The Problem with Bird Mills
Know the Source of Your Bird to Avoid Life-Long Issues
Most of us have seen the sad videos of puppy mills. Hundreds of wretched creatures huddle in too-small cages. Their only purpose in life is to breed, breed, breed with little regard for their health or welfare. However, most people have not been exposed to the avian equivalent, the bird mill. It is very important to know the source of your pet bird, especially if you are adding this new pet to a home that already has other birds.
What Are the Risks?
The most obvious risk is disease. When birds are kept in minimally decent conditions, they are prone to bacterial infections, and even worse, to such deadly viral diseases as psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) and polyoma. Bird mills that have overcrowded cages often do not practice any form of quarantine. They will get a dozen new breeder birds from various sources and immediately put them into flights with their current flock. This is a recipe for disaster.
The other risk is that many such birds are raised with substandard methods: poor nutrition, poor socialization, and forced weaning can lead to a life of physical and behavioral problems. Parrots are extremely intelligent and social creatures. Failure to supply the necessary care and socialization during the early months contributes to the growing population of unmanageable (and generally abandoned) older birds.
How Can You Prevent This?
Generally the ordinary person looking for a pet bird does not visit one of these mills. They go to a bird store or bird mart, where they cannot see the original conditions the bird had to endure. However, there are some steps you can take to make sure your birds come from the best source possible. Stores that put quality over quantity are your best choice. Avoid stores that have cages stacked everywhere filled with too many birds. I can remember one particular store I visited that kept large cockatoos in small cages without a single toy. A cage of young African Greys near weaning had merely a bowl of water and a plate of sunflower seeds to nibble on. If you see these sorts of things, you are seeing birds that are most likely not getting the best beginning in life.
The most obvious indication of a pet store’s attitude toward birds is the food they feed them. Don’t visit just once. Visit the store in the morning and in the afternoon. Visit a number of times. Are they feeding fresh foods? One store that I love that specializes in birds serves a big bowl of mixed fresh vegetables every morning. The birds have a bowl of seeds, pellets, and fresh water as well. I’ve noticed that their weaning baby birds get even more variety: cereals, egg food, and more than one type of pellet. These people clearly understand the importance of exposing a young bird to as many foods as possible. When a pet store doesn’t do this, they are not preparing a bird for a healthy life. Some birds will be finicky for years to come if not exposed to a healthy variety of foods when weaning. This store also does not pack their store with hundreds of birds. They have a few large flights with small birds such as finches and canaries. They generally keep about a dozen adult parrots and the same number of baby birds available for sale. Because they have not overwhelmed themselves too many birds, they can keep impeccable conditions and feed each bird as if it is a family member.