THE Aviculturist — Tony Silva

Tony Silva — winner of BirbObserver‘s 1st Annual Birbie for Best Aviculturist— earned his wings in exotics field research and zoo management (Silva is a former Loro Parque Curator) as well as in aviculture. Author of the ever-informative Psittaculture (now available in its second, updated edition!), Silva exudes a focused energy, keen attention and calm competence. Silva does not shrink from the mantle of educator cast upon him — to the contrary, YouTube videos shot around the globe attest to his dedication as a mentor and teacher. Gifted with appealing intelligence and social grace, Silva lives out the adage “to whom much has been given, of them much will be asked.”

As a youth, Silva precociously published a book on tropical aquaria. Even his mother expressed amazement at its success. Now an international businessman with a model private aviary and an itinerary a mile long, Silva still finds time to exercise leadership in  aviculture. If you’re up to daily lectures on bird matters, check out Tony’s Facebook page. Daily posts often constitute thoughtful essays on bird-related topics. Tony places a premium on education and also humility: “Today I know less than I did yesterday; tomorrow I will know less than today.”

As Silva well knows, birds are complex creatures. Did you know that within one species or subspecies, behavior may vary relative to the geographic location of the hereditary flock? For instance, in Bolivia, blue-throated macaws in the Barba Azul Reserve, the westernmost population, like their nests in tree hollows below the leaf canopy, while blue-throated macaws in a more eastern population only nest within hollows occurring at the very top of palm trunks, above any canopy? The point is that it is unwise to expect to predict  your own bird’s behavior by asking your best online friend about her bird.

Silva also emphasizes to parrot lovers that scientific developments since the 1970’s and 1980s have significantly altered contemporary understanding. Did you realize that parrots evolved consuming only low-sugar/unripened fruits? Thus these birds avoided stiff competition for later-in-time ripe, high-sugar fruits. In establishing the proper diet for a bird, Silva counsels, first, provide foods the bird in fact evolved eating. Next, to the extent scientific data confirms the appropriateness of other foods for your species of bird, supplement that evolutionary diet with those foods.

Silva encourages students of aviculture to seek out experts in their fields, whether avian nutrition or behavior or veterinary medicine. While technology readily avails us of voluminous information, only subject-matter experts reliably can relay the most scientifically current, accurate and appropriate information.  Silva advises joining national bird clubs and organizations as well — for access to quality  educational resources. For instance, in the United States, the American Federation of Aviculture‘s BirdWatch magazine, which comes with membership, is the nation’s premier avian field research publication. Silva advises setting aside time to read and digest material, thereby acquiring a  basic body of knowledge.

In southern Florida, Tony is hatching a plan: an advanced aviculture education center, which currently is under construction. Interns would stay for an extended period and raise birds under supervision of experienced aviculturists.

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For Love of Rambo

As many of you already know, Rambo the free-flighted macaw, of Belgium, was shot down December 29, 2018, by a hunter. Shock and empathy for his owner resounded throughout public media platforms. In messaging, grieving and angry parrot owners expressed their own sense of loss at Rambo’s ending and wondered how they could help Rambo’s family. Below, we provide some avenues of helping Rambo’s family and legal developments.

The shooting occurred over private farm land where the macaws had permission to fly.  Rambo wore a colored vest which held his tracker, but whether the hunter could or did see the tracker is not known. The impact of the shot and the subsequent ravaging by a hunting dog led Rambo to his tragic and untimely death. According to one news source, the hunter, a 53-year-old man, asserted a right to shoot any non-native bird, without exception, even for pet birds.

Rambo was only three, and as the commemorative slide show below shows, he was the “apple of his father’s eye”. We share this slide show by his parront both in Rambo’s honor, and in recognition that snapshots from the Life of Rambo poignantly illustrate the deep love and committed relationship between a parront and his free-flighted macaws.

In Rambo’s case, according to another news source, the hunter apologized after learning Rambo was a pet. However, the probability of a brightly colored macaw NOT being a pet in the Netherlands is low so, retrospectively, one readily suspects at least a momentary impulse of trophy-hunting mentality.

Initially Rambo’s parront launched a petition asking the Belgium government to do three things:

  1. Investigate the shooting;
  2. Enact legislation which would set forth an exact list of species available for hunting and prohibit the shooting of any other species; and
  3. That the legislation further provide that the only instances in designating a species a pest could an exemption be obtained and that potential pests be set forth in law.

While each country differs in laws governing hunting, prey, and the rights of pets and their owners, the more we learn about bird health and abilities, the practices of free-flight training and free-flight grow. As this example shows, parronts of free-flying birds may want to study their nation’s laws and lobby for legislation that adequately protects their pet birds in activities undertaken to promote their flourishing and health. Check for your national bird organizations online; consider joining. Many of these may engage in legislative initiatives that can protect your pet ownership rights.

For those flying in the country, remember also to know the hunting seasons and avoid days of heavy hunting such as the opening and closing of seasons for other birds, such as quail or fowl, where a shotgun similarly would already be in a hunter’s hands.

Currently, Rambo’s owner is pursuing the matter at law. Legal representation is very expensive there as in many places. If you would like to contribute to the funds for representation, click here for a site that allows you to contribute internationally via PayPal. Otherwise contributions may be made to this special bank account: BE61 9733 5988 7717 (BIC: ARSPBE22). Rambo’s story and the related efforts now have a dedicated website, accessible by clicking here. Please see Mero Ara or Ellen Uittenbogaard for further information.

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Hyacinth Macaws: Endangered or Threatened?!

If you would study the law of a country, consider yourself on an ambling tour of that “ship of state,” its deck filled with crew hubbub and the creaking of mooring a massive, labyrinthine ship, which turns only deadeningly slow in the water.

In August, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) promulgated a Schedule 4(d) schema for hyacinth macaws, which the Service designated as “threatened”  under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 USC 1531 et seq. This action concluded a six-year long initiative to settle the rapidly evolving status of that signature Gentle Giant of Parrots, the hyacinth macaw.

To understand the posture of this determination, it helps to have a perspective on the framework of animal conservation law in the US, a structure that had the Lacey Act of 1900 as its first cornerstone. The Lacey Act criminalizes illegal trade in animals and plants and establishes a system of both civil and criminal penalties for such violations. The Lacey Act prohibits the importation, exportation, transport, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of any fish, or other wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold: (1) In violation of any federal regulation, law, or treaty, or regulation or any Indian tribal law; or (2) In violation of any law or regulation of any State or any foreign law, whether the act be in the international or interstate context.

Thus, by example, under the Lacy Act, any importation, exportation, transport, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of a wild-sourced hyacinth macaw, whether internationally or in interstate commerce, implicates civil or criminal liability because removing a wild-sourced hyacinth macaw violates Brazil’s Environmental Crimes Law (9605/98). Likewise, any importation, exportation, transport, sale, receipt, acquisition, or purchase of a species listed on CITES Appendix I would give rise to criminal liability under the Lacy Act.

New students of US conservation law may perceive an inconsistent redundancy, a seemingly senseless duplication, overlap and inefficiency in the parallel but independent endangered species protections established separately in the federal ESA and the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA). Yes, a particular species at a given time may be subject simultaneously to multiple federal conservation initiatives. Even while jurisdiction for separate regulatory jurisdiction may lie within the same Cabinet-level Department, the programs may be administered by separate offices within that bureaucracy.  And those separate programs cannot foresee, nor would they necessarily confer and resolve were they to foresee, contradictory outcomes in a given case of first impression.

