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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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    Inside Out - South West: Monday October 31, 2005
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Buying a Parrot

Before taking on a new parrot, consider it carefully. A Parrot is often for life, and that may not only mean the life of the bird but perhaps your life and even beyond.


Compared with other pets they are generally far more intelligent, with the mental age of the average four-year-old child.

They require just as much care and attention as the child, BUT they never grow up.

Parrots require just as much love and attention and care as any other member of the family.

If you are convinced that a parrot is for you, please consider the following points very carefully:

1. Read up as much as possible about psittacine birds generally and more specifically about the species you have selected.

2. Do not rely on shop staff they may be poorly trained and remember they are going to gain a profit out of making a sale.

Cheap birds are not bargains

There is no such thing as a cheap bird. Such birds could be ill, stolen, or the remnants (and hence poorest specimens) of a batch of imported birds.

Be wary of buying a bird from a newspaper, a free ad classifieds paper or the Internet. Unless the seller can prove where the bird came from and you can check it out yourself, it's not worth it.

Choice of species

Pet birds need company. If the house is empty during the day, a parrot is generally not suitable. Have you really got enough time, energy and all the attention which the bird will seek?

Do you have sufficient room for a suitable sized cage and play station, not only now, but once more children come along etc.

A bird must, by law, be able to fully extend it's wings in a cage both lengthways, widthways and in height.

Consider noise levels with certain species (especially Macaws and Cockatoo's) and the proximity of your neighbours.

A cockatoo can easily screech at 104 decibels. That's the equivalent of standing ten feet away from a pneumatic drill.

Which parrot

If buying a parrot or cockatiel for a pet, ensure it is hand reared and bred in this country. Hand reared birds bred in captivity make much better pets than those that have been wild caught and imported.

Even under the current ban, wild birds that were imported before the ban could still be for sale in pet shops and the small ads in newspapers and classified papers.

Hand reared captive bred birds are as different as chalk and cheese in comparison with others. Wild caught birds rarely become as tame and easily handled as hand reared birds.

Furthermore by buying a hand reared bird you are minimising the stress that the bird has undergone prior to you gaining ownership, and hence reducing the likelihood of it having arrived already suffering from a disease or illness.

Where to find the hand reared bird of your choice

Make as many enquiries as possible and ensure that you are buying from a reputable breeder or retailer. A personal recommendation is often useful.

A good breeder will keep you informed of the birds development, up to when it is fully weaned, which is the stage at which it can leave home. A baby parrot should never be sold before it is fully weaned.

Most reputable breeders will fit a closed ring to the baby's leg in the first 10 days of life, (after which time the birds foot is too large to get the ring on), this is simply to indicate that the bird was in captivity at that stage of it's life, which in turn tends to indicate that it is captive bred.

Alternatively a microchip may be implanted, although this can be inserted at any stage of the birds life.

Paper work

Ensure that you receive a detailed receipt for your purchase. This should include the exact description of the bird you are buying, including it's origin, captive bred or not, hand reared or not, it's age, sex if known, what species and if possible the Latin name, the price paid, and whether or not is has undergone a veterinary health check by an avian vet, to ensure it is free of disease.

If it has undergone a health check, this is meaningless unless the bird has been kept isolated from other birds since then. Breeders should also issue you with instructions on the birds current food type and volume intake.

Should you consider buying an older bird?

Care should always be exercised in buying an older bird. They may well have uncertain or even untraceable histories and health status.

The vendor may be selling in good faith, but was he or she told the truth when they acquired the bird? Why is it being sold?

In particular beware if it screams or bites, such behaviour may relate to it's previous keeper or it may be an indication of being wild caught, and as such the behaviour may readily resolve.

For an experienced trainer, with a great deal of time on their hands, almost all birds can settle down, but this would not be a bird for a beginner.

The birds health status

This is typically very difficult to tell, except that a very sick bird generally appears to be so.

Many birds have either moderate to low grade or latent disease hiding in their system at the time of purchase. A bird should be bright eyed, with round shining eyes and should never appear to be dropping off to sleep on it's perch during the day time.

The bird should not have a prominent breast bone, it should rather be surrounded but not obscured by muscle.

There should be nasal or ocular discharges and the breathing should be regular, even and without undue effort. Plumage should be clean and tidy, with no significant damage or feather loss.

However, no keeper however experienced is able to tell if a new bird is fully well, or might in fact be harbouring an infectious disease.

New bird check

All new birds should have a full health check. It is important that this is performed before the bird has an opportunity to mix with any other birds, or for your husbandry to adversely affect it's health and should be carried out by a specialist bird vet.

What happens when you are not able to look after your parrot?
Have you considered what will happen to your bird when you are away on holiday.

Generally it is preferable to have an experienced parrot handler come and stay in the house rather than the parrot go away to board. If your bird boards somewhere, then it is likely that other birds also board there.

There is inevitably a risk of cross infection. Have you made provision in your will for the bird.

Is the person you are leaving your bird to reliable, do they really want the bird or did they just find it awkward to decline.

