How To Buy Breeding Stock

© Howard Voren. Click here to use this content.

For the beginner, trying to make the right decisions concerning the purchase of breeding stock is like jumping into the great unknown. Do I buy local or out of state? Do I buy young, older or proven pairs? Do I buy from breeders, jobbers or at bird swaps? Do I demand health certificates, or do I take the word of the seller that the birds are in good health? These are some of the difficult questions that enter the mind of any thoughtful buyer. These are also questions that have no simple answers. All of your decisions have to be made by considering the individual circumstances surrounding the purchase you wish to make. Any of the above scenarios are acceptable under the right circumstances, and each individual situation must be considered on its own merit.

What often appears to be the best advice might leave you with nothing to buy! It is easy to understand the logic behind the following prudent suggestions: You should buy birds from local sources so they do not have to undergo the stress of shipping, and can be visually and physically inspected before they are placed in your ownership. You should buy from reputable aviculturists whose aviaries you have inspected and appear clean. You should buy from a closed facility (one that for X number of years has not purchased birds from any outside sources and increases its breeding stock only by holding back offspring that they themselves produce). You should require the seller to supply a health certificate. You should not pay for the birds until your avian veterinarian re-examines them and certifies that the birds are in good health. If they are a proven pair, you should receive a list of those who have previously purchased the babies so you can verify that they have, in fact, been regularly producing. Last but not least, you should only purchase birds that you truly need to augment your existing collection.

The possibility of following all or even most of these suggestions seldom exists in the real world. Some of them are also inconsistent with other important goals. The question as to whether you should purchase locally or from other states where birds have to be shipped to you “sight unseen” is something that you do not always have a choice about. Even if you do have a choice, you are often better off buying from a well-known out-of-state seller with a national reputation to uphold rather than an unknown local dealer. Your goal should be the acquisition of the best pair of birds possible. Only if all else is equal should the fact that the birds have to be shipped to you become a major consideration. If the birds that you are purchasing are in good condition, the stress of shipping should not cause any problems. In fact, with the premium freight services like Delta Dash or USAir’s PDQ the birds will go through less stress getting from Point A to Point B than most human passengers.

The false idea that shipping, in and of itself, causes enough stress to be detrimental to a bird’s health has its roots in the days of mass importation. Unscrupulous dealers would ship sick birds to clients and claim that poor handling on the part of the airline or the stress of shipping caused the birds to become ill. This excuse was usually followed by the statement that the importers guarantee live delivery only and that if the birds arrived in poor health, the recipients should take issue with the airline. This charade caused quite a bit of negative feelings toward the airlines on the part of many aviculturists. Healthy birds in good condition, if shipped with seed and fruits (such as apple, oranges or grapes, for moisture), should have no trouble spending two days in a shipping crate. Bear in mind that I am talking about birds that are in top condition when shipped.

The Health Check

Being able to see what you are buying before you purchase is always a good idea, but in this case it is seldom possible. When you do get to see the birds, the first thing that you should look at is the chest. It should be well rounded and meaty, not V shaped. Also note whether or not the birds are alert and active. Check the droppings. The white urates should be pure white, without tinges of yellow or green. The green fecal should be firm enough to have shape to it. If fed a pelleted diet, it is often normal for the bird to have brown feces. If the birds are shipped to you, serious inspection of droppings can be made only after the birds have had 24 hours to settle in.

The combined stress of shipping, new surroundings and a different diet will often cause the droppings to appear abnormal for a short period of time. Again, try to buy from those who have a reputation to uphold and will guarantee healthy arrival of the birds. Those who have continually advertised in national publications are the best bet. In most cases, those who cheat their clients will not be able to build the client list that is required to bear the expense of continual national advertising. No nationally known aviculturist whom I know would ever ship a bird that is in an obvious state of poor health.

I believe that requiring that the seller provide a veterinary health certificate can be a double-edged sword that is more likely to hurt the buyer than help him. The type of exam that is performed by a vet so a health certificate can be issued is one that looks for obvious signs of disease. As previously stated, it is extremely rare that a seller with a good national reputation will ship a bird that shows obvious signs of poor health. What can happen is that all the combined stresses that go along with placing the bird in a new environment will compromise the bird’s immune system. This can result in the bird becoming ill from problems that it was harboring before it was shipped but able to fight off until its immune system was compromised by the stress. If you required the seller to obtain certification that the birds were healthy before they were shipped, then they are within their rights to ignore your complaints. In this situation, you have paid for a health certificate that protects the seller, not the buyer.