Yes, where an organizational efficiency consultant would insist such programs merge to resolve the discrepancy, the two independent programs more likely have the “territorial” budget incentive to ignore each other one more year, or deny the conflict one more year, in order to sustain or increase their office’s annual budget.  That’s just a proactive career protection strategy.

In the 1970s the United States actually exemplified the cutting-edge in conservation law with ESA’s enactment.  The WBCA followed some twenty years later in 1992. The Schedule 4(d) regimen FWS promulgated in August takes its authorization, content and significance from ESA, not the later WBCA. While the rule references CITES, and while the rule uses similar terminology, its energizing principles are rooted in a preexisting and independent framework.

The WBCA  restricts importation of most CITES-listed exotic birds. Depending on the species, official findings about that species and properly implemented licensing programs, specific listed bird species may after all be imported or traded pursuant to such licenses for scientific research, zoo programs or even the companion animal industry, pets, when certain criteria are met.

 The FWS August rule designates hyacinth macaws as “threatened” not “endangered” and so, under color of 50 CFR 17.31,  generally prohibits imports and exports. The 4(d) rule basically incorporates CITES and the WBCA authority by reference. However, the 4(d) rule allows a person to import or export without a permit under each of two different circumstances:

(1) The wild-sourcing of the macaw in question demonstrably occurred prior to the date the species was listed under CITES, e.g., the “grandfathered” macaw; or

(2) the hyacinth was demonstrably not only aviary- raised but also at least F2.

Obviously, integrating CITES reference points was the easy way out. But this left a very real world problem: none of the applicable paperwork requirements had been imposed on the parties with ownership. Thus current owners should be able to prove through original records the importation dates of wild-sourced “grandfathered” birds, pr sufficient pedigree or breeding records of  F2 grandchildren of those grandfathered parrots.

And that’s where the proverbial sh*t hits the fan. First of all, the only parties ever obligated to maintain importation documentation were the Quarantine operators. But FWS now claims the designated document retention period for such records was only five years. As hyacinth macaws are not sexually mature until seven or eight years, may not breed until fifteen years, and have a potential reproductive lifespan of about 65 years, the adoption of a five year document retention policy was at best short sighted and at worst something from Theatre of the Absurd. Shall you or I Wait For Godot, or has the Quarantine operator already diverted him?!

Second, no law or regulation ever imposed pedigree record-keeping requirements on breeders, nor did any law or regulation every designate a self-regulatory national aviculture organization as the body authorized to impose such requirements on its members.

The overarching purpose of the constitutionally sufficient Notice and Comment procedure for federal government agencies is to prevent arbitrary and capricious post hoc decision making. In other words, our legal system generally does not charge unwittng parties with achieving the impossible: when a new legal requirement is imposed and logical demonstrates that in certain circumstances a party had no possible means of meeting the post hoc requirements, those parties are “grandfathered” into the class of people deemed compliant.

Either the FWS should observe the culturally appropriate practice of grandfathering, or the agency officers should “return to the drawing board” and specify rational and realistic requirements rather than, as it has to this point, incorporate impractical rules arising from a later, inapplicable parallel legal construct.


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Your Parrot and State ESAs

In the United States, depending on the state in which you live, you may not be able to move to, visit, or sell your aviary-raised parrot across state lines, or acquire a member of the opposite sex with which to breed your parrot out-of-state; and you may not be able to purchase a parrot in another state and bring it home. That is, if your bird is “listed” as endangered or threatened under US federal law.

These obnoxious restrictions arise from state Endangered Species Acts (state ESAs), which are implemented pursuant to compacts with the federal government under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA)(16 USC sec. 1531 et seq.). The federal ESA is what implements US treaty obligations under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

These interstate prohibitions, further, unnecessarily burden local parrot sanctuaries and rescues because individuals must abandon their birds to them upon moving out of state. Finally, these interdictions threaten the health of our national pet breed stock.

While state ESAs are essential tools for states’ conservation of their’ own native flora and fauna, their provisions regarding nationally internationally listed animals add nothing whatsoever to the benefit of non-native listed specimens in their native habitats. Rather, they enact a level of trade and travel restriction on aviary raised companion parrots that are listed which was never intended nor contemplated by the drafters of CITES or ESA.

As a case of first impression (meaning “what follows does NOT constitute legal advice), these unnecessary burdens should be found unconstitutional because they may violate the Commerce Clause: the states impose an onerous burden on pet bird owners and breeders without properly having the nexus of a legitimate state interest which is benefited by imposing such a burden.

In part, this obvious conclusion has not yet emerged because neither CITES nor US law provide the legal framework which would adequately reflect the situation on the ground, as wrought by state ESAs. Unfortunately, the US expressly does not distinguish between aviary-raised and wild but reserves the extreme case — differentiation into a separate domestic species — for later determination.

Below we review the way US law reached this conclusion: it has to due with an earlier situation involving oryx, addax and gazelle, all listed on Appendix I of CITES and in the US under ESA. Clearly, the companion parrot inhabits a more domestic space than a herd of ungulates, which raises the question how “wild” is third-generation aviary-bred and later (the sole available international standard for distinguishing them).

So is your parrot “domesticated”? The scientific community certainly does not regard aviary-raised as a separate domestic species of wild specimens. In fact, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which the US implements federally through the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 USC sec. 1531 et seq.) and which states implement via compact with the feds and legislation, separate treatment is provided for grandchildren of wild-sourced parrots (F2 and higher): permitting regulates limited trade in these specimens.

Under CITES, the F2 distinction establishes a threshhold for permitting limited trade. This regulation of breeding institutions comes at a cost to the public and to breeders. It is not practical for a small-scale breeder to incur the expense of inspection and regulation; it is even less so appropriate to expect to apply a permitting system to private citizens with companion parrots engaging in limited intrastate travel and trade. While state ESAs empower states to protect native endangered flora and fauna, those ESAs don’t make a lot of sense when they add further interstate restrictions on non-native endangered or threatened species.

Consider: the combined limitations on interstate movement and sale/exchange compromise the future health of our domestic breed stock for aviary-raised parrots because aviculturists, depending on the state in which they reside, may not be able to maintain proper herd genetic diversification in their stock. Imagine an aviculturist with two female hyacinth macaws — a threatened species — who wants to exchange one female for a male and breed the remaining female, yet she is the sole hyacinth breeder in her state: she must go across state lines to finish out a breeding pair and so diversify the gene pool. However, because the only authorized interstate transaction is the noncommercial exchange of same-sex animals, the aviculturist is stuck: she cannot exchange a female for a male hyacinth. Subsequent breeding from an insufficiently diverse gene pool risks the emergence of undesirable recessive genes as dominant. If American companion animal owners want to maintain a healthy national pet stock, they have a vested interest in seeing these laws are changed.

While the federal government mirrors CITES in keeping “captive-bred” in the same legal category as wild, CITES further provides for nations to establish permitting systems for limited international trade based on grandchildren of wild stock (F2). Federal law developed in this way: In 1970, the federal government listed the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the dama gazelle as endangered. Then in 1991 FWS proposed a rule, but did not move on it till reopening it to comments twelve years later in 2003.