Ensure that you have contingency plans in place.

Cost of veterinary care

Insure your bird, against veterinary fees and theft. Not only do they need an initial health check after purchase but it's recommended they have an annual health check too.

And avian veterinary fees are not cheap.

Reproduced with permission of specialist avian vet Neil Forbes

St Piran

Celtic Cross
St Piran's Cross - the only remnant of former times

Penhale Sands in Cornwall is the largest area of sand dunes in Britain.

To the casual eye it looks empty, a haven for wildlife.

But its splendid wilderness hides one of the greatest treasures of Cornish history.

Apart from an ancient Celtic Cross, there’s nothing much to show that man was ever here.

But in the Middle Ages pilgrims came to pay homage here on their way to Compostella in Spain.

They came to visit a religious community founded in the 5th Century by Cornwall’s most celebrated saint - St Piran.

All that history is long gone, buried beneath these shifting sands, but the Cornish want it back.

Heritage campaigners want back the church of St Piran.

It stood near Penhale Sands until the turn of the 18th Century.

But it was subsequently abandoned and left to its fate following constant attack from sand blown across by wild Atlantic storms.

Now a team of archaeologists has arrived. They’ve got just four weeks to discover how much of the church remains under the dunes and to find out what other secrets lie hidden nearby.

Dick Cole is in charge of the project but his team must proceed with caution.

Penhale Sands are a conservation area, and much of the dig has to be done painstakingly by hand.

St Piran's legend

According to legend, Irish chieftains tied St Piran to a millstone and threw him into the Irish Sea.

But as is the way with saints, he fetched up across the water in Cornwall, bringing Christianity with him.

St Piran painting
St Piran - a legendary figure and a revered saint

One thousand and fifty years later, Cornish people come to these dunes every year on March 5th to celebrate St Piran’s Day

St Piran built an oratory on these dunes but it disappeared beneath the swirling sands.

So 10th Century Christians replaced it with the building now under excavation.

The dig wouldn’t be happening without the efforts of St Piran enthusiasts like Eileen. "I’ve waited for a long time," she says enthusiastically.

And it wouldn’t be possible without a huge amount of help from volunteers.

Painstaking progress

A week into the dig progress on the church itself is painstakingly slow.

But one of the nearby trenches reveals just how much sand has blown over the site and - confirms the existence of a graveyard

The dig coincides with the 200th anniversary of the building of the current St Piran’s church.

This was built to an almost identical floor plan as the original. It uses some of the material taken when it was abandoned, including wooden pew ends and the font.

Penhale dunes
Shifting sands - hiding a rich archaeological heritage

Its scale gives us some idea of the grandeur of the original. To be on the safe side, this one was built well away from the dunes, two miles inland at Perranzabuloe

Back at the original church site the project is now well into its third week.

Diggers have arrived to move things on. It’s very exposed here and the dig has to put up with some atrocious weather.

It's a race against time but already a number of exciting discoveries have been made.

With most of the sand removed, much of the original church can now be seen.

The archaeologists have also found another skeleton – not in the graveyard but in a trench they dug beyond the boundary wall.

It could be a a suicide victim or a witch.

Dick’s team finish the dig just in time, the day before the service is due to take place.

By the time next year’s St Piran’s Day comes around, the grass will be back.

And, according to scientists, the sand is now stable and won’t ever cover the site again.

A piece of Cornish heritage has been reclaimed for generations to come - the legend lives on.

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Bird flu threat

Flu virus
Bird flu threat - concern is mounting in the UK

What if avian flu or bird flu arrived in the South West?

Scientists say millions of people could be killed by a flu pandemic, but the advice from health officials in the North West is, "Don't go to hospital or the doctors".

With the prospect of little or no vaccine, medical centres could be overwhelmed by patients they cannot help.

Pandemics of influenza have swept the world from time to time
throughout history, three times in the last century.

Scientists fear a global epidemic of deadly flu in humans will strike, and bird flu is giving cause for particular concern

There are 15 different strains of the virus, but it is the H5N1 strain which is infecting humans and causing high death rates.

This type of flu is highly contagious and has also killed dozens of people since re-emerging in South East Asia in 2003.

Spread by birds, there is not yet a definitive vaccine, but prototypes which offer protection against the H5N1 strain are being produced.

However anti-viral drugs, which are already available, may help limit symptoms and reduce the chances the disease will spread.

Flu attack? Could the virus spread to humans in the UK?

These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds world-wide carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them.

Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University recently told BBC News Online that, "The virus is carried in the chicken's gut.

"A person would have to dry out the chicken meat and would have to sniff the carcass to be at any risk. But even then, it would be very hard to become infected."

Experts say that the UK is at "very low risk" of developing the disease at present.

Although bird flu viruses do not usually infect humans, several cases of human infection have occurred since 1997.

Symptoms in humans include typical flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, muscle aches, severe respiratory diseases and coughs.

It is thought that the majority of human bird flu infections resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.

Inside Out asks how would we cope if bird flu came to the South West of England, and asks if we are we prepared for a flu epidemic.

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