If you would like the birds to go through a health check, it should be done buy your veterinarian within 72 hours after you have received the birds. Have the seller agree to a full refund on the cost of the birds if your vet finds that they have some type of major problem. You will lose the cost of shipping both ways and the vet expense. If the only problem that the birds have is a minor bacterial infection, it will pay you to keep them and cure them if they are a good pair of birds. In the case of a conflict of opinion, allow your vet to consult with the seller’s vet to determine whether or not a problem should be considered major or minor. The only exception to this is when you are purchasing birds that are infamous for papilloma. This disease is quite prevalent in imported greenwinged and redbellied macaws, although all adult imported macaws should be suspect. In the case of these types of macaws, you should demand and offer to pay for a papilloma test done by the seller’s vet prior to having the birds shipped to you. Contact the vet who will be performing the exam, send him a check for the service, and ask that he record the band numbers of the birds on the certificate. If the seller refuses to have the birds examined at your expense by his vet, look for another seller.

The value of trying to buy birds from a “closed facility” has been greatly diminished since importation has been stopped. Papilloma, polyomavirus, Pacheco’s disease, proventricular dilatation disease (wasting syndrome) and psittacine beak and feather disease were all introduced into American aviaries by imported birds. The logical reasoning was that if you ceased to introduce new birds into your aviary, you ended the possibility of introducing any of the imported diseases that you didn’t already have. Many of these diseases could be harbored by birds for years before they would show symptoms, yet they might at any time be shedding the disease. The farther importation falls into the past, the less the likelihood is of being affected by this type of problem from birds that were previously imported. Most of the imported birds that were going to “break” with these types of diseases have already done so. When outbreaks of these diseases did take place in aviaries, the causative agents were not particular as to whether they infected domestically bred or imported birds. That is why it is always important to quarantine your new acquisitions.

Above and beyond this, responsible aviculturists realize the need to expand their gene pools to reduce inbreeding so that we can ensure that there will be pet birds in the future. At the Institute, we have a large enough population ‘in many species so that we do not have to rely on the introduction of new bloodlines from other aviaries. This, however, is not true of all of the species that we breed. This is also not true for most of the species that are produced by some of the finest small facilities throughout the United States. We all have the responsibility to trade bloodlines with other facilities in order to ensure the future of aviculture in the U.S.

Payment Etiquette

Many newcomers to the industry are surprised to find out that the long-standing custom is to pay for the birds before they are shipped. The industry evolved to this point after shippers discovered that they could not exist unless they enforced this policy. They were all faced with the unfortunate reality that there were more than just a few people who made their living by receiving shipments of birds that they had no intention of paying for. It was also not uncommon for buyers to accept C.O.D. cash terms over the telephone, only to refuse to pay for the birds when they arrived at the airport of destination. They would then try to talk the sellers into releasing the birds to them with the promise that the money would be in the mail the following day. Due to this kind of history, the seller has every right to demand payment up front. If you feel that you can’t trust the seller with your money, you shouldn’t trust his birds.

Judging Aviary Appearance

Trying to determine that the seller runs a clean facility is very difficult. All the professional aviculturists I know would not permit someone to disturb their breeders by walking through their aviaries, just so they can sell a pair of birds. Allowing public access is also unsound from the standpoint of disease control. Another thing to consider is that how clean an aviary is kept is not necessarily always a major determining factor in whether or not you should purchase a pair of birds. I have purchased some of my best breeders from aviaries where the owners had lost interest and were in the process of slowly selling out. When people lose interest, it is very common for them to stop cleaning up as often and allow their facility to degrade to the point were many would consider it dirty. I have also purchased some of my worst “deals” from facilities that are spotless.

Although much more prevalent in dirty aviaries than clean ones, bacterial infections are something you should worry about even from the cleanest facility. If you have any doubts about the bacterial status of a pair of birds, have your vet check them and run a bacterial culture. As far as some of the dangerous viruses are concerned, they do not discriminate between clean and dirty facilities. It can be difficult to determine if a breeder is selling out due to legitimate reasons or due to an unstoppable viral disease. If you are dealing with a facility that is selling out, you might ask for a letter from the owner’s avian veterinarian certifying that to the best of his knowledge the birds being liquidated do not come from an aviary that has had recent problems with any of the deadly viral diseases.