Thereafter, in 2005 FWS proposed new regulations which declared the three species endangered and generally authorized a permitting system for otherwise banned activities, including stem-cell research on and trophy hunting of, the domestic captive-bred populations. Simultaneously, the Service announced its finding that the domestic populations depended wholly on captive-breeding programs and that activities relating to those programs enhance the propagation and survival of the overall species. FWS sought comments on those announced findings.

Several months later, based on the comments on its findings, FWS inserted an entirely new, final regulation detailing specifics permitting for the captive-bred populations. Predictably, various organizations challenged the new rule, and the courts ruled against FWS, as FWS had not subjected the express permitting provisions to comment earlier .

Importantly, the captive-bred stock of these species remained in herds in relatively “wild” environments, not in the house environment, potentially separated from the flock, as companion parrots do. The proposed rule and final rule do not contain discussion of the point at which “captive-bred” are deemed domesticated, nor did they venture into the question of maintaining such stock in companion animal, non-herd situations. So, in the end, the attempt to distinguish captive-bred from wild species failed.

In 2013, the Administration reconsidered the oryx/addax/gazelle “captive-bred” dilemma and ultimately confirmed that for those species ESA did not distinguish between “captive-bred” and wild specimens. FWS based its argument by reasoning about definitions: ESA must “specify for each species listed ‘over what portion of its range’ it is endangered or threatened” and that “range” refers only to “native range.” However, in a footnote, FWS expressly limited its determination: “This analysis does not address situations where members of a species have been held in captivity for a sufficiently long period that they have developed into a separate domesticated form of the species.” (78 Fed.Reg. 33790, 33792 f. 2 (June 5, 2013). [Emphasis added.] In other words, FWS distinguished domesticated/wild but did not draw any distinction regarding in-herd or not, domestic situation and not.

The problem is that domestication is a lengthy process, and the fact that tameable third-generation parrots live often independent of flock and in the house begs for a different statutory construction or even amendment. Domestication, derived from the Latin for “belonging to the house,” is a combined genetic and acculturative process which is multi-generational and mutually beneficial. While the domesticator exercises control and care over the target domesticate‘s reproduction and lifestyle to gain a more ready supply, the target domesticate acquires benefits which set it apart from its wild counterparts. The genetic part takes place via selective breeding instead of natural selection. Certainly our tame parrots should not be required to be completely domesticated before they and us enjoy the benefits of interstate travel and trade as do our neighbors.

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Animal Rights: Does your Bird have “Personality”?

The 1970s heralded a revolution in the legal status of animals. PETA, established in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1974, advocated vegetarianism and various boycotts with the slogan “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” Along a parallel track, in 1975, the nations of the world implemented the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect endangered wildlife from commercial exploitation. Soon, behind the scenes animal rights activists adopted a fundamentally new strategy — they turned to seeking legal reclassification of animals from “things” to “persons.” This fundamental shift has ramifications not just for abuse/neglect cases, but also for animal ownership/companionship and related industries like animal husbandry and feed and supplies.

The world’s major religious traditions expressly provide for humane treatment of animals so animal rights often has immediate philosophic and sympathetic appeal, without consideration of the new legal revolution for which it stands. Who objects, after all, to increased prosecution of neglect or abuse cases, improved habitats for zoo animals, or humane treatment of laboratory animals? Who does not take pride in championing such causes? Animal rights activism is a handy, relatively inexpensive, low-risk first political cause for many youth to support. With quasi-religious devotional practices like vegetarianism/veganism, online petitions for signature, and boycotts, the cause of animal rights can raise zeal, ardor, even a deaf extremism. In the age of social media, signing petitions in support of animal rights initiatives is often a ticket to community inclusion. Ergo, organizations such as PETA, with a staff of approximately 400 and a claimed membership of around 6.5 million, can readily mobilize an army to exert political and economic pressure.

But is the all or nothing approach of “thing” versus “person” really where society should head?

Wikipedia defines animal rights as ” the idea in which some, or all, non-human animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives and that their most basic interests—such as the need to avoid suffering—should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.” [Italics added for emphasis.]

Western Civilization envisions rights as “natural”, stemming from a hypothetical John Locke set out during the Enlightenment: two “natural”–i.e., rational — humans face off in a forest over ownership of fallen game. Equally matched, each risks losing life and limb in event of a fight, which is counter-productive to the task of survival sustenance. These idealized rational people arbitrage risk by submitting the case to a third-party judge. This submission is considered entry into “the social contract.” The social contract, thus, is a threshold, an initial qualification from which other rights flow. The Enlightenment ideal implicitly rides the shoulders of the Judeo-Christian tradition: personality indicates “mind,” the presence of that spark of intelligence that historically justified setting humanity apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. From the perspective of intellectual history, the term animal rights is oxymoronic.

To those opposed to animal rights, animals do not have sufficient rationality, independence or self-determination to enter into a social contract. Clearly, the proposed reclassification would shatter the comfortable world of companion animal “ownership,” as ownership of persons is by definition “slavery.” In fact, this reclassification effort parallels the reclassification of Black Americans from “chattel” to “person” which banned slavery in the United States in the 19th century. More recently, the Supreme Court granted corporations “personality,” and thereby destabilized the United States political scene with an immediate surge of corporate campaign contributions.

How important are our symbiotic companion animal relationships? Symbiotic inter-species interaction has physiological impact as well as emotional. Petting a companion animal reduces blood pressure; keeping a companion bird, who can see in ultraviolet light where humans cannot, can increase awareness, inquisitiveness and even knowledge of the world around us. These relationships are mutually beneficial, but how would these work out legally? Sadly, outright “personality” would end animal companionship. From the business standpoint, such a definition in conservation certainly would not be tolerated: Consider the Trump Administration’s recent decision to cease prosecuting corporations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for such “incidental deaths” as those of bats and birds running afoul of power-generating windmills. If birds were “persons”, this would be tantamount to foregoing manslaughter prosecutions!

Political agendas always have fallout — collateral damage — which, from a utilitarian standpoint, marks a reduction in society’s well-being. Boycotts destabilize markets, risk jobs and entire industries, reduce consumption and haunt with the specter of recession. Animal rights activism in general has negative fallout for animal husbandry industries. Sadly, the ardour of such activists waxes too hot: they remain willfully ignorant of the simple truth that breeders have unique value in their expertise and specialized knowledge. With birds that is especially true as that is over 350 different species!

Consider the case of a large-scale animal rescue operation. Who has the quarantine facilities to handle the intake? More than once in my experience it was a kindly local breeder who provided her quarantine facilities for the bulk of the rescued animals. Yet breeders live in constant fear of animal rights activists stealing their stock and abusing it.

Consider the animal rights activist who cleaned out a show-rabbit breeder in New Mexico. Pedigreed animals carefully matched for trait and hereditary reasons in a proper breeding program were removed from their pens and willy-nilly dumped together in larger pens. Unplanned and unrecorded matings occurred in the mixed pens, resulting both in in-breeding and ill-advised pregnancies of immature females. The animal rights activist’s theft created a yet larger rescue emergency as the constantly reproducing herd created a safety and sanitation hazard. Sadly, the animal rescues on-scene neutered all rabbits rather than returning the tattooed, pedigreed rabbits to their rightful owner. (Please explain to me how neutering an animal does not totally invade and violate their personhood? Neutering renders rabbits behaviorally more manageable as pets; in this practice animal rights activists directly contradict their own philosophy of personality; even courts don’t castrate criminals).

