Is it Safe to Band Cockatiels?

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Q: I have been breeding cockatiels for about a year and would like to start banding them. I have found only one article that addresses the subject of banding cockatiels. It says that small-time breeders should not attempt to band cockatiels because the parents might perceive the band as a foreign object, and may pick at it and cause injury to the chick. What has been you’re experience with banding?

A: Before I come to the point of your question, let’s look at how these anti-banding feelings worked their way into our culture. In the “olden days,” most parrots were not banded. Some of the only breeding programs involving hookbills that were sophisticated enough to need records were those that produced mutation budgies and lovebirds. Even the USDA did not require bands on the tens of thousands of birds that were imported annually. They counted them when they arrived and counted them again when they were to be released for sale. No form of individual identification was ever used, and no one cared. In fact, no one manufactured bands that could withstand the destructive chewing habits of the larger parrots.

About 20 years ago, three things happened to change that. The first was a decision by the USDA that all imported birds must be banded with an identification number while in quarantine. The second was the rise in popularity of the easily bred cockatiel and the appearance of all of its mutations. The third was a major increase in the popularity of psittaculture and the subsequent desire to mark birds so they could be identified as domestically bred as opposed to imported.

The one that created the negative feelings about banding was the decision by the USDA that importers had to band all birds that entered the U.S. while they were in quarantine. Some importers fought tooth and nail to try to have the decision reversed. They claimed that the birds would get the bands hung up on the cage wire and injure themselves. They claimed that the birds would chew their feet off trying to remove the foreign objects. They then explained that since there was no regulation requiring that the birds be banded after they cleared quarantine, they would have to cut off all the bands as soon as they were released by the USDA They insisted that this would have to be done for the birds’ welfare.

I was personally involved in just such a protest. We spent four hours with the USDA agents, banding all the birds in the quarantine prior to their release. The agents then signed the documents that cleared the shipment for sale in the U.S. We then proceeded, on orders from the importer, to cut all the bands off the birds. We made sure that the USDA agents saw us doing this as they packed to leave.

In trying to gain some public support for this protest, the importers warned all of their clients–on a nationwide basis-what a dangerous thing banding was. They recommended that anyone who received a parrot with a band on its leg should bring it immediately to a vet and have the band removed before the bird severely injured itself.

All of this was for naught. The USDA didn’t back down, and the birds did not chew their feet off. There were some problems with thin-gauge cage wire sliding into the open end of the band if it was not closed tightly enough. This problem was easily overcome with an extra squeeze of the banding pliers in order to make sure that the open band was completely closed.

Unfortunately, there are still bird people and some vets who cut the bands off of every bird they get their hands on. Birds that get their bands hung up in cages do so because the design of the cage is faulty. Instead of having their clients check the cages for possible hazards, some vets will cut off the band and present the client with an identification certificate. This certificate will supposedly prove that the bird was domestically bred if the client should ever choose to sell the bird.

For seasoned professionals, these certificates are worthless because you have no way of knowing if the bird you are buying is the one that is listed on the certification. I was recently asked my opinion of a perfect case in point. A seller transferred a pair of domestically bred, closed-banded macaws to a buyer with the guarantee that they were healthy and, in fact, male and female. The seller had previously had the pair surgically sexed and tattooed. When the buyer brought the pair to a vet to have them examined and resexed, the first thing the vet did was cut off the bands. He then resexed the birds. Unfortunately, the vet claims that the male was a female and advised the client to return the birds. The seller refused to take the birds back because the birds could no longer be positively identified, nor resold as domestically bred to a skeptical buyer. The vet had by his actions turned the birds into damaged goods. I agreed with the seller.

As far as babies being mutilated by their parents because the band is a foreign object, I know of no instance where this has taken place with parrots. Babies are usually not big enough to be banded until they are over 3 weeks old. At this age, Mom and Dad have usually become less attentive. It would be unusual for them to make a fuss about a small metal ring. Of course, there will always be the exception to the rule. The one thing that is for sure is that the advantages of banding far outweigh any possible problems that can be caused by them. Regardless of how small your operation is, the birds that you produce are worth less to any intelligent buyer if they are not banded.