Acquiring a new bird is a major investment emotionally as well as monetarally. So if you are buying a bird from a distant source, from someone you have never met, you want to ensure that everything goes well for you. There are many ethical aviaries and brokers who sell and ship wonderful birds to new owners. Unfortunately, as in all aspects of life, there are always those whose intent is to take advantage of others and make money in any way they can.
There are many things that one should consider when buying a bird. The exact concerns will vary depending upon whether one is buying a baby or an older bird. Requirements for a pet are different than for a breeder bird. But whatever the purpose, the FIRST concern is to determine that the seller is reputable. The SECOND is to ensure that the bird is as represented and that there are some guarantees with remedies available if anything is wrong with the bird purchased.
Unfortunately, unethical people often exhude charm, inspire confidence and have seemingly reasonable answers for every question. Good con-artists always sound good. Their advertisements are often placed in well known sources and mixed in among those of ethical sellers. Since they are selling birds long distance, they do not have to show their facilities, their methods or the birds they have for sale. All this gives them an advantage and makes them difficult to identify.
Some con-artists don't own any birds, but will offer to sell one at a very inexpensive price or will claim to have a very rare or hard to find bird. Once you send a deposit, you may never hear from them again. You don't receive the bird and you can't find them to get your deposit back.
Others have shipped birds that didn't meet the agreed specifications such as sick or handicapped birds, even birds of another species. The bird might be of the wrong sex or age or different than represented in other ways. Everyone knows that a 'breeding pair' of two males will not produce many eggs.
There is no foolproof way to identify an unscrupulous seller. However, there are questions you can ask and safeguards you can insist upon which can help to protect you. Remember the old adage 'Buyer Beware' and act accordingly.
Two conditions are very often present and you must be alert for them. One is when anyone is always vague about their references and has a very sad story to tell when they next speak to you, such as: I meant to sent the list of references, but my wife is in the hospital and may lose our first baby. Or my mother just died. Or my grandmother just fell and broke her hip. The first sad story should get your sympathy. The second sad story should make you suspicious. And NEVER, BUT NEVER purchase a bird while listening to a sad sad story.
Be very wary of the second condition, which is when the seller puts time pressure on you. "I'll send you a list of references but why don't you send a $1000 deposit so we won't need to wait." "Other people are coming to look at the birds, so why don't you send $500 as earnest money?" When you are being pressured to hurry your side (with money) while the seller fails to do as s/he promised, grab ahold of your wallet as you are about to be fleeced.
Ask for some background information. Get a feeling about the seller's business. Write down what they say and refer to it as the conversation(s) progress. Do later statements conflict with earlier ones? Is information being changed or corrected as you speak? Inconsistancies may be signs of trouble.
Ask how long they have been in business - at that location or a previous location. How many birds and species do they own - how many babies do they sell? Do they have indoor or outdoor aviaries? What handfeeding, weaning and socialization methods do they practice? You would want to know these answers anyway, but it will also help you determine if the seller actually is a breeder or broker.
For security purposes, some legitimate breeders use a PO Box as their address. This is understandable. However, as the conversation progresses and a purchase becomes likely, you should be able to obtain the actual address. If not, then proceed very carefully.
Ask for their business name, address and telephone number. You can call information and ask for the number for John Jones on Madison Ave. When they give the number, you can ask them to confirm the Madison Ave. If they don't match, this may not be a legitimate business, don't send money!
WHATEVER YOU WANT, I HAVE IT
Ask questions of someone who claims to have 'every' species of bird. You may be talking to a legitimate breeder or a broker. But you may also be talking to someone who doesn't have any birds at all. Raising many birds takes lots of space and requires a large operation. If it is legitimate, then a facility of this size will be known by others. If it is a broker, ask to talk to some of the breeders that s/he buys from on a regular basis. Then try to check them out. But take care and do not allow one breeder to vouch for your broker, who will be happy to vouch for the breeder(s).
Do you think that the price is 'too good to be true'? If it seems that way, then it probably is. Remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The first thing to do is to determine the fair market price for the birds. Call a local breeder or pet store that you trust and ask what the going price of these birds is locally. The birds can be shipped in the US for $100 to $200. This method gives you a 'ball park figure' of what a breeder/broker could expect to get for the birds. Then try to determine why the price is so low. If it is too good a price, WATCH OUT!
Sometimes you will find a seller who is going out of business or has too many babies and needs to make room for more. In that case you may be getting a true bargain, but try to find out if these claims are true. You may also be talking to a small breeder who's willing to sell at a low price to a buyer who will give the bird a wonderful home. If this is so, then you should expect to be asked many probing questions about yourself, your life style, why you want the bird and how you intend to care for it.
