Dot Schwarz tells us how to use microchipping to keep your Parrot safe.
Two cautionary anecdotes
A friend’s African Grey flew out of an open door. A couple of days of worried searching, the distraught owner Carol, found out that Monty (not their real names) had been taken in by a woman who lived a few streets away. This person refused to let Carol see the bird, so Carol alerted the police.
Police intervention enabled Carol to see the bird. She had not had Monty long and he made no sign of recognition. Monty was not microchipped. There was nothing further to be done, since the finder claimed Monty had been given to her. Had Monty been microchipped the true owner could have insisted on a check at a veterinary clinic. The microchip number would have been verified within minutes and she ‘d have retrieved her bird. This was some years ago. Carol has another Grey but still regrets Monty’s loss.
A similar misadventure happened to Mia, the young Grey who is the prized companion of Stefano Salles. They live in Streatham, a London borough. Mia escaped one evening during a rain storm when the carrier door burst open as she was being brought home from Stephano’s pet shop Dr. Dolittles where she spends the day with her mate a Cockatoo, entrancing the customers.
Three days and nights of searching. A wild goose chase when another African Grey had been spotted in a nearby park. It wasn’t Mia. On the third morning Stefano had a phone call from the local vet. A Grey Parrot had landed in a neighbour’s garden just a few doors down from Stephano’s house.
Due to having no experience of Parrots, the quick-thinking householder had placed a laundry basket over the bird. They took her to the vets where Mia’s microchip was read and Stephano and Mia were reunited that same morning. Mia has no leg band. Stories like these underline the value of microchipping.
My vet Ben Bennett of Colne Valley Vets that every pet bird should be microchipped. He considers it as an essential part of responsible Parrot ownership.
What is a microchip and how is it inserted?
Microchips, small electronic devices, have grown smaller over the last few years. They are now about the size of an uncooked grain of rice. A vet inserts the microchip into your bird’s breast muscle by a quick injection using a specially designed tool..
Once inserted, a bird cannot feel the microchip and the special capsule around it means that it does not break down and is designed to last your pet’s lifetime.
There is no firm rule as to whether a whiff of anaesthetic is used or not. My vet does not generally use it. This is reassuring to nervous owners like myself who know that there is always a tiny risk using anaesthetic.
Someone holds the bird in a towel on their back and the vet presses in the chip in a few seconds. There may be a little bleeding. There are no after effects.
Can anything go wrong?
Extremely rarely. Perdy Lesser Sulphur Cockatoo came to us at one year old already microchipped. One day she went lame in her left leg. Ben scanned her chip. It had moved down to her leg.
This is a rare situation. Ben anaesthetised Perdy, removed the chip and replaced a new one in her breast muscle. There has never been any problem with it for the last ten years.
What about smaller birds?
When microchipping started over 20 years ago the suggested size for the bird was 100 grams or above. That would include Conures and similar sized birds but exclude Budgies and Cockatiels or Kakariki.
Now that chips are produced in smaller sizes, smaller birds are sometimes chipped. Cockatiels are chipped. As increasingly a small number of hobby owners are free flying small birds like Sun Conures and Cockatiels outside they want the security of knowing that if lost their bird will be identified when found as theirs.
I wouldn’t advise free flying smaller birds because of the danger of hawks and similar predators. The Macaws and other large species are generally safer if you desire to join in this exhilarating but sometimes dangerous activity. Please microchip.
How seriously the need for microchipping is taken in the avian world is illustrated by Dr. Alan K Jones’ activity at Think Parrots annual Parrot exhibition held at Kempton Park in June for the last couple years. Alan Jones has microchipped avian attendees at the show for the reasonable cost of £20. Last year he microchipped 12.
He told me, ‘that it’s the best way of securely marking a Parrot, larger than a Cockatiel, and that all pet Parrots of value (whether monetary or emotional) should be chipped.
As you know, I always do mine without anaesthesia: By the time the bird has been wrapped in a towel and had its head stuffed in a facemask to breathe the gas, the chip can be injected, with much less stress and worry. If the bird requires an anaesthetic for some other reason, then the chip could be placed while the bird is out – that is a different matter. Anaesthesia also dramatically increases the cost of the procedure!’
His concluded by saying, ‘that the current mini-chips are quite trouble-free, and rarely cause any bleeding at the site. If bleeding does occur, it is easily controlled by pinching the skin together for a while or using a little tissue glue. I certainly have never had a bird show any irritation after the event.’
Chipping can be costly. My vet charges £26. Others can charge higher fees. I have been quoted £40 and £89. Those fees would include anesthetics.
A comparison of microchips with leg bands
A leg band is small cheap and easy to apply. But there are some drawbacks
Leg band can become caught on toys or any protruding object. A bird alone can cause itself serious injury if it feels trapped.
Over time the numbers, date of hatch and breeders initials may fade and are no longer of use for identification purposes.
If applied too tightly the leg may swell and the ring must be cut off.
Rings can only be fitted on baby birds and it needs a skilled hand.
Adult Parrots must have open bands fitted.
A stolen bird can have the ring cut off relatively easily.
You cannot see or feel a microchip but once it is fitted it stays for life. To remove a microchip would require an operation not something your bird thief would be able to perform.
When I got Artha my first Parrot over 20 years ago she had a leg band. I was never 100% happy with it knowing that it could be removed if she were to be stolen.
Each chip has its own code This number is stored on a database together with the owner’s address and phone number. The vet holds a scanner near the bird’s chest. The microchip emits a signal and transmits the code onto the reader’s display.
Unlike the leg band you cannot see the microchip. Like vaccination the benefits outweigh a possible problem.
How do pet Parrots get lost?
The most common loss for the pet bird is that it flies away from home either intentionally or through an accident. To own Parrots means you have to be vigilant 24/7.They are clever.
I have walked outside with Artha Grey on my shoulder. I have had Casper Grey squeeze himself through an open window and sit in a rose bush. I’ve been fortunate over the years, although the Greys have been outside unintentionally, they have always been retrieved.
Now that Benni and Mina, the Macaws, are trained free flyers, I worry less that I may lose them outside.
But security is always a consideration. Possibly you can never have enough? One breeder I know had thieves duck under his alarm lights break into his aviaries and take many valuable breeding stock. These breeding birds were not microchipped, so none have ever been retrieved.
Barrett Watson ,one of the UK’s foremost breeders of Macaws and Cockatoos and other rare species chips all his birds when they are one year old. In his spacious aviaries he also has semi -feral cats patrolling the walkways as a rat and mouse deterrent.
So if you have doubts, take the plunge and microchip your pet birds; you won’t regret this; you’ll have a lasting feeling of security for your precious charges.