Thursday, October 8, 2009

Banding Small Baby Birds

A note on the photos above: Budgerigar parakeets are bald when they hatch and that’s normal for them. Baby Bourkes, shown here, hatch with white or gray fuzz. Splendids have some fuzz too. Neither are as fluffy as a baby chicken, but they do have soft fuzz.
There is a small window when baby birds are able to be banded. If you wait too long, their feet will be too big. If you band too early, the bands will come off. Some mothers actually remove them! I like to try to wait until the mother leaves the nest before removing babies. It will disturb her less, however, don’t let that keep you waiting too long to band. The books say 7 to 9 days is appropriate. I recommend not bothering the nest any time before that first week. With mine, nine days seems about right, seven is usually too soon. The ultimate decision is the size of the baby’s foot.

Most of my babies seem ready to band when they open their eyes. When that happens, I remove them and look at their feet. By trial and error, you’ll soon learn what sized feet look right.

Always be gentle with your babies. Talking sweetly to them will help tame them. The three longest toes need to slip through the band first. I use mineral oil on the bands to make them slip on easier. Some people “paste” the toes together with petroleum jelly. That works on some babies, and not on others. Some will hold still and make the process easy. Others will squirm and pull their foot out every time you think you’ve got the band on.

Point the three longest toes forward and hold them together, slipping the band around them. Gently pushing the knee forward helps me to keep the band on. Once over the three longest toes, the smaller, inside toe will be pushed flat against the leg. Use a toothpick (preferably a flat toothpick if you can find them), and slip it under that toe, pulling it out of the band. The baby may squeak, but I’ve never had an injured toe. Be very careful not to poke the baby’s body with the toothpick. Aim the toothpick “away” from the baby’s body when going under the toe to pull it out.

There is a metal tool that’s offered to help band baby birds. However, the ones I’ve received had sharp, rough edges and I’ve refused to use them.

Banding baby birds has more value than most people realize. By putting the year on the band, you will always know how old that bird is. You can identify yourself as the breeder and the state where the bird hatched.

Colored bands help you keep track of their parentage. It’s an especially good idea for a small flock where you want to avoid inbreeding whenever possible. That’s of value when you sell your babies too. Buyers will want to obtain unrelated birds. Also, pet shops that purchase your birds should ask that they be banded to prove that they are not imported from another country.

Large pet shops and chains often ask that the birds be tested for certain contagious diseases. That’s something to remember when buying your first pairs. My babies go through a larger breeder who markets them for me and tests all birds before they go out.
If you keep a closed, protected flock you should never have a problem. We’ll discuss the potential for diseases in another post.

Smaller pet shops may be less strict and more willing to take your birds without bands or testing. I’ve never been willing to deal with small, local pet shops that want to take the birds “on consignment.” That means that you must depend upon them to adequately protect and care for your birds. Under this method they have nothing to lose and you assume all risks, even if they die from neglect or are exposed to other sick birds. You're only paid if and when a bird sells. If it dies, it’s your loss. If you ultimately take it back, you are exposing the rest of your flock to whatever that bird may have been exposed to.

Back to banding: Both plastic and metal bands in many sizes are available. Bourkes and Splendids use the same sized band as a Budgie. We order our bands online in October or November each year. Orders are in multiples of 25 etched bands. We’re optimistic and always order 50 instead of 25, although we’ve never exceeded 25 babies in a season. If we had 26, however, it would be tragic to not have a band. Order early because you may not receive them right away.

On the bands you’re allowed four letters to identify yourself as the breeder. We’ve chosen to put my husband’s and my first initial with our last initial (so we only use three letters: EGL). Also we put the year and our state. Each band is numbered, one to fifty and the first baby hatched that year is #1. So, it will read: EGL OR 09 1 … OR is Oregon. The state and year are smaller and face across the band instead of around it.

We order our bands online from L & M Bird Leg Bands in San Bernardino, CA: I prefer aluminum “budgie” bands for the information and order plain colored plastic bands for parent identification.

Banding may seem like a challenge at first, but eventually it gets easier and easier as confidence increases. God bless you and your babies … be they feathered or not.

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