However, unscrupulous people ask a low price for some of the following reasons:
They don't really have any birds and are trying to get a deposit or the full price of the bird before 'shipping' it to you. Once they have your money, they may disappear or continually find excuses for not sending the bird. And they may ask you to prepay the shipping which adds insult to injury.
The bird being sold might be smuggled or stolen. Ask for the band number of the bird. If you are suspicious ask for the band numbers of the parents of the birds. If not banded, then is the bird microchipped or DNA fingerprinted? If not, why not? If the band has been removed is there a certificate and photo of the bird with the band on? Stolen or smuggled birds usually don't have bands. Bands are required by many states to obtain permits.
The bird may be ill, handicapped, unable to breed or have behavior problems.
A baby bird might be falsely represented as hand fed, weaned and hand tamed, all of which have taken the breeder's time and should raise the cost of the bird.
A bird purchased for breeding, may be unable to breed or might have aggression or nesting problems. A pair advertised as proven, may not be proven at all or not even a male/female pair.
Vet checks, vaccinations and/or sexing all of which raise the price of the bird may not have been done as claimed.
In the case of a broker, it may be that s/he has never seen the birds. Some of these people buy in one state to sell in another without ever handling the birds personally. They may not even know that a sick or handicapped bird is being represented as a healthy one.
GUARANTEES AND HEALTH
What witten guarantees will the seller give? Will s/he send samples of the agreements to you? Will the seller send or FAX copies of veterinarian health certificates, leg band id numbers, microchipping, sexing or vaccination information to you in advance? Will they send a picture?
What shots or vaccinations or tests have been done? Are they disease free? Will s/he provide a certificate from a veterinarian certifying to the health of the bird? Will the seller give you the name and phone number of the vet so that you may discuss the bird's health with him? Will the seller FAX you a copy of any certificates and records? Will vet records be provided? Get these prior to shipping. Check that the vet records and the leg band ids agree.
Will the seller agree in writing to a period for you to have your vet check the birds health? Will s/he agree to take the bird back and return your money if the bird isn't healthy or devleops problems in the next few weeks caused by pre-shipping conditions? What is the time period allowed? What is the process if the birds are not healthy or of the wrong sex? Remember, some tests take a few weeks for results. Work out some arrangement and then GET IT IN WRITING.
If you're looking for a breeding bird or pair, ask about their history. Proven pairs are very valuable. You will want to verify that they are truly proven. Answers to these questions may also help in determining if the seller is also reliable. Ask questions such as:
- Why is this proven breeding pair available?
- If it is a single bird, then what happened to it's previous mate and why is it for sale?
- Have the birds produced fertile eggs which hatched? Did they incubate the eggs? Did they feed the chicks?.
- Have the birds been surgically or DNA sexed? If so, ask for the date and name of the veterinarian and a copy of the records.
- Who bought the last chicks? This may establish that this pair didn't produce for this seller. S/he may be passing along a mistake!
Ask for references of other satisfied buyers, and other aviaries which they have dealt with and contact them. Be aware that you will not be given any bad references. Further, the references could be false, so ask probing questions when you call.
Call other pet stores and breeders in the area and ask if they have heard of them. Many people won't like to give out negative information on the phone, but if you hear nothing positive or silence, you may get a feeling. Good breeders are known in their area by bird clubs or other breeders or pet stores.
Check with the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce in the area. Where a lot of money is involved, you may even ask for the name of their bank.
Where do they advertise? Check if the advertisers have received any complaints.
Visit if at all possible. (If you have a friend in the area or know someone at a bird club or an internet mailing list, ask them to check)
If you are suspicious then pass. Better safe than sorry.
You could have a friend call, ask questions and then compare the answers.
If there is a legband, get the number. You can often trace the band to find out if this is a stolen bird or at least trace its source.
If the bird was previously owned, ask for the name and number of the previous owner. S/he may be able to answer some questions for you and put your fears at rest.
Did the seller ask you any questions showing concern about you and the bird?
In addition to checking references and getting answers to your questions you should make sure that you have things in writing. The importance of written documents cannot be over-emphasied as the proper tool to avoid mis-understanding and mis-representation.
Pay with a United States postal money order by US mail. Or get an invoice or offer or something from the seller via the US mail. The mail fraud risk may deter some cons.
If the seller takes credit cards, it is a positive sign. If you use a credit card for payment, you can notify the credit card company to stop payment in case of problems. Be aware that some legitimate breeders will insist upon cash or a cashiers check. They need to protect themselves from fraudulent buyers.
Don't be embarassed. There is more than money involved. If you end up with a sick or handicapped bird and can't find the seller, who will care for the bird? And pay the vet bills?
Buying Birds From Afar - Cons and Unscrupulous Sellers