When a bird is moved from one location to another, whether it is from a breeder to a pet store or from the store to the bird’s new home, it can be stressful. It is important for store personnel to know how to properly bring birds into the store as well as to be able to educate customers on the best ways to bring a new pet home and travel with the bird, if necessary.
When a pet store is getting ready to receive birds from a breeder or distributor, store cages should be set up properly well in advance of the arrival time. The setup should also be appropriate for the species of birds that are expected. The cages must be cleaned and then disinfected with either a five- to 10-percent bleach solution, or a product made especially for disinfecting bird cages and other accessories. Then all cleaning-solution residue must be completely rinsed off.
This cleaning protocol ensures that newly arrived birds are not exposed to any infectious diseases that can easily overwhelm a young, stressed out bird. It is best to avoid the use of any wood or rope products in the store cages, as these items cannot be sanitized as easily as plastic and metal products. If wood or rope is used, be sure it is thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, rinsed and dried completely before being placed with new birds. If the item is not fully dried before reusing, the moist wood and rope can become infected with bacteria.
Birds, especially those that have not come from a known breeder that the store has worked with before, should never be put near birds already in the store. When possible, new arrivals should be quarantined in a room with separate ventilation. Store employees must also clean up after caring for the new birds.
Employees should watch new arrivals carefully and note if they are not eating properly or not playing, chattering and preening within two to three days. Young birds will nap more during the day, but they should be bright-eyed and active when awake. Sitting fluffed on a perch and not interacting with people or other birds is a sign that the bird is badly stressed or ill.
The size of the cage to set up for arriving birds depends on how many of the same species pets are coming in, as it is always best to keep young birds together for the first week or two. This is especially true for the most common parrot species sold in pet stores—parakeets and cockatiels. Generally, birds will be a lot calmer after moving if kept together. However, hand-fed birds will not be as stressed as those that were not, so it is often acceptable to keep them singly, as long as they are given attention from employees during the day. Keep in mind that most hand-fed birds need to be taken out every day if they are to stay tame and sweet. In fact, some species, such as those in the lovebird family, can become unfriendly very quickly if not given enough attention.
It is vitally important that the store feeds the birds foods they are familiar with, as they will starve themselves to death if they are given a food they do not recognize. Finches, parakeets and cockatiels are all seedeaters in the wild, and they can be given this diet in captivity, as long as they are given some supplemental food items such as greens and pellets. Some breeders give mainly a pellet food to their young parakeets and cockatiels, therefore the store must give them the same diet. Note that some pellets are colorful, while others are not. If a bird that has been given colorful pellets is offered only natural-colored ones, they may not eat them. Store personnel must know what was being fed and be sure the young birds are eating the food and not just breaking it up and throwing it out.
Although water rarely causes a problem for new birds, it is something to consider if the birds are being shipped to the store from a distant location. It is best to use filtered water with birds, especially if the local water supply is highly chlorinated or known not to be very good. Bottled water can work as well, but due to the expense, using a filter on the faucet or a pitcher with a filter may work better in pet stores and homes that need it.
When a pet bird is sold, new owners can do a few things to be sure that stress is kept to a minimum. The pet should be put into a box or carrying case that has airflow, but that is also fairly enclosed so it is dark inside. The darkness will keep the bird much calmer for the ride home. Some customers may want to bring their pet home in a cage, but it is not a good idea, as it is not dark, and the bird could get hurt since it is not used to this environment.
Supplying the cage at home with the same toys that the bird played with in the store is a great way to help the bird feel more comfortable. In some cases, letting the owner take the toys that are in the store cage home is a good idea, especially with sensitive larger parrot species. The owner should also pick up some new toys, as well, and they should swap out the toys every month to acclimate the bird to change. Note that smaller parrot species that are very social, such as parakeets and cockatiels, should have a mirror toy available to them when they are first brought home alone, as they will see their reflection as a friend, and usually they will not get too attached to it as they would another bird.
When a pet has to travel to the veterinarian or to a summer home, it is best to put it in a travel cage or carrying case for the trip, as usually its own cage can be too large to transport easily or not safe for travel. The travel container should have a very sturdy perch, as well as a food and water cup for longer trips. Strapping the travel container in the back seat is the safest way to move a bird from one location to another, and the owner should speak to the bird often if their pet seems troubled in any way while traveling. Thankfully, most birds typically enjoy going on trips and rarely get stressed out.
It is rare for pet birds to have any problems when they are moved from a breeder or distributor to a pet store setting. It will depend on many factors, including how far the bird had to travel, how stressful the travel was, the general health of the bird and other factors. Stores should keep new birds for at least a week, to be sure they are completely healthy before letting them go to a new home. That also gives a new bird owner time to set up the cage properly, which will allow the bird to adjust quickly to its new environment.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.