The legal trend in our century is to “go with the flow” on granting personhood. For instance, in 2010 the Supreme Court even recognized corporations as “persons”. Thus, by shirt-tailing personality in law, animal rights activists are likely to succeed in gaining the reclassification. As in the above botched rescue, that success may overall diminish domestic animal and social welfare. Taken personality as a given, how should the opposition trouble-shoot the future in favor of responsible animal husbandry and symbiotic companion animal relationships?

Once the legal system recognizes animals as having personality, other legal analogies such as guardianship, conservatorship. and minority likely will mediate the space left by the obvious that while animals may have “personality” they do not have it to the full extent of a mature human citizen. Already in family court this occurs as divorce proceedings resolve companion animal custody and visitation issues. However, these analogies have limited value: while they may address issues in the symbiotic relationship of animal companionship, they don’t generalize well to conservation discussions.

Exotic parrots, at the juncture of a rise in companion animal market demand and endangered species status, canaries in the coalmine of global warming with their shifting migrations, demand a more innovative response, one that provides an identical footing for both domestic and wild/conservation contexts or else one that coordinates separate definitions in the wild and domestic contexts through a definition of domestication.

The 20th and 21st centuries have experienced a major paradigm shift regarding the relationship of humanity to its environment. The interrelationships of ecosystem inhabitants determine equilibrium. Empirically this suggests the legal system should weigh rights based on contributions to equilibrium.

The legal concept “person” has Judeo-Christian correlates: to have personality is to have “mind” and to be made in the image of God. Not only do rights abound upon reaching equivalency with humanity, in this view, the rights come with associated duties and obligations. But it’s an all-or-nothing approach with later developments of guardianship and minority as a means, belatedly, of fine-tuning to reality.

One could look to the history of science for a parallel. The Judeo-Christian worldview has always been anthropocentric. At one point the Roman Catholic church insisted on reinforcing the anthropocentric with an geocentric astronomy, the Ptolemaic system. Astronomers had to perform mathematical gymnastics to reconcile projected and actual observations. But then Copernicus cut through the mass of messy equations by placing the sun at the center of our planetary system, for which act he was excommunicated from the Roman church.

When we examine our symbiotic relationships with animals in the domestic setting, animals in their adaptation to a human-dominant habitat appear not unlike children in their gradual subordination of instinct in favor of positively reinforced decision-making. They do, in fact, display some degree of self-determination. For instance, as reported by Animal Diversity, after training, the African grey parrot Alex exhibited intelligence akin to that of some marine mammals and non-human primates, at a level between that of a four- or six-year-old. A wild animal similarly inherits some traits but learns specific behavior, in the case of birds, through imprinted identity followed by positive reinforcement. In the smaller context of the household, animals do in fact, take on corresponding duties and functionalities: a dog fetches the morning newspaper for his crippled, elderly owner; a cat uses its litter pan for the privilege of a soft indoor bed; a rabbit allows petting so its owner can reduce stress after work; a bird helps its owner by free-flight performance retrieving dollar bills from awed onlookers.

Why shouldn’t there be a common basis for deriving an animal’s rights and human’s rights across both wild and domestic contexts so the law would not have to add so many qualifications ex post facto? Such a system would assign rights in correspondence with duties or contributions to habitat or ecosystem equilibrium. In this way learning from imprinting in the wild could be considered on the same footing as adapting to households.

Such an achievement would be far harder in today’s legal system than personhood for animals, but it is a worthy goal.

(Courtesy of Peninsula Caged Bird Society)

Bring on Organized IRL Bird Clubs!

DownUnder and in the US, Free-Flight clubs and meet-ups, both indoors and outdoors, emerge from social media relationships and from a hunger for tangible fellowship not possible on social media. Let’s make sure we’re making as much use of existing IRL bird club infrastructure as we can! Did you realize that, in the United States, at least, a network of bird clubs existed prior to the mushrooming of social media?

As some know, I have more rabbit than about parrot experience. When I first googled area bird clubs and shows, I naively expected a club structure like that for rabbits. But the two could not be more different! And those differences reflect rabbits and birds different roles in our agricultural and companion animal histories and cultures.

In the United States, the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), founded in 1974, is the umbrella bird club organization. AFA defines “aviculturist” “anyone keeping exotic birds in captivity” with “certain responsibilities transcending those of the owners of domesticated pets like dogs and cats.” The organization believes that aviculturists should seek always better to know their birds’ special needs, remain abreast of research conservation status, and legal developments impacting the species of bird they keep. AFA has a pre-existing club structure that we hope clubs newly emerging from social media will hook into– affiliation with AFA is easy: form your club and annually complete an affiliation form, pay the club-sized based annual fee, and partake of AFAs benefits for all your members. Individual membership and participation also is highly encouraged.

AFA thus engages on many avian fronts. providing education (including certification) for parrot folk from companion bird owners, bird behavior consultants and trainers, to avian exotics breeders, etc. The AFA’s activities include a large annual convention, certification courses in aviculture, publication of the monthly award-winning magazine Watchbird, disaster assistance to avian organizations, and a network of local clubs as well as show circuits for such smaller birds as parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels. The AFA has regional and area directors to help coordinate its local activities.

The AFA is dedicated to the promoting aviculture, strengthening wild avian conservation through captive breeding programs, scientific research and the education of the general public. In promoting aviculture , AFA educate legislators represents the avicultural community at CITES meetings.

AFA-affiliated bird clubs surprise by the diversity of their member interests, their stated purposes and their calendars. Peninsula Caged Bird Society (PCBS) in Newport News, Virginia, provides a case in point. Established in the 1980s with AFA affiliation, in 1985 it held its first show under National Cockatiel Society’ sanction (insurance and governing rules). Note the fragmentation in bird organizations, not present in the older agricultural tradition of ARBA. Throughout the 1980s, the annual shows increased the species shown, which meant obtaining sanction through multiple bird specialty organizations. In 1993 with Bird Clubs of America/Bird Clubs of Virginia.

Over time, PCBS has established chapters for national conservation programs, breeding partnerships, and educational outreach to pet stores. In 1994 PCBS hosted its first BCA Breeder Convention. In 1999, PCBS inaugurated an auction program to benefit veterinary, aviculture, and conservation research. Seventeen years ago the club started a feather collection program to donate feathers to Southwestern Native American communities’ traditional rituals.

Nearby East Wings Free Flight club also is affiliated with AFA.

Here in the Washington, DC area, social media emerged just as the existing AFA club’s activity declined. Mark and I personally hope to see an all-species National Capital area AFA club revive. (An AFA-affiliated lovebird club already exists). We are deeply grateful to Board members of AFA-affiliated Peninsula Caged Bird Society (PCBS) in Newport News, Virginia, in taking us under their wings. PCBS itself holds two bird marts and one show annually and also harbors local chapters for a broad spectrum national avian initiatives. If you live in the DC area and are interested in an AFA club here, please let us know via email at birbobserver@gmail.com.

