There is a lot of misunderstanding on the topic of microchipping, especially where it pertains to birds. Many people seem to think that birds are not good candidates for this procedure because of their relatively small size in comparison to cats and dogs. And many people misunderstand the purpose of the microchip. I want to make some clarification.
WHAT IS A MICROCHIP?
A microchip is small electronic device encased in a glass chamber, about the size of a grain of rice, that is inserted into an animal. It is biocompatible and non-toxic. When a scanner is passed over the area of the body containing the chip, it is activated and it transmits an identification number and the name of the chip manufacturer to the the scanner display screen. The person scanning then uses the manufacturers database to locate the contact information of the owner. Microchips are designed to last 25+ years.
HOW IS IT IMPLANTED? ARE THEY SAFE FOR BIRDS?
With cats and dogs, the chip is planted subcutaneously, or just below the skin, usually between the shoulder blades. In a bird, there is almost no subcutaneous area, and there would be a visible lump underneath their thin skin that a bird might be tempted to chew out. Therefore, the microchips are implanted about 1/4 to 1/2″ into the muscle tissue on the left side of the bird’s chest.
The chip is implanted through a hypodermic needle, one with a tip that is large enough to expel something the size of a grain of rice. It is surprisingly large as you look at it, but the procedure is much like a typical injection. While it can be done without the use of anesthetics, but many vets prefer to anesthetize to ensure proper placement and in the event of bleeding. There might be some tenderness in the injection site following the procedure, but it is minmal and there is no awareness of the implant throughout the bird’s life.
While it is most common that the larger birds are microchipped, bird species as small as 65 grams can be microchipped safely. Many people choose to microchip based on the financial or the emotional value they place on their bird.
CAN I TRACK THE LOCATION OF MY LOST BIRD?
No. This is a common misconception. Microchips are not GPS devices. They cannot help you determine the whereabouts of your lost bird. In fact, most scanners need to be used within inches of the bird to activate the device. They are for the purpose of identifying found birds only. In the future, chips will be advanced enough to contain GPS technology, but we are not there yet. I would like to think, though, that since the lifespan of many parrots will exceed the current working duration of today’s microchips, that the next generation of these devices that they will receive will include this feature.
WHAT PURPOSE DOES A MICROCHIP SERVE?
Barely a day goes by when we don’t hear about the escape of someone’s bird. The better socialized of these birds will very often find their way to a potential human caregiver when it gets hungry. Since we cannot use collars and tags on birds, a microchip is your best chance of recovering your lost loved one. Birds that wind up in animal shelters are scanned for microchips before they are adopted out (or euthanized).
Birds are expensive animals and are often a target for theft. Most thieves steal the birds and sell them at “bargain prices” to unsuspecting people (often with a sob story of why they can’t keep them any more). When the new owner takes their bird in for a vet visit, the microchip is often found.
One of my favorite stories of recovery came during a custody battle during a divorce. The woman involved petitioned for their blue and gold macaw, not because she wanted it, but because her soon to be ex loved it dearly and it was her best way to exact revenge. He won custody of the bird. Weeks later, she broke into his house and stole the bird citing that this bird was one that was given to her recently as gift. As birds tend to look very much alike, she figured there was no way to positively identify THIS bird as his. Wrong.
WHAT BRAND SHOULD I USE?
Each manufacturer has its own database and the scanners that the manufacturer supplies only read the radio frequencies emitted by their own brand of chips. There are universal scanners which will read any brand, but most animals shelters do not have them. For this reason, it is recommended that you use a widely known brand increasing the probability that a scanner for that brand is available.
The AVID brand or the Home Again brand are the smart choices. Both brands charge a low, one time activation fee, however, Home Again also charges a $17.99 annual fee to keep your bird’s information in their database.
To microchip, or not, is an individual choice. Some people prefer not to put their bird through any kind of procedure that is not absolutely necessary. Others don’t want to experience regret should their bird escape. In a perfect world this wouldn’t have to be a consideration, but, in reality, doors are accidentally left open and birds are stolen. You should be aware of your options BEFORE such an event might occur.
NOTE: As with most optional procedures, there are pros and cons. There have been instances of lab rats and mice developing cancerous sarcomas in the connective tissue near the implant. Because of the location of the cancer, it is assumed to be the result of the microchip. The evidence is not conclusive. However, it is less likely that your bird will develop cancer than it is that you will be one of the unfortunate people that have your bird fly off during an outing. I, personally, have never heard of any companion pet developing cancer as a result of microchipping.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.