Identification Methods in Parrots
By Mark Hagen, M.Ag.
Director of Research
It is important for all parrot breeders to understand the importance of identifying their baby parrots. This is important for tracing the birds origin, confirming the legal status of the bird, future stud book documentation, and to help pet shops quickly see which breeder the bird comes from if a problem arises.
Parrot Leg Bands
Should not be too loose or too tight. The New York State law requiring only the sale of close banded birds results in many babies having loose fitting bands as they were placed late on the bird and a larger band had to be used to fit. Some Avian Veterinarians cut off bands that are improperly sized or even bands that look O.K. to sell another form of ID.
Steel vs. Aluminum Parrot Bands
One of the problems with bird leg bands is that the ID numbers and letter can wear off over time. Just the action of the bird’s beak playing with the band over the long life of the parrot will result in wear. The softer metal aluminum is more of a problem but the use of concrete perches also has lead to faster rate of wear. If a concrete perch is used it should not be larger in diameter than needed as the band will touch it and rub against it leading to wear. Steel bands will reduce this but another form of long term ID is still needed. In large macaws only steel should be used. Our hyacinths removed their steel sexing bands within six months of placement.
For breeders with only a few babies of a certain size can order leg bands from one of the national societies instead of the ten or twenty-five. At the beginning of the year HARI tries to order just enough of the ten or so size we use. But because of differences in breeding from year to year we often have extra bands of one size and not enough of another. It will take about three weeks to order and receive bands by mail so do not wait until the last minute.
Three letters on open steel bands usually means the bird was imported. Foreign quarantine bands were found on most parrots imported via USA and most other countries. Agriculture Canada did not require parrots in Canadian quarantine stations to be banded. Most still however had their bands from USA or European quarantine stations. Parrots imported into Canada could not and still cannot come directly from Tropical countries or origin.
Microchips (Transponders) for Birds
Technology has produced quite an interesting little device that receives energy via radio waves and sends back a unique serial/identification number. the micro (as in small) electronic components are encased in an inert glass bead the size of a grain of rice. The animal harmlessly walls off the chip with a thin cells. These microchips are used by dog and cat owners to help in the finding of lost pets. But how many birds are lost and turned over to humane shelters? Or when stolen are available to be scanned? Thus the main use is for proof of legal origin and stud book ID. The legal origin question could be backed up by certificates from the Veterinarian who may have removed the closed band and then micro-chipped the bird.
There are many companies around the world selling microchips and the compatible scanner needed to read them. One of the problems with these different system is that most work on different frequencies and thus one scanner may not read the chips of another company. The American Kennel Club has signed an agreement with Avid to use their microchips but most veterinary clinics in America use either Destron or Trovan systems. Avid does manufacture one of the lowest cost readers which makes it affordable for larger breeders and pet stores to have one. the International Standards Organization has set new standards so that less variation exists between readers so that for instance a wildlife inspector in Europe can read American made microchips.
Here is Quebec we have used a Swiss system, Datamars, which unfortunately has had their local distributor go bankrupt. We are now looking to buy another line of chips as we run out of Datamars chips. The birds with the Datamars chip are still OK since we have the scanner to read theirs chips. Let’s say HARI buys back from someone a bird that we actually bred five years ago but the band has been removed. We would find out the birds origin when scanning it and then would be careful not to pair it up with a related mate.
The tiny chips are almost impossible to remove in living birds without doing major tissue damage. It is of course possible to remove the chip from a dead bird, re-sterilize it and inject it back into another bird. There is the illegal incentive to do such a procedure if the owner had a permit for a specific bird, which then died, and an illegal replacement bird were then micro-chipped with the chip from the legal bird. A breeder in Holland tried this a few years ago and got caught? How? Well this leads me to the next form of identification; DNA fingerprinting.
Avian DNA Fingerprinting
This form of genetic coding or fingerprinting is continually becoming more efficient, i.e. cheaper and accurate. It can determine if birds are related or not, or if a bird is not the same as a previous one, as was done in Holland. O.J. Simpson’s case certainly has stimulated interest in this but has left some doubts with people due to the verdict. I see this procedure being used by government to confirm that breeder X produced all those baby Yellow Nape Amazons from “that pair over there”. The, so called, domestic babies would have to show some similar DNA banding (bands on gel plates not on legs!) to the claimed parent birds.
There are now labs in Canada, USA and Europe that can perform this work. These labs are also able to determine the sex of the bird using the difference in male/female chromosomes easily found in avian blood cells because they are nucleated.
The ultimate system of ID would cross link bird leg bands with microchips and some third party holding onto a sample of blood for future DNA fingerprinting. This system could help prove ownership of a bird if bands are cut off, and microchips fail to be read.
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