So, as you put together those meet-ups, don’t forget to look for bigger organizations with which to affiliate!!! And don’t forget to check for local clubs in your area to coordinate with!

Stewardship, Birds & Conservation in Cruzinha, Portugal

Faith and religious values inform and motivate hopeful action. Intimidating global issues like deforestation, loss of biodiversity and global warming may find practical solutions in the Ivory Tower, but often it takes faith and religious values to motivate manpower.

A Rocha, an international organization of Christian stewardship, responds to the planet’s biodiversity crisis with community-based conservation projects. A Rocha provides faith-inspired persons opportunities to learn and impact conservation. The world’s great religions have similarly motivated ecological activity for centuries. For instance, Islamic cities typically sport well-designed gardens, as faithful urban planning principles require such spaces for the well-being of the community.

From residential field study centers, A Rocha’s site-based projects provide opportunities for research, education, and ultimately wider advocacy through education. A Rocha selects sites important to the preservation of biodiversity. The centers, among other thing, monitor important ecological indicators, spearhead conservation and habitat restoration projects, foster public participation in conservation projects, conduct educational outreach. Finally, the centers provide a hands-on demonstration of Christian environmental stewardship values. People arriving as ecotourists live into a new faith experience and are empowered as children of God.

A Rocha arose from faith in a living Creator God who, loving the Creation, entrusted its care to humanity, the meaning of stewardship. Accordingly, A Rocha conducts ecological research, restores endangered habitats, and seeks to educate people of all ages, cultures, faiths, and nationalities about sustainable ecology. Understanding the Creator as ever involved in human affairs and the environment, A Rocha works to build community across cultures, faiths, and international environmental organizations.

The bird conservation project in Cruzinha, Portugal was A Rocha’s inaugural project. An open house for all, regardless of color, gender, religion, profession, or affiliation, the Center is in appearance a house, in practice a place of community and exchange of ideas and faith, in achievements a research and education institute, designed to create a more just and environmentally sustainable planet.

In 1983, Anglican clergyman Peter Harris and his wife Miranda traveled to southern Portugal to establish the center. He published two books about the experience, Under the Bright Wings (Regent College Publishing, 2000), and Kingfisher’s Fire (Monarch, 2008). Peter has indicated his greatest joy in his work at Cruzinha and other A Rocha projects is the “privilege to talk frequently about our Christian approach to conservation with many across a wide range of backgrounds.” Running an international environment sustainability organization is no easy task: Peter’s work includes meeting “with entrepreneurs, investors and conservation leaders, trying to develop ways to create jobs and wealth and improve the environment instead of exploiting it.” Sustainability has to address poverty, and Peter notes that “In poverty relief, business models are beginning to take some of the strain off philanthropy, but as conservationists we are only just beginning to exploit exciting new opportunities.”

Cruzinha center has conducted numerous single species studies, for instance, on the Kentish Plover, charadrius alexandrinus, and the Little Tern, sterna albifrons. In addition, habitat studies include the Alvor dunes, documentation of habitat destruction along ria de Alvor, which led to victory in a 2012 law suit to protect the estuary from improper development.

Perhaps, as you consider your next holiday, you could investigate educational ecotourism options around the globe, programs like what A Rocha offers to have a transformative lesson in your own ability to exercise stewardship of Creation.

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March 15: Climate Change: Can You #UndoYourPart?

As last issue’s Bird’s Eye View illustrated, birds are “canaries in the coal mine” of climate change: the fact that birds’ “climate envelopes” have moved northward provides current confirmation of global warming hypotheses and underscores the glaring necessity of amending laws to protect ourselves and our planet from increasingly severe impacts.

Face it: climate change/global warming is massive and complex; the cutting edge science is not easy to understand; and to tackle global warming is to admit complicity: civilization runs on fossil fuels, and agriculture, yielding necessary calories, emits considerable amounts of greenhouse gases. Recognition of the magnitude of the problem can trigger apathy rather than inspire action.

Importantly, individuals matter — in countless ways. Individuals can recycle, upgrade the efficiency of homes, demand cleaner modes of transportation, etc. In short, individuals can undertake to reduce their carbon footprints. As members of collectives, they can also hasten the reduction of the collective carbon footprint. Individuals can also engage the political process at various levels, from grassroots demonstrations to advocacy.

CCO Creative Commons

This author made an investigative trip to the monthly meeting of her local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan climate change advocacy organization with chapters in many countries, to explore accessible means of tackling change. The meeting — in the eighth congressional district of Virginia, in the metropolitan Washington, DC area — consisted of three standardized parts: an introduction and update, a Policy Lesson, and an Advocacy Lesson.

CCL promotes a Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan which would impose a flat fee, increasing over time, to incent transition away from fossil fuels, to simplify business planning, and to obviate market manipulation which could occur under a cap and trade system. In mid-February CCL launched the #undoyourpart campaign with a YouTube video to suggest ways individuals could help.

The Policy Lesson included hard facts about U.S. greenhouse emissions: the United States is the second highest emitter, at 14% of the global total (China leads at 27%), yet the United States has the highest per capita emissions rate in the world, the third highest emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product, and between 1850 and 2011 was responsible for over 25% of gross world emissions.

Greenhouse emissions are calculated as CO2e– carbon dioxide equivalents; greenhouse gases included in the Cap Fee and Dividend proposal include methane (from storage and distribution systems for natural gas), nitrous oxide and sulfur hexafluoride (from industrial activities), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) (substitutions of ozone depleting substances like refrigerants), perfluorocarbons and nitrogen trifluoride (industrial activities). While 77% of CO2e emissions derive from fossil fuel combustion, significant “sinks” also contribute, such as abandoned coal mines, leakage from natural gas pipelines, the agricultural soil management cycle, and landfills and waste incineration.

While advocacy is not everyone’s cup of tea, visiting your local advocacy organization can provide valuable insight into your political context and your opportunities for influencing it in your own way. For instance, this author learned about Congressional Safe Climate Caucus (Tw)/(FB), a bipartisan caucus established to promote congressional dialogue on climate change: relevant social media accounts may help you stay informed. Partisan student groups join forces now in the bipartisan coalition, Students for Carbon Dividends. Also, at county and state levels, individual participation can be particularly powerful, for instance, in engaging in grassroots political demonstrations such as the March for Science, or approaching influential community leaders, as in CCL’s “Grasstops” advocacy program.

March 1: Heat Flight

[Hover mouse or click on media to view captions/credits]

Climate change is radically reshuffling Britain’s birds, with some species disappearing while new migrants are settling.

TheGuardian,com, December 2017

Modern Climate Change projections for bird habitats first appeared in the U.S. in 2014 and each year gain sophistication and accuracy. Both Canada and the UK applied improved technology and data sets in their reports issued in 2017. And those reports yielded more haunting prognoses for many bird species. These studies are critical to inform and empower citizens and governments together to plan for the conservation of likely future habitats. Governments, conservation organizations, and citizens can together protect adapting bird populations so they do not disappear from the earth.

With a little online research, a person can find local climate change planning organizations in which they can participate and make meaningful and important contributions.

