For the first time, birds receive protection under the Animal Welfare Act

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on March 3, 2023 with 6 Comments

In a monumental step forward for birds who are often exploited in the pet trade, exhibitions and breeding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just enacted federal protections for birds used in commerce. This win is the result of a decades-long legal effort by animal organizations. Now these birds will be afforded species-specific welfare standards for the first time under the Animal Welfare Act. The final regulations include transportation requirements for un-weaned birds, wading areas for aquatic birds and psychological enrichment for all birds covered by the rule. (Remember, though, that the protections offered under this rule are not applicable to birds bred for research, or the billions of birds and other animals across the U.S. farmed for food, which is why we fight for progress for them on other fronts.)

This is a long-fought victory worth celebrating, as more than 5,975 entities will be regulated under this rule after it goes into effect. As an organization that cares about the welfare of all animals, including birds, we worked with our partners in the avian welfare community to advocate for these regulations.

However, our work is not finished. While the final regulations included access to wading water for aquatic birds, they failed to include requirements for allowing flight—a fundamental behavior for most birds. The regulations also provided exemptions for many bird breeders and sellers based on bird size. This exemption allows breeders who supply up to 200 small and medium sized (weighing less than 250 grams) birds per year to evade regulatory coverage under the Animal Welfare Act. Breeders and bird mill operations falling within this exemption can continue to raise birds in basements and backyards, in cramped barren cages that deprive birds of enrichment and access to natural behaviors, before shipping these birds off to sale at pet stores.

Together, animal advocates and advocacy groups have successfully shifted the status quo from no protections at all for birds to meaningful, species-specific regulations. We applaud the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the Avian Welfare Coalition for championing these protections for birds through their lawsuits and continued advocacy and partnership in this fight. And we thank our nearly 8,000 supporters who spoke up on behalf of birds to make this win a reality.

While we celebrate this achievement, we recognize that more needs to be done to create the humane conditions birds deserve, and we will continue to advocate for improved welfare standards for all captive birds.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

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

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  1. Karin Erker says:

    Was für zerstörerische Bilder von den eingesperrten vögeln in den kleinen Käfigen … schrecklich … stop

  2. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Todos los animalitos merecen respeto y leyes para cuidar su bienestar y su vida

  3. BJ says:

    I celebrate this victory. Not to be overly pedantic, but “wean” is the term for young mammals reaching independence (specifically, when they stop nursing). The avian analog is “fledge.” So, in the first paragraph, change “un-weaned birds…” to “un-fledged birds…”

    • SW says:

      Unweaned in this sense means it must be fed by hand. Unfledged relates more to wing development. At least to my understanding.

  4. Theresa Kijek says:

    FINALLY!!! Birds, especially the parrot family, are extremely intelligent. Most mate/bond w/ one partner for life. So, losing their mate is devastating. Also, most people don’t understand the nutritional & psychological needs of parrots. They are miracles of evolution. It’s bad enough that they are destroying their natural habitats. But then, to throw them in cages to sell to people who think they are pretty, like an object is just awful. So, to prevent inhumane living w/ people who don’t understand the care that they require is a start. Hopefully this will help prevent so many species from being on the extinction list, as well as, capturing them in the wild to be traded!! Thank you to all who helped to get some protection under the AWA! I know that I have been working towards this since the mid 1980’s!!! THANK YOU!

  5. Rochelle Adam says:

    I just now saw this post, thanks so much for this significant step and all the work that you and others put into it.
    Can you please send the link to the actual regulations?

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