A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush

First Published in Birdworld Magazine November/December 1988

Psittacine Breeding & Research Farm
Box 13, Point Arena, CA 95468 USA
PH: (213) 819-1723

There are bad apples in every barrel, and the bird trade is no exception. Learning to recognize a rip-off can be simple if you learn to see what you are looking at, not what you want to see. Scams are set up for you and very carefully thought out. If a bird is too cheap, the owner is "pressed" for a quick sale, or has a hard-luck story, watch out! Greed is easily played upon. Here are some points to be kept in mind whether buying locally or by long-distance.

  1. Don't be in a hurry or impulse-buy anything.
  2. When discussing a bird, check the Latin species name; a "blue-crowned" is an Amazon as well as a Philippine Hanging parrot.
  3. Find out how long the bird has been with its current owner, reason for sale, and prior owner or point of origin. This may prevent you buying a smuggled bird.
  4. Do your homework - many species have similarities that are very difficult to assess, and some people will represent one species as another, either knowingly or not; as in Greater Sulpher Crested Cockatoos, buffons Macaws, Orange Wing Amazons or Blue Fronted Amazons, to cite a few. If you have not seen (or are not sure that you have seen) the bird in question, find a breeder who is NOT selling his bird and ask to see it. The other breeder may want to exchange babies later, so set up a working relationship if you can.
  5. Ask for references and CHECK THEM OUT. Get a complete name and physical address if long-distance, then check it. If your blue Hyacinth shipment turns into a blue Budgie, you will need that information.
  6. Expect to deal in cash. If you do not know the party you are dealing with and you have to travel, arrange with a bank to use a local branch. Cashier's checks and bank transfers are accepted as payment by many breeders. Do not walk into a situation with thousands of dollars in your pocket, not knowing who is meeting you or what they look like. People are "rolled" every day for pocket change, don't set yourself up.
  7. Ask about guarantees. Usually there are none after acceptance of the bird. You are supposed to know what you are doing; vet checks are required prior to shipments, but if you are not able to have this done, then check the vent for signs of fecal matter or diarrhea, the keel for proper overall weight, and the nose and mouth for sores, nasal discharge, etc. and have the bird checked as soon as possible. Check the droppings for correct amounts of urine and fecal matter. How does the bird appear overall? Is he droopy or listless? If he is missing toes, eyes, or other parts, and you are not prepared to deal with a problem for the balance of his life, wait for another bird. Remember that what you see is what you get - and never more than that.
  8. If you are buying a hand-fed baby, make sure it is 100% handleable. Do the sellers have the parents, or did they buy an infant to raise and sell? Does it matter to you so long as the bird is tame? Insist on closed-banded birds for babies, preferably with some identification as to the individual being purchased.
  9. Ask to see the parents if purchasing a baby; but remember that breeding facilities are not zoos, and many breeders may not allow parent birds to be upset by the presence of strangers.
  10. A truly proven pair of birds is RARELY sold. Our Blue & Gold Macaws, for example, gave us 11 eggs this season at $1250 to $1500, who would sell that gold mine? Ask to see records of growth and development, and get copies for your records.
  11. Buying Long-distance: get photos first. Check references. BIRD WORLD has a complaint file and state listings of Veterinarians, use it. Don't hesitate to spend a little and fly to pick up your birds, especially the expensive ones. Better to waste a little air fare than the whole purchase price. If in doubt that a shipment is being made, call the airline with the waybill number. Use a receipt signed by both parties, stating the arrangements and the LATIN NAME for your bird. Sellers are responsible only for shat is put in writing.

Now a few scams I have run across:

A party in Tucson, representing himself as a vet, got deposits of $500 each from about 30 people for a very underpriced baby Hyacinth Macaw - depositors are told the bird is in California, and it will take him a day or so to drive there and pick it up for them. The FBI was called in on that one. I found out from them that he made about $15,000 that particular weekend, before skipping town. He did forget to erase his answerphone, but I don't think he was ever apprehended.

Be careful of persons who deal with you for a few times in lesser-price birds, and then set you up for the big one - don't abandon your good judgment because you have "done business before".

The rules never change.

If the person you are dealing with changes the deal in midstream, for example the amount of money, amount of birds available, method of payment or transportation, stop and reassess the entire situation. If the seller is difficult to reach by phone, won't send photos, won't return your calls within a reasonable time frame, won't vet check or confirm shipping, pass. A lady called me from Illinois the other night, we chatted 45 minutes. She was considering the purchase of a pair of Hyacinth Macaws. It seemed that a lady from New York, who was never in one place long enough to have a telephone, had called her. The birds she "owned" were farmed out all over the east coast, and she would only meet the buyer at an airport. Told to bring $18,00 in cash, the buyer was wondering if this was usual. The seller did not want a vet check, would not guarantee health at time of purchase, or even a true pair. It did not add up to me - so I advised the buyer to use BIRD WORLD vet listings, and tell the seller we would meet her with a vet in tow. I also told her to put the money in a nearby bank, not to put it in her pocket. I have not heard from the lady in Illinois; I assume that telling the seller we would bring a vet stopped the deal at that point.

Before you spend - think - is it right? Is it handled in a businesslike manner: Am I prepared to believe what I see, or just see what I believe? Once you are working with reliable people, you will never be tempted by the "birds in the bush"