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Aviculture and Animal Welfare: What Is The Difference; Where Do They Stand?

by Becky Margison, Avian Protection Society


Within the past decade, aviculture has gone from a small hobby to a vast multi-million dollar industry. It is now estimated that there are as many as 60 million captive birds living in the U.S.* This dramatic increase has resulted in new challenges when addressing the welfare of birds kept in captivity. While parrots are still endangered in their native habitats, over-breeding and the mass marketing of parrots for the pet trade has, ironically, resulted in many birds meeting the same fate of cats and dogs: too many unwanted birds and not enough good homes.


Despite the growth in the captive bird population, there are few laws governing the breeding and sale of birds, and most protective animal welfare/cruelty legislation excludes birds. Most people are not prepared to deal with a non-domesticated creature that screams, bites, makes messes, and costs a lot of money to keep. Lack of time, arrival of a new family member, "behavior problems" (noise, mess, aggression), inadequate knowledge of avian needs and behaviors, or complaints from neighbors are common reasons for giving up a bird. Many animal shelters will not accept birds. Most avian rescue facilities are full. The crisis of unwanted parrots is very real.


Tom Roudybush, a leading bird food manufacturer, summed up the crisis well, stating, "Some of these [rescue] facilities adopt out their birds, while others intend to keep the birds they house for the rest of their lives. Either way, there is unlikely to be enough capacity to handle the large number of unwanted birds that we will see in the future. We are rapidly getting to the point reached with dogs and cats, where thousands of animals are killed daily for lack of a better way to deal with unwanted pets."


There is an urgent need to raise public awareness regarding the plight of these magnificent creatures. We, as animal advocates, need to focus on public education, adoption programs, and legislation for birds just as we have for dogs and cats. The question is, who will do the job?


Solving a problem involves three steps. First, we must acknowledge that a problem exists. Then, we must raise awareness of the problem. Third, we must find common ground to begin working toward a solution. But what happens when organizations with different views and goals oppose each other? Such is the case between aviculture and avian welfare.


The two main groups involved with captive birds are the avicultural organizations and the avian/animal welfare organizations. While aviculture works to increase captive breeding and to protect the rights and interests of their members to breed, sell, and own birds without restrictions, the goals of animal welfare, protection and advocacy are focused on how to address the problem of unwanted companion birds and to create and enforce protective regulations to ensure the well-being of all captive birds.


Why have these two factions traditionally clashed? The reason is simple: the primary goals oppose each other. For instance, avicultural organizations (whose members may include breeders and bird "owners") resist and lobby against legislation that would protect unweaned chicks and endangered parrots in the wild and regulate breeding and/or "ownership." Avicultural organizations claim "conservation" as a reason for breeding. However, captive breeding does nothing to conserve parrots in their native habitats and, in fact, has contributed to the oversupply of most parrots in captivity. Avicultural organizations often ignore the problem of unwanted parrots in captivity and oppose regulations meant to protect these parrots. Most aviculturists portray animal welfare groups unfairly and use distortions of fact to scare the average bird guardian by equating protection for captive birds with "taking my birds out of my home." The policies and practices of some avicultural groups seem more synonymous with propaganda and profit than the birds' best interests.


Avian welfare groups, on the other hand, are well aware of the problems and have been working on solutions. Welfare organizations are typically made up of avian rescue and sanctuary organizations, veterinarians, established humane organizations, conservation agencies, humane agents/law enforcement, and legal counsel. They exist for the birds' welfare, not their members'. Through rescue, rehabilitation, adoption/sanctuary, education, and legislation, avian welfare organizations are committed to improving the lives of all birds. The achievement of these goals is very often sabotaged or thwarted by the avicultural opposition. Greg Glendell, a prominent welfare activist and founder of BirdsFirst, UK, believes that avicultural groups need to make welfare their central aim instead of focusing on the interests of their members.


The numbers of unwanted, displaced birds entering adoption/sanctuary programs and unweaned baby birds sold through pet stores, birdmarts, and breeders rise at an alarming rate each and every day. Knowing all of this, how can we begin to work together to improve the lives of birds before they face widespread euthanasia as an easy solution to a tragic problem?


Avicultural and welfare groups must first come to the agreement that this problem exists in the first place, and that it is not just about the individual bird who is a companion — it is about the welfare of every bird in captivity. We must agree to come together against cruel and inhumane practices involving birds, while educating those around us. By taking the initiative to support avian welfare, we can protect the lives of all birds in captivity. We must begin to move away from the traditional aviculture view, and move towards an approach that focuses on the ethical issues inherent in keeping any wild animal in captivity and the welfare of those animals.


We can do this by supporting avian welfare organizations. We can demand that our bird clubs not focus on the concerns of individual members, but instead focus on what is best for birds. We can create our own, new avian welfare organizations. We can make our voices heard by speaking out against the cruel and inhumane treatment of any living creature by attempting to educate those we speak with and by researching the issues on our own.

Just because some of us can't or won't acknowledge the crisis doesn't mean it is not very real. It is up to concerned, compassionate citizens to support the goals of avian welfare before it is too late.


Bibliography and Suggested Background Reading


The Animal Protection Institute (API). "Captive Birds: A Hidden Crisis." (

The Animal Protection Institute (API). "Current Law and Suggested Approaches to Improving Captive Bird Welfare." (

Clubb, Susan, DVM. "Captive Management of Birds for a New Lifetime." JAVMA. Vol. 212, No. 8 (1998): 1243–1245.

Davids, Angela. "A Look at Aviculture Yesterday and Today." Bird Talk. Vol. 20, No. 2 (February 2002): 54–61.

Desborough, Laurella. "An Explanation of Animal Rights."

Desborough, Laurella. "Important Issues for 2001"

Desborough, Laurella. "Legislative Issues." AFA Watchbird. Vol. 28, No. 3 (2001): 40–42.

Gilardi, Jaime. "Breeding Parrots For Conservation: An Idea whose time has come, or come and gone?" PsittaScene. Vol. 13, No. 2 (May 2001): 12–13.

Glendell, Greg. "Parrots and the Need for a New Aviculture." PsittaScene. Vol. 13, No. 1 (February 2001).

Graham, David L. DVM, PhD. "Pet Birds: Historical and Modern Perspectives on the Keeper and the Kept." JAVMA. Vol. 212, No. 8 (1998): 1216–1219.

Low, Rosemary. "The Overproduction of Parrots." PsittaScene. Vol. 12, No. 3 (August 2000): 12–13.

MacKay, Barry Kent. "Captive Breeding: To What Purpose?"

Meyers, N. Marshall. "Perspectives on Pet Bird Welfare from the Pet Industry." JAVMA. Vol. 212, No. 8 (1998): 1238–1242.

Norris, Scott. "Sick as a Parrot." New Scientist. Vol. 170, No. 2294 (September 6, 2001): 7.

Thaxton, Barry. "Don't Lose Your Right to Own Birds." Those Majestic Macaws. (


* The Oasis Sanctuary extrapolation of 1996 figures published by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).


Copyright © 2002 Becky Margison, Avian Protection Society.