For a novice searching for a pet parrot, determining the health of a prospective pet can be difficult.
Birds have a tendency to hide illness, and a new owner may find himself with a very sick bird in need of veterinary care with no guarantees from the seller.
Most pet stores and many breeders give no guarantees or returns/refunds on livestock. No businessman can afford to pay for other people's mistakes, and it is unreasonable to expect the seller to guarantee the bird unconditionally. Birds are delicate creatures requiring special care and are easily injured or killed, especially when in the hands of inexperienced owners. The animal may be accidentally poisoned by houseplants, or break its neck flying into a picture window or mirror. A bird may be pestered and mauled by unsupervised children or frightened by other family pets to the point that the stress causes death. However, it is not unreasonable for you as a customer to expect that the animal that you are purchasing is healthy when it leaves the store.
You should ask the seller to agree to a veterinary certification of the bird, at your expense, within a week of purchase. That way if blood tests or cultures show that the bird is ill, your money will be refunded or the seller will be responsible for the veterinary bills. Although such testing will identify the most common diseases, there may still be unforeseen problems in the future. Unless there is a specific screening available, congenital defects or genetic diseases may be impossible to identify. The tests are not your unconditional guarantee that your bird will never develop an illness in the future, and the seller and veterinarian will not be responsible if the disease develops at a later time.
Unfortunately, these certification tests are expensive, and quality companion bird veterinary care is difficult to find, especially in more rural areas. Some veterinarians will see a parrot in their clinic, but their qualifications in avian specialty medicine may be limited to a few supplementary courses. Ask them what their avian qualifications are, and how many sick birds they have successfully treated. Clipping wings and trimming nails and beaks is grooming, no veterinary care, so be specific. Your health guarantee will only be as good as the veterinarian that is inspecting the bird. In order to find a knowledgeable and experienced avian vet, you may need to travel some distance, but the time taken will be good insurance against future problems and financial loss.
Most pet stores do not quarantine new birds before placing them for sale in the bird room. This is very dangerous. The high volume of birds that pass through a store from many different breeders makes it a prime situation for the spread of contagious diseases. If the seller will not allow the sale to be conditional on such an inspection at your expense, you should look elsewhere for a reputable dealer that will.
If you are prepared to take your chances without a veterinary consult, do a preliminary health check on your own. A healthy bird will have a plump meaty breast area, and although the keel bone might be obvious, it shouldn't be so prominent that it feels sharp. The plumage should be complete and smooth. A healthy bird preens daily, and if the bird isn't caring for its feathers that may be a sign of illness. Even a molting bird should appear fairly smooth, with single feathers being replaced with waxy protective shafts. Young playful birds often cause damage to their tail feathers as they climb and rough house.
But if entire areas of plumage are missing, the bird may be a "plucker" that self mutilates by pulling out their own feathers. This is a psychological behavior problem that rarely is corrected. There should never be discharge or staining around the eyes, nose, and vent. The bird droppings should be fairly solid, and either a dark green or brown color depending on diet. The bird should be active, and interested in his surroundings. A continuously dozing bird is probably not healthy. Watch to see if the bird will eagerly eat and drink, as sick birds tend to stop eating as well.
Make sure that the feet appear normal, and count the toes! Missing toes and nails indicate improper handling or housing in the bird's past. Seriously overgrown beaks and toenails are a sign of a lack of routine health maintenance. Also, look for these signs in any of the birds in the store. An illness may be contagious, and the bird you are considering may be ill, but not be demonstrating clinical signs yet.