The United States

The Audubon Society produced the first comprehensive bird and climate change Report, utilizing over 100 years’ worth of standardized data submitted by citizen birdwatchers through the annual North and South American Christmas Bird Counts and from the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Breeding Bird Survey The study developed a “climate envelope” for each of 588 North American bird species: The “climate envelopes” identified optimum temperatures, rainfall, and other climate characteristics from each specie’s historic habitat. The scientists then mapped the historic climate envelopes onto climate projections, locating species’ probable future habitats to an accuracy of ten square kilometers.

The Audubon Report identified 314 at-risk bird species for North America: 1) 188 climate-threatened bird species likely to lose more than 50% of their current range by 2080 but having some potential to adjust their climate envelopes; and 2) 126 climate-endangered species projected to lose over 50 percent of their current range by 2050 and lacking adaptable climate envelopes. Audubon’s chief scientist, Greg Langham, summarizes the findings as a “punch in the gut”: just nine North American bird species went extinct in the last century, but losing 314 more, “nearly half the remaining bird species“, by century’s end has no parallel. Likely candidates for extinction include the bald eagle, the brown pelican, the burrowing owl, the common loon, the Baltimore Oriole and the Allen’s Hummingbird:

The United Kingdom

Recently the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) issued State of UK Birds (2017). [See this Issue’s TheRoundUp to learn of Instagram’s @martinsbirdwatch’s participation in data collection for this comprehensive study.] The publication stressed the following findings:

  • Climate change drives changes in British bird population numbers and distribution, as birds relocate northward.
  • Migratory birds arrive earlier and lay eggs earlier, e.g., compared to the 1960s, swallows arrive fifteen days earlier and breed eleven days earlier.
  • New bird species will likely colonize in Britain as they expand their ranges northward, e.g., the little bittern and night heron, garganey, quail and the little egret.
  • Rising temperatures increase the likelihood of extinction of already rare breeding birds like the dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter, and Slavonian grebe.
  • The British kittiwake population has already declined by 70% since 1986 due to the increasingly scarcity of sandeels, which kittiwakes rely on in the breeding season.


Nature Canada, Canada’s oldest nature conservation charity, counting 45,000 members and supporters, helps protect over 63 million acres of conservation habitats. A nonprofit affiliated with more than 350 Canadian grass-roots nature organizations, Nature Canada seeks to influence national conservation issues through volunteers, citizen science, networked Canadian conservation organizations, and international participation in such organizations as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International.

The organization offers the following information about Birds and Climate Change in Canada on its website:

  • Egg laying is occurring earlier, on average 6.6 days earlier each decade.
    • The Common Murre breeds 24 days earlier every decade.
    • North American Tree Swallows nest up to nine days earlier than 30 years ago.
  • Migration times are shifting.
    • Spring migrations begin earlier: based on 67 years of data, 27 of 96 Canadian migratory bird species have mostly arrived earlier due to earlier spring warming.
    • Autumn departures are deferred: various species of North American passerine have delayed departure in conjunction with global warming.
  • Birds are required to adapt behavior and don’t always succeed in altered ecosystems.
    • Environmental cues influence bird behaviour. When birds cannot adapt such behaviors to offset changes in their habitats, the entire ecosystem risks increasing dysfunctionality from mismatch of prey and predator.
    • Long-distance migrants are particularly vulnerable to such mismatch. Wood warblers don’t migrate earlier from neotropical wintering grounds so the earlier springs in their northern breeding habitat means they arrive after food sources are depleted.
  • Populations distributions are changing
    • Bird populations are shifting poleward, or to higher elevations, to stay within ideal temperature ranges.
    • Seven of 35 warbler species have shifted an average of of 65 miles northward in the past 24 years; none has moved south.
  • Global warming disrupts ecosystems
    • An ecosystem may cease to provide the needed food and nesting material and host new parasites, competitors, and predators
    • An anticipated reduction in northern Minnesotan/southern Ontario warbler species means reduced bird predation of forest pests like spruce budworms, altering the vegetation and economy for that region.
  • Extinction risks increase with global warming.
    • Birds with restricted ranges, poor alternative ranges, or small populations are most at risk.
    • Migratory birds, dependent on multiple habitats and sites, also face among the greatest challenges.
    • Arctic birds are losing habitat — from tundra to sea ice — the fastest. Canadian Ivory Gulls, which forage along sea ice, have already declined by over 90% in the past twenty years.

Individuals are not powerless to influence the course of Climate Change’s impact on Birds! The Audubon monthly magazine published articles in 2014 related to the likely meaning of the Study and the impact of climate change. Now available on line, the discussion following the October 2014 article, “A Storm Gathers for North American Birds,” recommends looking into a now-international, non-partisan, grass-roots organization, Citizens Climate Lobby.

This editorialist had hoped to embed herself in Citizens Climate Lobby prior to this editorial to better evaluate realistically the empowerment toward protecting bird habitat during climate change the organization might offer. This Editorialist has determined that a Part II is in order at some time in the future.


21st Century Decline of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

This year the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (“MBTA”, 16 U.S.C. 703-712) celebrates one century of international coordination on bird conservation with Canada. The MBTA is a US public law implementing a US-UK treaty negotiated by the United Kingdom on behalf of Canada. Later, Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union (now as its successor state, the Russian Federation) joined the treaty, making US efforts multilateral.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, several US bird species became extinct — due to the extensive commercial trade in birds, for meat and feathers. Labrador Ducks, Great Auks, Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, and Heath Hens reached extinction. The initial treaty sought to protect other threatened migratory birds from predatory hunting and poaching. Currently the MBTA covers the following migratory birds:

  • Columbidae (pigeons, doves)
  • Anatidae (swans, geese, ducks)
  • Grecidae (cranes)
  • Rathidae (rails, gallinules, coots)
  • Charadriidae (plovers, lapwings)
  • Haematopodidae (oystercatchers)
  • Recirvirostridae (stilts, avocets)
  • Scolopacidae (sandpipers, waders, curlews, shorebirds)

Extinct Birds Slideshow

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According to the US Field and Wildlife Service: “The MBTA provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior.”

By the 1970s, the US Department of Justice began actively seeking compliance from oil, timber, gas, electrical, mining and chemical companies, issuing notices of violations when thousands of bird deaths were deemed “incidental” but where an alteration to business management and infrastructure could better protect the birds.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the tide shifted again in the “incidental deaths” cases. In 2001, in Skokie, IL v. US Army Corps of Eng’rs, 531 US 159 (2001), the city of Skokie wanted to fill abandoned, empty rock quarries with water and use them for solid waste disposal; the US Army Corps of Engineers objected on the basis of incidental deaths to birds covered by the MBTA. The Supreme Court decided in favor of Skokie.

More recently, the Department of Interior issued a legal opinion supporting a further change in Administration policy– as of late December 2017, the Government will no longer issue notices of violations for such “incidental deaths”.

This is a major change and short-sighted. By way of example, the bee population recently dropped precipitously damaging agricultural yields worldwide. We had never foreseen this; we still don’t entirely understand the reasons for the bee’s decline. Similarly, by permitting migratory bird decline before understanding potential impacts on our world ecosystems, we risk too much in the name of short-run corporate profit-seeking.



