By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
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.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.