last over half a century!
Young birds are often very cute, as well as being more receptive to new experiences such as handling. This process takes time, however, so it is important to take into account the effort and patience you will need to bond with your new bird or birds. Older pets available for rehoming are often already socialised although, like any pet in a new environment, they will take a little time to settle in. This can speed up integrating into a new family, and for some of the more intelligent species may mean they come knowing a few tricks or even words!
Any pet coming from an environment where they are regularly handled will have an advantage over an unhandled pet in terms of socialising and handling. Lifespan is also important when looking at getting a new pet – the life expectancy of the bird species varies hugely, and knowing approximately how long you are committing to is important.
For example many parrots can live for half a century or more – if you get a parrot when you’re thirty, you truly could be lifelong companions! For someone who may not be able to commit this time, rehoming an older pet, or one with a shorter lifespan, might be a great option. While choosing between young bird and an adult will very much depend on you and your family’s preference and circumstances, it is always worth considering adopting. Pre-owned pets may be calmer and already used to handling, and you get the joy of knowing you have given an older pet a second chance at a loving home.
Birds are wonderful pets, but have more complex needs than many people estimate. This means that sadly they can develop behavioural tendencies or have requirements that don’t fit into their current home environment. Unwanted pet birds often end up available for rehoming, which may be through rescue centres, or through other methods such as the internet. Rehoming centres are often not considered when potential owners are deciding where to get their new pet from, but can be a fantastic place to look if you are wanting to add a feathered friend to your home. There are also private adoption agencies or rescue groups, some of which work out of centres and some which use foster homes – this is especially true of the parrot species, which have very complicated emotional needs and can find changes hard.
Looking online for your local area is generally the fastest way to find local rescue centres that work with birds – these might be part of a larger rescue centre, just birds or even species specific rescues. While most are great, it is important to make sure you are happy that the pets there are being well looked after. A good rescue centre will know about the pets in their care, and will also ask you lots of questions too. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little quizzed! The rescue centre will want to make sure you are the right pet parent, and should always put the pet first.
Chickens are also often available to rescue after they have spent the earlier part of their life on a farm. These chickens are usually still laying, but not at the rate required in a commercial environment. As chickens that are past their useful lifespan on the farm may be destroyed if not rehomed, getting chickens in this way is a wonderful way to support rehoming, whilst still getting a good layer! The British Hen Welfare Trust has rehomed over 600000 chickens in this way!
While rescue is a great way to help pets in need, getting the right bird for your family is the most important point, and if you can’t find the right pet through adoption a pet shop can be a good place to look. The main consideration when looking at purchasing from a pet (or farm) shop is to make sure that the animals are in the very best health, and the people working in the store know their needs, individually and as a species. This should include knowledge about where they come from, how much handling they have had and how best to care for them.
Online rehoming is a common source of birds. This may be due to a change in circumstance for the current owner, or a realisation that their pet is too much of a commitment. While online rehoming offers a bird a second change it is important to check that they are not being sold due to health issues that you are not prepared for, that they are well socialised and open to handling, and that they will suit you and your family. Online rehoming usually comes with no guarantees that the pet can be returned if you discover a problem once you get home, so it is important to be sure before you commit.
Breeders may be a more reputable source of birds, young or adult, although it is important to make sure that they are breeding to a high standard, as sadly some people do breed purely for money. Although you may find it difficult to assess a breeder, here are some top questions to ask to get a feel for how good a breeder is:
- Do you handle the birds? One of the benefits of birds coming from a home environment is that they are often handled from a young age. This should be the norm when buying from
- Do you only have one species? Most breeders are passionate about the birds they and usually focus on one or possibly two species. This helps them be experts in the species that they rear the more specialised they are, the more likely you are to get a healthy bird and the right information.
- How long have you been breeding for? Experience counts for a lot, and also means that a breeder may have more information on the previous generations, which can help reduce the risk of buying a bird with a genetic issue.
- Are the birds identifiable? Birds should ideally come with a ring for identification, or a microchip if they are large enough. This will help with identification if they are ever lost or stolen. Many breeders will get this done for you, especially for rarer species like the large parrots.
- When were the birds hatched? Good breeders will want to keep birds until they are weaned, and won't force wean too young.
- Have the birds been tested for disease? While not all breeders will do this, some may, especially if they also do genetic testing to look at gender. If tests have been done, make sure to see the results.
- Can I see the parents? The apple generally doesn't fall far from the tree, and this is the case with birds too! Happy, healthy parents will generally breed stronger offspring, although don't be alarmed if they aren't tame many breeding birds are not treated as household pets.