Tomorrow is World Wetlands Day. This year’s theme– Sustainable Urban Wetlands — is worth contemplating: currently half the world population lives in urban settings, but by 2050 that figure will be 66%. Wetlands not only grace our lives with beautiful and fascinating water birds, they perform critical functions that maintain a city’s liveability. For 2018, World Wetlands Day highlights five urban planning strategies which merit reflection and implementation, where appropriate.

Observed world over since 1997, World Wetlands Day commemorates the February 2, 1971 signing of the World Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, along the shore of the Caspian Sea.[1] Since 1998, Danone Group Evian Fund for Water has partnered with the Convention’s Secretariat to generate and distribute wetlands educational materials. Government agencies, NGOs, and citizen groups organize activities to raise public awareness of wetlands importance.[2]

Wetlands provide homes to a startling variety of water birds: waterfowl like ducks, geese and swans; grebes, pelicans, and cormorants; ibises and spoonbills; egrets and herons; terns, gulls and shorebirds, or wading birds.[3] In wetlands birds source drinking water and food, breed, nest and rear young, find shelter from weather and predators, and interact. Surface water, soil moisture and the duration and time of flooding determine the appropriateness wetlands for a particular bird species.[4] The American Ornithologists’ Union estimates that of the approximate 1,900 bird species that breed in North America, about 138 are “wetland dependent,” meaning they require access to wetlands during their lifecycle.[5]

Wetlands don’t just harbor birds and migratory flocks. This year’s three World Wetlands Day flyers emphasize three key aspects of wetlands: 1) wetlands are not wastelands but valuable urban resources; 2) investing in wetlands restoration and management can dramatically improve our quality of life; and 3) sustainable urban development integrates wetlands into cityscapes and urban lifestyle. The flyers are available for download and dissemination at http://www.worldwetlandsday.org.

Did you know wetlands absorb flood waters as if they were giant sponges? That wetlands filter drinking water as it seeps into aquifers, absorbing and degrading toxins like pesticides and industrial and human waste? That they protect rivers from harmful run-off, safeguarding the water supply? That they improve air quality in hot arid regions by humidifying and cooling? That as urban recreational areas, they demonstrably reduce stress in city dwellers? Finally, that they generate jobs through the fishing, the plants for weaving, foodstuffs or medicinals, and the tourism they support?[6]

This year the Ramsar Secretariat promotes five wetlands management strategies. First, involve local residents in wetlands planning so they can provide valuable information about how wetlands contribute to their lifestyle and the local economy. For instance, along the Mekong River in Vietnam, local input led to waterway management which facilitated the return of larger fish to the area, which in turn bolstered the local economy.

@CreativeCommons no attribution

Second, include wetlands management in urban planning, developing and enforcing building and disposal codes that protect the public interest in wetlands. In Accra, Ghana, which is located on a coastal plain, modern wetlands management enhanced wetlands moderation of flooding. The establishment of spacious greenways further enhanced wetlands ability to absorb excess water.

Courtesy of WorldWetlandsDay.org

Third, restore wetlands. The London Wetland Centre, an urban wetland reclaimed from former Thames River reservoirs, is now home to over 180 bird species. The Centre adds to tourism, and thus also the local economy, by hosting over 170,000 visitors annually.

Fourth, reduce excessive water consumption and harmful runoff. Recently gauging its carbon and water footprints, Quito, Ecuador aims for a 68% reduction in the municipal water footprint over fifteen years through the promotion of eco-smart toilets, water-efficient appliances, and water recycling.

Finally, organize community wetlands cleanups. In the Los Angeles suburb of Huntington Beach, the Bolsa Chica Conservancy holds two public service days every month, removing an estimated 10 tons of trash and debris from the wetland site annually.[7]

As your Good Citizen act of the week, consider handing out an informative flyer or two. As a good municipal citizen consider the role of wetlands in your own region and providing input about it to your local government.

[1] http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/about

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wetlands_Day

[3] http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/water/wetlands/plants-and-animals-in-wetlands/birds

[4] https://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/birdhabitat.html

[5] Id.

[6] http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/documents/10184/272657/WWD18_Handouts_eng-1.pdf/ad8ffb3a-7ce1-4558-a66a-1245f4fc0bdc

[7] http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/documents/10184/272657/WWD18_Handouts2_eng-2.pdf/35b9538e-438a-4514-8a79-9be4b5b921a3

Bird’s Eye View – January 15, 2018

On January 4, 2018, the Trump Administration issued a proposed rule for the expansion of offshore drilling in both Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The Audubon Society, in response, issued an Action Alert[1] emphasizing that expanded offshore drilling endangers both shorebirds and seabirds as well as coastal communities whose economies depend on seasonal tourism

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, while in Prince William Sound, Alaska, crashed into Prince William Bligh Reef en route to California, spilling 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil over several days. This was the second largest oil spill in US history. Emergency workers used hot water to disperse the oily cover from the jagged cove-littered shoreline. However, hot water spelled disaster for microbial life in Prince William Sound.

The crude did not disperse and degrade as anticipated. In 2003 a University of North Carolina expedition concluded “species as diverse as sea otters, harlequin ducks and killer whales suffered large, long-term losses and that oiled mussel beds and other tidal shoreline habitats will take an estimated 30 years to recover.”[2]

The wellhead of British Petroleum’s (BP’s) Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out on April 20, 2010 and wasn’t successfully capped until September 19, five months later. This was also known as the Deepwater Horizon spill after the rig in question. Reportedly the capped wellhead still leaked as late as 2012.) The blowout killed eleven workers on the drilling platform and injured seventeen more. At an estimated 210 million US gallons, the spill was the largest in history.

The massive ensuing cleanup included the use of nearly 2 million gallons of oil dispersant, yet only 25% of the oil was recovered. The combination of the leak and use of toxic dispersant caused significant, long-lasting damage to marine and coastal biospheres. Two years later in 2012-13, cleanup workers removed 3000+ tons of crude residue from Louisiana’s beaches alone. [3]

A study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series and reported by Audubon estimates that over a million birds died during the acute phase of the Deepwater Horizon spill. [4] A similar study by the Center for Biological Diversity showed that marine mammals, fish, shellfish and reptiles all suffered similarly catastrophic short- and long-term consequences. [5]

The losses due to oil spills are, of course, not limited to birds and other wildlife. The Macondo spill, unlike the Exxon Valdez spill, demonstrated the extent to which oil spills can decimate local economies. A 2010 Oxford Economics study estimated that the loss to U.S. Gulf tourism was likely to exceed $22 billion over three years, nearly 25% of the anticipated tourism income for that period. [6] The ripple effect includes loss of jobs with resultant economic hardships throughout a region heavily dependent on tourism.

As more-easily-accessible sources of offshore oil are depleted, drillers must search for deposits farther from shore in deeper waters and farther beneath the sea floor. This requires the use of emergent and untested technologies. The Exxon Valdez spill shows that human error alone can precipitate devastating spills with long-term consequences. The vastly larger Macondo spill demonstrates that operating at the cutting edge of drilling technology adds an even less manageable variable.

At a time when we invest heavily in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy – and at a time when species extinction has reached its highest rate in human history – we owe it to ourselves, our children, our common Earth to scrutinize carefully the cost/benefit ratio of offshore oil drilling. The future of Earth’s wildlife and humanity may depend on the choices we make today. If we choose wisely and prudently, we will weigh in the cost of such historic and potentially future ecological disasters.

