The Sale of Unweaned Birds
by Monica Engebretson, Program Coordinator, Animal Protection Institute
An unweaned animal is an animal who is unable to feed itself sufficiently for healthy survival. While fifteen states prohibit the sale of some unweaned animals, most limit the restriction to puppies and kittens under the age of eight weeks (some states also prohibit the sale of rabbits, chickens, and ducks under a certain age). However, no states address the sale of unweaned companion birds despite the serious animal welfare and consumer protection concerns associated with the practice.
Many breeders and stores will sell unweaned baby birds, claiming that finishing the weaning process by the purchaser will "guarantee a hand-tame bird" and "insure bonding." Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that an inexperienced individual attempting to hand-feed a chick often produces tragic results including infection, aspiration pneumonia, burned or ulcerated crops, malnutrition, starvation, emotional/developmental conditions, or even death. Below is a description of some of the most common conditions suffered by birds that are sold unweaned.
Inexperienced hand feeders often do not know how easy it is for a parrot to accidentally inhale formula, which can happen if food is pushed into the baby's mouth either too fast or too slow, or into the wrong position in the mouth. Food inhaled into the lungs results in immediate death due to drowning or in a serious medical condition called aspiration pneumonia, which chicks rarely survive.
Incredibly common, crop burns are caused by feeding formula that is too hot. Caretakers often do not realize the damage until days later, when the burn inside the crop fistulates, forming an opening to the outside — in other words, the crop is burned clear through to the outside of the bird's body. This condition, which can require surgery, will lead to serious bacterial and fungal complications if not dealt with swiftly by a competent avian veterinarian.
The weaning stage in a young bird's life is a very critical and dangerous time. Forced weaning is refusing to feed a begging chick with the assumption that when it gets hungry enough it will learn to eat on its own. This is the method of choice for inexperienced hand feeders who find hand feeding difficult or inconvenient. Forced weaning can result in malnutrition, starvation and permanent behavior problems such as ridged eating habits, nervousness, and chronic begging that may become unbearable for the caretaker. While many birds are forced to wean at 6 weeks to 3 months of age, in nature the parents may supplementally feed these same chicks up to one year of age. Force-weaned chicks can often "regress" to an unweaned state when brought to their new homes, leading to starvation, malnutrition, illness, and death.
Unweaned chicks are often sold because hand feeding is labor intensive; it is far more profitable to sell the chicks quickly despite the risks to the young bird. As pet birds become more popular, we can expect to see more competition among breeders and retailers. Economic competition for sales (i.e., cheap prices) may lead to more and more birds being sold unweaned, setting more parrots up for permanent physical and/or behavior problems that will ultimately increasing the likelihood that they will be abused, neglected, unwanted, or abandoned at some time in their life. Prohibiting the sale of unweaned birds will protect consumers from incurring the emotional and financial costs of caring for an animal who has suffered the consequences of being sold too young, and will be consistent with existing laws that prohibit the sale of other unweaned animals.
Copyright © 2001 Monica Engebretson, Animal Protection Institute (API).
All material Copyright © 2002–2010 Avian Welfare Coalition, unless otherwise noted. Contact us to request reprint permission.
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