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National Bird Day and What it Really Means

<p>© <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_bendon_1957/17309643931/" target="_blank">Jim Bendon</a></p>

In celebration of National Bird Day 2016, Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Associate for Born Free USA and lifelong bird enthusiast, is writing a special five-part blog series. Below is the fifth and final installment.

If there is one overriding message National Bird Day was meant to deliver, it is that wild bird species belong in the wild-for their benefit, for the benefit of the environment, and, whether we realize it or not, for our benefit, as well.

And, each year for National Bird Day, we pick a general theme to address. This year, we chose to discuss those "cute videos" of captive birds (usually members of the parrot family) that some find amusing-but that ultimately propagate the myth that birds are well-suited to be pets.

Yes, most folks seemed to understand our message, including the websiteThe Dodo, which agreed (I'm delighted to say) not to share URLs with any more captive bird videos. Sadly, both Buzzfeed and Petco did not. Petco, in fact, held a contest for "pet" bird videos! Such a contest glorifies and promotes keeping birds in captive confinement: the polar opposite of what National Bird Day is all about.

If you click here, you'll see a former bird breeder who explains some of the concerns I have (but did not get to). She specifically says that, even when there is a solid relationship between owner and bird without the bird being neurotic and displaying the psychotic behavior that so many people seem to find 'amusing,' it is necessary to be front and center with the bird all the time. The very good analogy she used is that having a bird as a pet is like having a two or three year old child who requires constant attention-but this level of attention is required for up to eight decades!

Predictably, the supporters of bird ownership fought back, often using illogical reasoning. One person said that, because the scientific name of the parrot order, Psittaciformes, means "tree dwelling," they aren't good flyers. However, the term means no such thing and simply derives from the Latin name for a parrot. Many species are powerful flyers... when free and wild, and not clipped or pinioned.

The apologists seemed to think that parrot decline was somehow stopped by aviculture, or that because they tried to be kind to their birds, all was well. But, here is what Joanna Eckles of World Parrot Trust-USA had to say:

"Among our most monumental undertakings to date is our Trade Ban Campaign. The goal of this venture is to completely shut off the trade in wild caught birds into the European Union. Parrots continue to decline worldwide and for most, the pet trade is the primary and immediate problem. Further, there is a clear and positive correlation between the legal and illegal trade such that any restriction in the legal trade will concurrently depress the illegal harvest. The Wild Bird Conservation Act became law in 1993 and prohibited the importation of all wild caught parrots into the United States. At that time the USA was the largest importer of wild caught birds in the world. The European equivalent would end 60% of the current trade. Between 1997 and 2000 the EU officially imported almost 500,000 wild caught birds (PsittaScene 13.3, August 2001). This trade is biologically and economically unsustainable. There are no good arguments for it to continue. Rosemary Low's recent article in PsittaScene (No. 53, November 2002) effectively dismisses the current arguments in favor of continued trade as invalid. In summary, she states that: 'new blood' is not needed; trapping does not support local communities; and breeding by private aviculturists ex situ does not contribute to conservation."

If nothing else, these so-called 'amusing' bird videos encourage bird keeping. And, it is not the parrots and other birds who survive in good physical or mental health who concern me-but those who don't.

Keep wildlife in the wild,
Barry