When a prospective new parrot owner begins to search in earnest for a bird, it is essential that they understand why two seemingly identical birds might have vastly different price tags. The initial gut reaction of most people is to choose the least expensive of the two. But in parrots, as in everything, you get what you pay for. A few extra dollars spent upfront may make the difference between a parrot friend that becomes a bonded member of the family versus a nuisance animal that must be passed on to someone else at a great loss, both financially and emotionally.
Age is one of the greatest determinants of an individual parrot's value. As a general rule, the younger the bird, the higher the price. The reason for this is simple. Parrot minds mature very quickly, and by the age of six months, they are already beginning to reach the mental maturity that forms an "adult" parrot personality. The interaction and socialization necessary for a youngster to become an integral part of a family must begin by this time, or the potential pet quality of the bird diminishes. Even at the tender age of one year, a parrot that has not been handled routinely becomes very difficult to tame, especially for a novice bird owner.
By far the most important factor to consider is how the parrot baby was reared or raised. There are two types of baby parrots available: parent raised and hand raised.
Parent raised baby parrots are captive bred in aviaries where adult breeding pairs lay eggs, incubate, and feed the chicks inside a closed nest box. The resulting babies retain many of the behavioral characteristics of completely wild parrots. These chicks are seldom if ever handled by humans before they are weaned from their parents. Often, the only interaction that these chicks have had with people has been a negative experience, such as being caught in a net or being held down with a thick glove or towel. It is not unexpected then that these babies show signs of fear when faced with human contact, including squawking, clawing, and aggressive biting. Without intensive training by a knowledgeable bird person, or a person with an incredible amount of patience (not to mention the desire to do a lot of research on the subject of taming birds) the animal will never make an ideal pet.
Parent raised babies are often allowed to mature, and then become the next generation of captive-breeding pairs. This is not at all a cruel fate. The captive breeding of parrots is essential to ensure that the demands of the pet trade can be met without unscrupulous people resorting to the smuggling of wild-caught babies. Also, there is a great hope that captive breeding will help to prevent the extinction of many species of parrots that are currently endangered due to habitat loss and human interference in the wild. Some people manage to successfully tame a parent raised baby parrot, but it takes a time commitment far beyond what most people can offer. If the youngster is only a few months old, and the prospective owner has the patience and know-how, a parent raised bird could become a wonderful pet. But there is an alternative. A baby parrot hand-raised by humans.
If you are looking for the very best possible parrot pet, you must demand a hand raised baby. These babies might be hatched in an incubator, or removed from the nest box before their eyes open, and hand-fed by humans around the clock every few hours until fully weaned. These parrots are practically domesticated, although if left for a period of time without regular human contact they can revert to their wild nature. Hand raised parrots are tame, friendly, trusting, and will bond with family members quickly to become a beloved pet.
There are several factors to consider with regard to the quality of hand raised babies as well. The first consideration is the age at which the chicks are "pulled" for hand feeding. Anytime before the eyes open is fine, assuming that the breeder/feeder has the expertise to ensure that the baby attains full growth potential and maintains health. Once the eyes are open, most baby parrots begin to show signs of fear of human contact. There is about a one week grace period after the eyes open in which a baby parrot can be left with the parents without affecting the outcome. But by the time feathers begin to unfurl, the babies are getting too old to pull. Some breeders wait too long to pull the babies because the time involved in hand-feeding is incredible. By this late stage, the chicks only need a couple of feedings a day, and although the chicks will grudgingly eat when offered food, the special human-baby parrot bond is never really achieved.
Another consideration is the method of hand feeding. The baby should be offered food via a spoon or a syringe and allowed to swallow naturally, with the human substituting for the parent bird. Some hand feeding is performed by shoving a flexible tube into the crop and essentially "refueling" without any real affectionate interaction between the baby and the caregiver. This method is used to save time and is a substandard method for "factory" production. Repeatedly shoving a tube into the crop also can irritate the soft lining, and introduce infection.
One less important consideration is the separation of siblings after the age of 4-5 weeks. A baby seems much more willing to bond to humans when no other source of companionship is available. This is not, however, essential, as many trusting, sweet parrot pets were kept with clutchmates until fully weaned and ready for sale.
When you go shopping, don't be fooled. Sellers might try to convince you that any bird under a year old is a baby, or grossly misrepresent the age of the bird. Make the seller show you the hatching year indicated on the closed leg band to prove the age of the bird. A seller might also say a bird was hand raised when it wasn't. You must interact with the bird to determine this for yourself. Hand-raised babies to demand the very highest prices because of their desirability. A well-socialized, properly hand raised baby will step up onto your hand or arm, or will allow gentle petting on the head and neck. It will be cuddly, nuzzling up to be stroked, and might nibble gently on your fingers and hair, or try to play with your jewelry. There will be no indication of fear or tension, only trusting affection. If the bird has already developed a fright reaction to strangers, and will not willingly climb on your shoulder and allow itself to be petted, then the bird already requires socialization lessons that you may not be ready for. If the seller has ANY reason why he doesn't want you to handle the bird (assuming that you are a serious buyer) it may be that he knows the bird will behave badly.
To ensure that you are getting a youngster, you may want to look for a bird that is still in the process of being weaned. The chick may not be fully feathered, may appear uncoordinated, and may make strange growling noises (which is begging for food). You may have to wait a few weeks until you can bring the baby home, but the wait will be worth it. And NEVER try to finish the hand-feeding process yourself just to bring the bird home a few days early. Weaning is a dangerous process in the hands of a novice, and you risk harming the bird with your own impatience. Make sure that you observe the bird-eating well on its own, and remember to feel along the "keel" or breastbone of the bird before taking it home. If the keel is razor-sharp, and you cannot feel significant muscle tissue on either side, the baby may have been weaned too early and maybe in jeopardy of starving to death without continued hand feeding.
Be a knowledgeable consumer. Know what you want before you go shopping. Ask the tough questions. And don't begrudge spending a few extra dollars to pay for quality. In the long run, you will find that paying a little more for a hand raised baby parrot is a great bargain compared to the alternative.