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The Illegal Wild Bird Trade

caged birds

We recently received a disturbing email. Through’s web site people can send us a photograph of a bird and we will try to identify it.

This is the image we were sent.   We were asked to identify the bird with the orange head.

The image shows what appears to be parrots in small cages with barely enough room to turn around.

BirdLife International has this to say about the wild bird trade.

“Wildlife trade is big business and generates substantial revenue worldwide. Alongside the illegal trade in arms and drugs, the smuggling of animals, plants and their parts, is one of the biggest challenges in terms of combating international crime. Some flagship species for conservation, such as the tiger and African elephant, have been notably affected by this illegal activity. Nearly 4,000 bird species involving several million individuals annually are subject to domestic or international trade with finches, weavers, parrots and raptors being some of the most heavily affected groups.

Trapping for the international bird trade has been identified as a contributory factor in the threat status of one in twenty  threatened and near-threatened bird species. Some are close to extinction as a result, such as the Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea of East Timor and Indonesia; others are already Extinct in the wild, such as the Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii of Brazil. Examples of species which continue to be threatened by legal and illegal exploitation for the bird trade include the Red Siskin Carduelis cucullata in northern South America, Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora of Indonesia and the African Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus.  Some species have improved in status through successful control of unsustainable trapping and trade and/or improved harvest and trade management (e.g. Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari, Imperial Amazon Amazona imperialis).

In 2012, nearly all the countries and territories of the world (242, 99%) harbour bird species that are threatened by overexploitation, but this threat appears to be particularly prevalent in Asia (analysis of data held in BirdLife’s World Bird Database 2012). This region has eight out of the ten countries with the highest numbers of threatened birds at risk from exploitation (see figure). Indonesia and China stand out: as well as affecting the greatest number of species (82 and 71 respectively), overexploitation is impacting a higher proportion of all their threatened birds, and hence their entire avifauna, than would be expected in these countries.”

Closer to home, the beautiful male Painted Bunting is trapped in Mexico and Central America and sold as a pet bird. It is illegal to own a pet Painted Bunting in the United States, as well as any other native song bird.

Many people enjoy pet birds.  If you are thinking about purchasing a pet bird please do your homework on where the bird was raised.  For parrots you should see documentation that describes if the bird was imported or captive bred in the United States.  If the bird was imported the required documentation include a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declaration form and a CITES permit that prove the bird was legally brought in the U.S.

Birdlife International – Wild bird trade and CITES
BirdLife International (2012) Unsustainable exploitation of birds is most prevalent in Asia.
Determining if your parrot is legal before you buy.  PDF from Defenders of Wildlife web site.
A brief report on the illegal cage-bird trade in southern Florida: a potentially serious negative impact on the eastern population of Painted Bunting
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).



About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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