Born Free USA’s Executive Vice President, Adam Roberts, emphasizes the importance of National Bird Day by sharing his history with avian protection; the progress that has been made for birds; and what must still be accomplished to ensure that birds enjoy a healthy future. Read his thoughts on National Bird Day below.
National Bird Day holds special significance for me, as the very first federal bill I worked on in the early 90s in Washington, D.C. was the Wild Bird Conservation Act, signed into law in October 1992, which prohibited importation of some of the most imperiled bird species. I remember slogging around Capitol Hill day after day, lugging a heavy “portable” VCR, showing Congressional staff videos of wild birds being poached from their forest homes to satisfy the global wild pet trade; telling of drunk and drugged birds being wrapped in newspapers and stuffed over the wheel wells in car trunks to smuggle them over the border from Mexico; showing images of wild birds whose eyes were sewn shut so they would not sing at daylight and possibly expose the illicit trade in their fragile bodies. Our mantra then was a simple one: wild birds should fly free.
While the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species offered some protection to the world’s magnificent bird species, some 800,000 birds were imported into the U.S. annually for pet markets. The brutality of this unregulated trade was startling, with many birds dying or being seriously injured during transport. Those who survived faced an equally terrible fate when they were then sold into lives of captivity and isolation.
Despite the enactment of this momentous bill, which I still take great pride in, there is still a lot of work to be done. The demand generated by the pet trade and collectors still drives a powerful black market involving millions of wild birds. Take parrots, for example. They are one of the most popular pets in the U.S., and comprise a significant portion of the birds collected from the wild. The result of this demand is that nearly one-third of all parrot species are now at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and private collection.
To tackle the black market more effectively, other countries will need to pass their own bans, as well. Just six years ago, the European Union banned the import of wild-caught birds due to health risks associated with bird flu, which conveniently also served to save millions of wild birds from the pet trade. However, many other countries have few or no regulations, and trapping and trade of wild-caught birds continues freely. These lax standards ensure that birds remain popular pets and that enforcement of bans in other nations is highly challenging.
And while fewer birds are ripped from the wild for a life of captivity, the bird trade – whether from smuggled animals or legal breeding operations – does continue. This means birds jammed together in tiny, unsanitary cages, in conditions akin to puppy mills. Birds deserve better. Millions of birds should, indeed, fly free, and National Bird Day is the perfect opportunity to recommit ourselves to success for birds everywhere.
Click here to watch my video conversation with Parrot Confidential filmmaker, Allison Argo, in which we discuss the film, birds around the world, and the importance of National Bird Day. And, be sure to visit www.nationalbirdday.org for other fun ways to get involved.