Things you should know prior to bringing home any new birds.
When you keep finches long enough, you will learn many lessons. You will probably learn right away, it is an exciting moment, especially when it is your first bird. Over time, as your flock grows and continue to bring home more new birds, you may also learn how disastrous is can be if you fail to make close observations prior to purchasing your new birds.
For a beginner or a novice finch keeper, buying new birds or deciding which birds to bring home is a relatively simple process. You go to a pet shop, breeder or bird table-top sale, you see a bird you like and buy it until you finally get it home. When you get home, you will usually put the bird straight in the cage or aviary with the other birds if you already have some, right? Well I have got news for you, It is far from being that simple, even whether you are new to finch keeping or a professional.
For me, there are several vital steps to buying birds, which I always follow meticulously. Below are the steps I always take, which never fails me.
• Find reliable trusted sources.
• Always have more than one source to ensure new bloodline.
• Always insist on seeing the environment where the bird/s are kept.
• Ask for the birds history (medical, nutritional, daylight hours).
• Observe the cleanliness of the room.
• Observe the hygiene of the cages.
• Most important, Always insist on handling the bird and examine carefully.
• Look for signs of mould in the environment.
• Check for musty damp smells in the environment.
• Look for signs of blood spots on perches (possible mite infestation)
• Observe the condition of the other birds.
• Ask about supplements, minerals and how often they get these.
• Check for ventilation, heat, cooling and lighting (environmentals).
• Always, Always, Always check the birds feet!
• Check for parasites such as Mites walking about.
• Last but not least, Check the cleanliness of the drinkers, feeders and baths.
My personal examinations of any bird I buy or bring home is pretty detailed, I examine the feathers, feathers are like charts and hold lots of data since their last moult. I will move the feathers out of the way on their abdomen and observe the whole abdomen area looking for black spots, yellow masses, raised liver, colour and tone of skin, the overall shape of the belly, signs of weight loss or weight gain, will look for signs of liquid in the abdomen area. I also like to smell the bird, yup 'smell' because some diseases you can actually smell or if it has been in a room with a smoker.
I'd normally check their eyes, beak, inside their beak, around the head, the vent area, under the wings, their feet, their legs and finally their posture on a perch. When I get the bird home, I will take poop samples and a crop sample to look at under my microscope to look for parasites and other nasties (you would be surprised). As you can tell, I am rarely fooled by anyone selling poor quality birds. I can only hope and wish everyone else would learn to do the same, so we can all have quality birds, thus seeing the moneymakers go out of business.
It may seem a lot to remember, but over time it becomes a natural reaction to check all these things right before parting with your hard-earned money. An honest breeder/seller will give you your money back if the bird dies within a week or two, but sadly most people will not. If someone can pass all my checks then I am highly likely to buy a bird from them, if not then I keep my money and look else where. Why so overkill on the checks, I hear you ask? Well, the answer is self-explanatory! When I buy a bird and bring it home, it could well be a ticking time bomb. Without making any checks it could be bringing with it diseases, viral infections, bacterial infections, fungal infections, yeast infections or even a nasty genetic trait. I want quality birds who are not ill, not carrying genetic deformities, not under/over weight, good plumage, active, come from a healthy environment and will not bring back anything that will harm my flock at home.
Once I have made my selection and paid for my new bird, I will place it into a clean and safe carry cage big enough for the bird and provided with clean water and seed enough to get it home safely. Make sure your cage is secure in the vehicle, so it is not rolling or bouncing about, so the bird does not become stressed. You must make sure your new bird is kept stress-free all the way home. Once you get home, the journey is far from over, there is a lot more work to do.
OK now you're finally safe at home with your new bird/s who should not be stressed. You will need to set up a large or medium-sized cage (if you have not already done so). This cage will be used as a quarantine zone in which you will place your new bird/s for a period of 40 days minimum. This cage should be placed as far away from your main flock as possible, but preferably in another room for safety reasons. The reason for this is to allow time for any possible underlying illnesses to rear their ugly heads, and so that you can treat them away from your own flock safely. Even after all the checks during the process of buying your new bird/s there may be illnesses which were in the beginning of development which may not have been possible to detect in the early stages.
I personally like to have a hospital cage setup and ready at all times just in case there is a bird who becomes ill, it is an environmental-controlled box just in controlling light, heat, humidity and air flow. A simple makeshift one can be built within a short period of time if required. More about hospital cages can be found on the Illnesses section. If one or more bird does become ill, then move that bird to the hospital cage immediately. Either take it to a vet for analysis and treatment or if you are experienced, examine the bird and treat accordingly.
When the 40 days of quarantine are up, you will probably be anxious to introduce your new bird/s to your flock. You will be excited to see their reactions when they are introduced to each other. For me, I prefer to go a day further and place the cage next to the aviary, so they can see each other through the wires, so no pecking can happen, thus getting to know each other harmlessly.
