Determining the age of a bird can be very difficult and varies widely between different species. This post will outline some basic clues you can look for to determine is a bird is truly as young as a seller claim. Of course, the only way you can guarantee you’re getting young birds is to buy them when they still have their juvenile coloring or to buy from trusted breeders who put closed leg rings on their young.
Young birds are generally slicker and “newer” looking than old ones. This is a lot more obvious in parrots than finches, but still a good place to start. Some finches fade in colour as they get older. This is especially prevalent in Gouldian finches, but it applies to most other species to varying degrees. Of course, you have no way of knowing whether the bird is old, really young (and doesn’t yet have adult feathers) or just didn’t have striking colours to begin with.
Legs and Nails
Darker legs, flaky leg skin and overgrown toenails may indicate that the bird is quite old. Breeders who apply steel leg rings to their birds can make things easier, as they are sometimes engraved with the bird’s year of birth. Unlike plastic leg rings, it’s difficult (but not impossible) to replace or alter a steel ring once the bird has reached maturity. Rings that identify year based on color can still be useful, but you need to trust that the breeder has kept good records and is presenting them honestly.
Older birds like to relax and don’t move around as much. I have lovebirds in their late teens that spend 20 hours a day in their nest box. Having said that, some young birds are also lazy, but they’re probably sick and shouldn’t be purchased anyway.
Some birds, particularly parrots, will have their beaks change color as they get older. Lorikeet beaks will start black and turn from reddish brown, to red, to a maroon colour over the course of their lives. Eclectus parrot males will have their beak turn from orange to a light yellow as they begin to get old.
If you’re not sure what physical changes you should be looking for in any given species, ask someone who has a lot of experience at a bird club or online community.