Decades-long persistence pays off as proposed federal regulations will protect captive birds

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on April 6, 2022 with 10 Comments

When Humane Society of the United States investigators go out to take a close look at facilities that keep captive birds—roadside zoos, animal markets and others—they almost always return with the same dispiriting reports of dismal treatment and living conditions.

Owls and hawks tightly chained to perches for display in a hunting show booth. Parrots and other birds in barren cages—thick with waste, old seed and no clean water in sight—missing feathers and picking away at themselves. A caged grey parrot alone in a dark room at a roadside zoo, calling out, “hello, hello,” when an investigator entered.

The terrible details may differ, but the story is always the same. Birds in all these situations are bereft of legal protection and invariably denied proper care. Every one of them, in a legal sense, has been falling through the cracks for years.

The good news is that the long wait for a promised measure of basic protection is almost over, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just released a proposed rule outlining the handling, care and treatment of birds held in captivity. The rule, which is expected to go into effect in 2023, will apply to breeders, distributors and exhibitors of birds, as well as to carriers and intermediate handlers of birds. It will also regulate the treatment of wild-caught birds at research facilities.

Such regulation is not merely overdue. It is warranted on moral and animal welfare grounds.

The exemption of certain animal species from legal protection, usually done under pressure from one special interest or another, is a persistent obstacle in our work, with no shortage of examples in local, state or federal law. One of the most conspicuous examples is the exclusion of most captive birds—from birds bred for use in research to pet canaries—from protection under federal Animal Welfare Act regulations. The AWA does require protections for certain birds, such as wild-caught birds used for research, but for decades, the USDA declined to establish specific regulatory protections for them. Thankfully, a couple of years ago, after a round of litigation, a U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with animal advocates that the USDA must regulate bird welfare.

It was encouraging to see the recently proposed USDA rule includes the specific recommendations we advanced with our key partners the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the Avian Welfare Coalition and the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation in 2020. These first-ever standards would mandate enrichment to meet the psychological needs of birds, prohibit the transport of unweaned birds, require licensure of any facilities with four or more breeding pairs, require access to water for immersion and swimming in the case of wading and aquatic birds, and include coverage of birds used in falconry.

This is a good proposal, but we feel strongly that the USDA should include additional protections in the final rule. It is critical that captive birds be able to express natural behaviors such as flying, so there ought to be a limit on the number of hours they can be tethered, along with a basic requirement for flight space in facilities. Moreover, just as the USDA has prohibited declawing and defanging of certain species, we hold the view that the agency should prohibit painful mutilations such as pinioning (wing clipping), toe clipping, surgical devoicing and beak alterations. Physical alterations for cosmetic or behavioral reasons, not focused on the improvement of animal well-being, should be illegal.

We also believe the agency should develop specific regulations to restrict public contact with birds to help prevent injury to a person or animal, and since birds in the pet trade are wild animals, pet shops selling them should be licensed.

Please take the time to weigh in with the USDA, acknowledging your appreciation for the proposal and sharing your view that it is reasonable to set standards under the AWA for the care and treatment of birds used by commercial industries, such as breeding, exhibition and the pet trade, and for some types of research.

Not surprisingly, the rule is already under attack by interest groups that want to maintain the status quo—no protection at all for birds. We can’t have that, not this time. We’ve waited too long to cede any ground to special interests, and more importantly, birds have waited too long for protections they so deserve.

Investigations, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Todos los animalitos no merecen protección y vivir una vida sin sufrimiento

    • David says:

      He has given us dominion over the birds and all 4 legged creatures, over all that craweth upon the earth.
      It is our Duty, responsibility and, purpose to live in synchronization and peace with all he has given us.

      This includes not only standing up for justice but explaining to others why we should!
      Here’s to doing the right thing!

  2. Anna Bartels says:

    Please do not let the birds go unnoticed and tortured. They are sentient creatures. Pass legislation to protect them. Thank you.

  3. Karin Erker says:

    Schrecklich, was Menschen Tieren antun … wir müssen tierquäler stoppen …und diese brutalen tierquäler bestrafen …

  4. Karin Erker says:

    Stop das tierleid und bestraft diese tierquäler

  5. Ritamary McMahon says:

    I am the director of the Wild Bird Fund, New York City’s only wildlife rehabilitation facility, which treats 9,000 animals a year. As sentient creatures, avian species deserve our compassion and respect. Regulation of standards is sorely needed in order to not deprive captive birds of their natural behavior and a proper habitat. Anything less is animal cruelty.

  6. Amber k says:

    Thank God I always see birds looking so unhappy in cages Petco is one of them they keep those poor birds from months old by the self stuck in the back it’s disgusting feathers out Petco should be ashamed of his self and many others God made birds to have wings for a reason and that is the fly not clipping the wings or keeping them in the cage I don’t see it even how People can keep them as pets birth naturally need to fly and be free the beautiful please pass this bill they really should stop altogether capturing them it’s horrible I hate to see birds in captivity is a disgrace such cruelty

  7. JANE KORBETT says:

    Please put in place these urgently needed protections for birds of all species. So many are tortured in cruel unhealthy, living situations. No animal, especially one that is so intelligent and aware of itself s birds should be robbed of a natural healthy life.

  8. Sharon Meyers says:

    Animals are to be free to fly and hunt for food. Not to be kept in a cage. It’s like keeping a tiger in captivity. Animals are to be free.

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