While we would always suggest trying adopting before buying, if you can’t find the right bird for you, you may want to look at pet shops. Importantly, pet shops are not all the same, and getting your new pet or pets from a reputable pet shop is critical – a happy, healthy start in life will set you both up for success.
So, how do you identify a ‘good’ pet shop?
- The birds receive regular health checks. Pets should be checked every day, and isolated and taken to the vet if they are showing any signs of being unwell.
- There is plenty of information available. A good pet shop will want to make sure you know everything you need to about caring for your pets. This means that there should be plenty of information available both from the people working with them, and available as leaflets or information sheets to take away.
- They ask questions. Just like with breeders, the long-term health and welfare should be the number one consideration for a pet shop. This means if you don’t ‘fit the bill’ as an owner for a specific species, you should expect to be refused a pet, or redirected towards a more suitable pet type. If selling you petsseems more important than checking the pet is right for you, this should be a red flag.
- Enrichment. Enrichment means providing interesting furniture and challenges in the enclosure to keep pets stimulated. For birds this will depend on their needs, but can include bells, mirrors, foraging boxes, scratch feeding and chewable items.
- Space. The amount of space needed will depend on the pet, but you should expect to see pets showing natural inquisitive behaviours and with plenty of room to stretch their legs and wings!
- Regular handling. Regular handling from being babies is important for socialisation. Birds in pet shops need this too, and should be handled every day. Pets who are calm when handled properly are a good indication that this has been happening.
- Clean. Good pet shops should be cleaning their pet enclosures every day.
- Training. If you have to wait for a specific member of staff to help you with picking your pet, this is a good sign. Training for employees is a great way to identify that the pet shop prioritises the needs of the pets, and while you might have to wait longer to speak to the right person, you'll know they have the knowledge and expertise you need to help you make the right decisions.
- Food and water. All pets need access to clean and appropriate food, as well as water, at all times, and provided food should be good quality. Old or soiled food should be removed.
Although a vet check is recommended for all new pets, you should also have a check over of your potential new family member before you bring them home to make sure you can’t spot any warning signs of them being unhealthy or poorly handled. It is also worth checking with wherever you get your pet(s) from to see if they have had any screening vet checks, as well as any health concerns, in the past.
- Handle them yourself. For birds who will be out and handled, handling them before you buy is important. Pets who have been regularly handled since birth should be already quite tame, although they may be more nervous with a new person, especially in more nervous species.
- Feathers. Pets should have clean, shiny feathers, with no dirty patches or bald areas, and have no sores or scabs. Make sure to check they are clean around their bottom.
- Eyes. Eyes should be bright and open, with no build-up of discharge in the corners.
- Beak. The nasal openings should be clean, and free from crusts or discharge. The beak should not be overgrown or cause any restriction of feeding.
- Movement. Pets should be able to move freely, with no limping, or obvious swellings on legs, feet or toes. Flight, for able birds, should be unrestricted. The tail should rest still, continuous bobbing of the tail can indicate trouble with breathing.
- Fully weaned and feathered. Birds should be old enough to feed themselves while some advocate hand-feeding as part of bonding, there is no evidence that this makes a difference, and actually hand-rearing can be difficult and have devastating consequences if done improperly.
- Outgoing. Curious and inquisitive birds will generally make better pets.
As exciting and a time as getting a new bird is, it is important to remember that getting a new pet is a transaction, and you need to make sure everything is above board. This means exchanging paperwork which, while not very glamorous, is the best way to protect you and the pet shop, breeder or rescue centre if there are any problems.
Here are some of the paperwork items you might want for your new bird:
- Vet check certification. Your pet may have had a vet check before you bring them home. If they have, the breeder or pet shop should have a printout of the notes or be able to tell you where they are registered and make sure you can continue their care.
- A receipt. Just like any monetary exchange, it is best to have documentation of the money you have paid, signed by both you and the seller. If you get a pet from a rescue centre or pet shop, you should receive a receipt for any fees paid just as you normally would.
- An agreement. Anything you agree verbally with the breeder, rescue centre, previous owner or pet shop should be documented and signed. This includes if they have agreed to take the pet back if there are any problems, and any other commitments either of you have made.
- Legal paperwork. If you're buying an African Grey or Timneh Grey parrot you'll need the breeder to give you an Article 10 Certificate, or you'll need to see it. This is because these birds are on the CITES list, which protects species that are threatened. Other popular birds listed on CITES include some macaws and cockatoos, so it's important to make sure your transaction is legal.
Wherever you get your new pet from, it should be an enjoyable experience. Bringing a new family member home is a fantastic moment and something to treasure, whatever species of bird suits you best.
Don’t forget to speak to your local Companion Care for advice on getting the best care for your bird!