You may be fortunate enough to be offering a new home to a parrot whose history you know, but more often than not, that won’t be the case.
When you go to meet a prospective new parrot, take your time and try to learn as much as possible through observation. Is the parrot in an area where it can enjoy being in the center of the family, or has it been delegated to a back room, or even a garage or basement? Is it in a properly sized cage? Does it have decent food, clean water, and a cage that shows signs of being kept basically clean? How does it interact with its present owners?
All these things will give you some clues about how this bird will act in your home and how healthy it may be. A well cared for, properly socialized bird is likely to make a quick transition into becoming a member of your family, and is most likely healthy. Look for clear, bright eyes, glossy feathers (except with the “dusty” species like cockatoos or African greys, where shiny feathers or beaks can be a sign of POOR health), clear “nostrils” with no discharge, and a general alert and curious approach to life.
Be aware that the people parting with the bird may not be telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Trust your observations more than their words.
Ask about who their avian vet is, and when the bird was last seen. Also, if you decide to buy the bird, get written permission from them to obtain the bird’s records (if any) from the vet, and to have your vet talk to them. Also, get a written “bill of sale” even if you are not paying for this bird but simply “adopting” it.
Bringing home a “new” parrot is always exciting, but quarantine is also a must until all tests have been completed and your vet gives the “all clear” signal. During this time, you should observe your new bird and, to a large degree, let him set the pace of your getting to know one another. Many parrots, especially those that are coming from good homes, manage to make a quick, easy transition to their new surroundings. If at all possible allow the parrot to keep its old cage during this time, even if you want to get a bigger and better cage later. The old cage is “home” and gives the bird a feeling of security, especially if it still has his old familiar toys and perches. The same is true of food: whenever possible, bring along some of his old diet, even if it’s not a well-balanced one. The weaning from seed to pellets or another whole-food diet can take place after the bird is settled.
It’s best to find a quiet place for quarantine, and many people find that a bedroom works best, particularly for a shy or frightened parrot. This way, he won’t have to deal with the rough and tumble of daily family life, and can get to know you during “quiet” times as you read in bed or watch television. With a shy bird, make a point of moving slowly when passing the cage, and speaking softly before opening the door or uncovering the cage so he knows you are there.
If the parrot is dealing well with all the change and seems curious about you, you may want to start handling him right away. In fact, if the bird has a history of biting (and if you are TOLD this, which is unlikely), you may want to start handling him while he is still somewhat off-guard from the changes. This is a judgment call and not always easy to make. One thing to keep in mind with a parrot that has an attitude problem is that first impressions can be lasting ones (on both sides.) Do not attempt a “step up” if you’re not willing to hang in there even if you are badly bitten. Otherwise, you will just be reinforcing what the bird has already learned: if you don’t want to step up, just bite and the person will go away.
It’s normal for a bird to feel “clingy” about the only familiar thing in its life at this point: its cage. So once you do get the bird out, you may want to move to an area where the cage is out of sight for further interaction.
With a shy or abused bird, it’s best to let the bird decide when it can deal with stepping up onto your proffered arm or hand. I never push frightened birds, even if that means years go by without being able to get a step up. They are usually this frightened with good reason, and forcing yourself on them simply reconfirms all their old fears.
Either way, don’t get into the bad habit of simply allowing the bird to climb in and out of its cage on its own terms.
Some “used” birds simply move into a new home without ever blinking an eye or turning a feather. But even if you don’t end up with one of these, don’t give up after only a few weeks have passed. If the bird is showing bad habits, remind yourself that he didn’t learn them overnight, and he won’t forget them overnight either. But love, patience, and consistent handling will win over almost any parrot in time, and you will learn the immense rewards of dealing with older and often troubled parrots. It can take a lot of work, but the rewards are immeasurable.