Purchasing Pairs

One of the most common mistakes made by novices is the decision to call around looking to purchase proven pairs. It’s like a rabbit looking for a carrot in a cage. If it doesn’t get snared, it’s lucky. There are many legitimate and honest people who decide to sell good proven pairs. This is usually in cases where they are selling out completely, eliminating a certain type of bird from their production or overproduction. The chances, however, of you finding one by calling around talking to aviculturists who have babies for sale is slim.

Look for those who advertise pairs for sale. They will usually be the ones who are directly selling out or those who are brokering the pairs for the breeder. Some of the brokers who liquidate entire aviaries_’for those who are selling out will make the rounds of the large bird sales and swaps. These sales can also harbor some good finds and fantastic buys. Life teaches me, however, that these types of opportunities are not usually around when you are looking for them. You stumble into them when you least expect it and have to be ready to make a fast decision with the money to back it up.

If legitimate proven pairs are found don’t expect them to be offered at bargain-basement prices. You will seldom find real diamonds for the price of glass. You must also realize that it will be next to impossible to verify if the pair you are buying is, in fact, a proven pair-unless the seller is selling out completely and he has only one pair of the specific type of bird that you are buying. In a case like this, the seller should not be bothered by a request from the potential buyer to speak to those who have previously purchased the babies. In most other scenarios, however, asking to speak to the clients who had previously purchased the birds is usually unfruitful.

If you are buying a proven pair from someone who is selling a few pairs of a certain species because he has overproduction, he most certainly will not take the chance of introducing you to his clients. He understandably needs to protect his sales potential. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that causes people to sell proven pairs is that they do not have a market for the birds that they produce. I have purchased “proven” pairs of Amazons from small “backyard breeders” who still have the last three years worth of production sitting in holding cages. Asking to speak to clients who do not exist is foolish. In cases like this, I have no choice but to accept the word of the seller that the pair I am buying did, in fact, produce the babies that they are showing me. Also remember that it is very common for regularly producing pairs to take one to three years off when they are moved to different circumstances. It is also not uncommon for pairs that have never previously produced to begin producing a short time after they have been moved.

The purchase of young “untried” sexed pairs will guarantee a wait, but will also guarantee that you are not buying someone else’s problem or retired pair. It also allows you to know the true age of your birds. Remember that success is something that is worth waiting for. A major advantage in this is that the birds mature using your aviaries as their only frame of reference. Birds that have matured elsewhere might resent how they are kept in comparison with where they came from, even though, in your opinion, their housing has improved.

When purchasing young birds, try to buy those that have been raised, weaned and socialized with other birds of the same type. In most species, hand-raised birds that are imprinted on humans do not present a problem as long as they are not overly dependent on human contact. This can happen when babies are not given the opportunity to socialize with other birds of the same or similar type during and directly after the hand-feeding and weaning stages of development.

Parent-raised and weaned birds are the best choice but are seldom available. They will usually breed at a much earlier age, especially in the larger species. The next best option is hand-raised birds that have always been kept in a group of the same or similar species and that have not been handled during the weaning stage in order to keep them from cementing their bond with humans. These also make the worst pets due to their lack of desire for human contact. Tame, imprinted parrots that have grown up socializing with other similar birds will take longer to begin serious breeding. How much longer is usually related to the size of the birds. Green-cheeked conures might only take a few months longer, while with the larger macaws you will be waiting several extra years. One of the major advantages in working with tame birds as breeders, however, is their salability after they are retired. When tame imprinted pairs are no longer productive, they can be split up and sold as pets. A few months away from their mates will usually result in them, once again, accepting human companionship. Retired pairs that were never tame and have no value in the pet trade are doomed to be passed from one aviary to another until they die. Each owner along the line will wonder why this “proven pair” is not producing, become disheartened and sell them to someone else.

Augmenting Your Collection

Heeding the advice that you should only purchase what you need to augment your existing “collection” is presumptive. You can only guess what your future needs will be. You might desire to purchase more pairs of the same types that you are already producing in sufficient quantities in order to enhance your gene pool. There is also the fact that having a larger “species availability” list makes you more attractive as a supplier. In cases like this, you might wish to purchase green-cheeked conures even though you are already producing maroon-bellied conures.

You also never know if you will ever have another opportunity to purchase a pair as good as the pair that you are considering at the moment. These, as well as many other considerations that are specific to your set of personal circumstances, must all be considered when trying to make a decision as to whether or not a particular pair of birds is a worthwhile addition to your collection. Always bear in mind that a good pair of domestically bred birds whose age and origin can be verified by band number and code is an investment that can always be resold if necessary.