Once you place your new birds into the new aviary, make sure it is not over stocked, crammed and make sure there is no bullying. At first there may be what seems to be aggression, but in reality it is just the pecking order or who is going to be top dog. This aggression can last a week, but usually less than that. From my experience, female gouldians tend to be more aggressive than males, but in a large aviary that would subside quite fast.
There is something I'd very much like to point out when purchasing birds or even if you acquire them for free, try to avoid birds with genetic deformities. If you do plan to get one as a rescue, then do not let it breed. If you do find that eggs are being laid from either the bird with the genetic issue or its partner, then remove the eggs and replace the eggs with plastic eggs, but throw the real eggs away in the bin.
You should avoid at all costs the reproduction of poor genetics, especially in the gouldian finch species. It may sound mean or cruel, but in the long term you are doing future offspring in the gouldian species a huge favour. Gouldian finches are being bred by stupid people who know next to nothing about their species and will breed them with anything they can just to see what results they get, the offspring will always pay the ultimate price in the end. Pure breed gouldians (known as normal's) are worth far more than any other mutated gouldian however pure breeds are rare to the extreme these days.
Avoid breeding siblings, father to daughter, mother to son (inbreeding or linebreeding) or you will weaken the gene pool. Cross-breeding with other species should also be avoided too, although they will not cross with many other species anyway. A professional breeder will pay top dollar for a pure bred gouldian finch if it can be proven to be a pure breed. I leave experiments to scientists because I personally am a keeper of these beautiful creatures, not a scientist!.
I rarely come home with new birds these days because not many people can keep up with my standards. Furthermore, I find it quite sad, but I wish other keepers of gouldian finches would keep the same level of high standards, so we could have more reliable sources and better quality gouldian finches in which to choose from. With the gene pool becoming contaminated through cross/inter-breeding on a daily basis, the chances of finding pure breeds are next to impossible now.
On a final note, I'd like to talk about pet shops. There are mostly bad rumours about buying birds from pet shops, and in a way I can understand why, but there are some pet shops out there which sell quality birds. Firstly, yes there are very few which can be trusted but those who can be trusted are likely to have good contacts, reliable sources and will be able to give you all the information about the birds you buy from them on request.
As a shopkeeper they clearly are a business, they are there to make money and not run a charity. They will have taxes to pay, wages to pay, rent to pay, utility bills to pay and probably many other hidden costs, this is why birds can cost more from a pet shop. Some pet shops have dedicated breeders where the breeder will not sell to anyone else but that shop, and the breeder could be a top quality breeder who gives the shop all the information about the birds he/she sells them. Pet shops take a huge chance by buying birds from just anyone, and can lose a lot of money by doing so.
If a pet shop is able to provide you with quality birds from a good breeder, does it really matter that you paid a little bit more for them? Pet shops should really only sell birds that have closed rings with a shop dedicated mark because it is not uncommon for the unfair customer to return a sick or dead bird which they never even bought from that shop only to demand another or money back. A bird which has a closed ring can be identified much easier than one without a closed ring. This is one of the biggest problems for pet shop owners, and I have a lot of sympathy for them over this.
OK, the downside with pet shops for customers are many. Far too many pet shops sell birds they know nothing about, they don't even know how to care for them whilst in their shop. Some will buy gouldian finches from just about anyone as long as the bird looks OK, then shove them in a cage and put a price tag on it. They will not know any of the bird's history, how old it really is, know nothing about where it came from or if it has a medical history. Some shops will cram far too many birds into one small cage and even mix species, which lead to stress of the birds.
Far too often I see people complain about how dirty the cages are in pet shops, lack of food and water, poor light conditions and the birds just do not look very healthy. I have seen birds dead on the floor of the cage myself whilst visiting some pet shops, told the owners, and they just shrugged their shoulders is if to say: so, what do you expect me to do about it? Fortunately, I know what action to take against such shops, and I am quite willing to see them lose their licence of keeping livestock whenever this happens.
I have seen videos of some Third World countries where they have crammed 40 or more birds into a cage only fit to house 2 birds, out of protest you really should avoid buying from these money making individuals. They do not care one bit about the birds' health, all they see is money, and they are highly unlikely to give you your money back when it suddenly dies on you within the week of getting it home. Many of those birds were trapped from the wild and should be freed.
If you do manage to find a bird loving pet shop, remember to check the cage for hygiene, ask lots of questions and ask for the bird's full history before buying. If the shop is reliable and a true bird lover, you should come home with some nice birds. Remember, a good shopkeeper may be able to provide you with birds you may not be able to get anywhere else if they have contacts with quality breeders. If you do find a pet shop which is not up to standards even if what you see upsets you, never create a scene, just try to educate them politely and they may put things right. If they refuse or fail to correct anything, then feel free to make an official complaint to the local animal welfare to pay a visit.