[1] https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/e_Vm3cJ1d0WzmFBz_TQ2sA2?ms=policy-adv-web-website_nas-engagementcard-20171200_offshore_drilling_alert

[2] From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill#Clean-up_and_environmental_impact: Williamson, David (December 18, 2003). “Exxon Valdez oil spill effects lasting far longer than expected, scientists say”. UNC/News. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved March 9, 2008.

[3] From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill

[4] From Audubon: http://www.audubon.org/news/more-one-million-birds-died-during-deepwater-horizon-disaster: Martha Harbison (May 6, 2014)

[5] From the Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/energy/dirty_energy_development/oil_and_gas/gulf_oil_spill/a_deadly_toll.html (April, 2011)

[6] From NRDC Issue Paper 15-04-a: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/gulfspill-impacts-summary-IP.pdf: (June, 2015)


Tis the Season — green your cleaning! If you have already, you may this year have a cabinet full of cleaners containing so-called essential oils–oils steam-distilled from plants–root, stem, bark, leaves, blossom or petal. Perhaps, like more industrial cleaners, you’ve wondered whether they’re bird-safe. The good news is that they are, with the possible important exception of those containing essential oil of Western Red Cedar.

‘Tis the Season — Deck the Halls with aromatic products — scented candles, potpourri, sachets, air fresheners, atomizers, etc. –containing essential oils of our favorite holiday scents!

Did you realize some avian vets use aromatherapy as an adjunct to their practice? That means positive health benefits of some therapeutic-grade (i.e., 100% pure) essential oils has some institutional recognition and acceptance: thus, scientific research on therapeutic- grade essential oils has had at least sufficient rigor, reliability, and reproducibility to persuade at least some portion of that scientific, professional community of its usefulness in maintaining avian health.

‘Tis the Season of Resolutions — consider educating yourself on household aromatherapy supportive of your bird’s health: read a book on avian aromatherapy, or join a FaceBook group or other forum on birds and essential oils. (The basic reference works for this article are Angela Nelson’s Aromatherapy for Parrots (2013) and Valerie Worwood’s Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy (1991)).

For starters, lavender, basil, orange, cinnamon, peppermint, white birch, tea- tree and thyme are several essential oils commonly added to today’s green cleaning products, in part due to their disinfectant properties (antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and/or anti-viral). Note, however, that essential oils used in cleaning products are rarely listed as “therapeutic grade” or its equivalent, “100% Pure”! In aromatherapy, therapeutic-grade essential oils of the above plants have medicinal uses; lower grade oils are not for quasi-pharmaceutic, aromatherapy regimens. Diluted, they lend cleansing action with pleasing scent and possible mild influence on mood.

Understandably, manufacturers maintain lower product cost profiles by employing essential oils of less than therapeutic grade in their house cleaning products. Thus, while a household cleaner with certain essential oils may eliminate bacteria in part by virtue of the essential oils’ properties, the cleaner doesn’t have an essential oil concentration likely to produce marked impact on health. In fact, aromatherapy specialists working with birds suggest the same test for household cleaners as that suggested by Sheri in her recent Behavior Issues article: if the products irritate you in any way, they will probably irritate your bird even more and may be unsafe for them.

Questions have been raised whether pine-, cedar– and citronella-based products are safe. Reported incidents may have depended more on impurities from the distillation process rather than the plant essences of the essential oils themselves. Remember, most products marketed as essential oils are not therapeuticgrade— they are diluted or “extended” with other products which could, in fact, harm a bird. Always check product ingredient lists, and never assume an essential oil is therapeutic grade. Particularly with regard to cedar, manufacturers have historically used thujone in processing Western Red Cedar essential oil; thujone is toxic to birds. Consequently, cedar cleaning products, where you cannot trace the original producer of the essential oil, should not be used.

By way of introduction, common essential oils used in cleaning products are listed below along with their common aromatherapy and medicinal uses, as well as, where known, the most common method of application:

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Antibacterial, antiviral; anti-inflammatory; anithistamine; muscle relaxant. Allergies. Water-based diffusion, or oral administration; when diluted can be applied topically.

Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) : Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral. Avian Bornavirus. Use diffuser.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolium, officinalis): Antiseptic, antifungal, analgesic, relaxant, anti-inflammatory. Uses: Cleaning; skin inflammation, feather destructive behavior, wound and burn healing; nervousness and anxiety. Can be diffused, or misted or used with a tent. One of the ingredients in the Daily Preening Spray (see below).

Lemon (Citrus limonum): Antiseptic, antibacterial, antiparasitic; antidepressant. Circulatory problems, anxiety, depression, psittacosis, bacterial infections. Often used with birds in a Daily Preening Spray (see below); can also be diffused and given orally.

Peppermint (Mentha piperata): Antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral; anti-inflammatory. Arthritis, respiratory infections, crop stasis, fungal infections. Usually taken orally and not applied topically except to feet; use caution if used in diffuser or mister as can sting the eyes.

Tea-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia): Antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral. Fungal, bacterial, viral infections; cold sores, acne; burns; anti-inflammatory.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral. Infectious disease control; Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease, Avian Bornavirus, Psittacocus. Do NOT use in topical applications as it is a “hot” herb which can be painful to eyes and irritating to skin. Should only be orally used in small amounts in food.

White Birch (Betula alba): Disinfectant, antiseptic, antibactieral. Tonic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory (contains salicylic acid and methyl salicylate). Typically applied topically in dilute form as facial tonic.

Angela Nelson’s Daily Preening Spray

20 drops Lavender essential oil, 20 drops Orange essential oil, 20 drops Lemon essential oil; 4 ounces distilled water.

Mix the above in a 4-oz glass spray bottle. Shake before using. Use a couple sprays on bird to encourage and assist healthy preening. Note: the above recipe is for use with therapeutic-grade essential oils.

Some of the common seasonal essential oils are cinnamon [see above], clove, orange, ginger, vanilla, mace, pine and spruce.

Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata): Analgesic, antiseptic. Toothache, nausea, arthritis, infections.

Orange (Citrus aurantium): Antiseptic, sedative, tonic. Depression, anxiety, nervous conditions, muscle spasms.

Ginger ((Zingiber officinale): Anti-inflammatory. Muscular aches and pains; nausea, motion sickness.

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia): Antioxidant, sedative, relaxant. Depression, anxiety, tension.

Mace (Myristika fragrans): Antibacterial, tonic. Bacterial infection, generalized weakness.

Pine (Pinus sylvestrus): Decongestant. Respiratory and chest infections, colds, sore throat.

Spruce (Picea): Antioxidant. Vitamin C. Scurvy.

So, now you;re ready to Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock with essential oils, and you want to know where to get them. The good news is there are many small companies which produce quality products sold online or in such health food and whole food stores as you may find in your area. I personally have frequently used the Plant Therapy, Radha Beauty, and Now (GNC) brands, which are readily available online. Just make sure you are buying 100% pure essential oil– “Accept no substitutes”!!! And Happy Holidays!!!!!


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Bird’s Eye View – from the Caribbean

During Hurricane Irma, Twitter’s @Iguacachic in Puerto Rico worked quickly with government conservation officials to move the 230 Iguaca (Puerto Rican) Parrots in the captive breeding program there to safety in a special hurricane-proof cement bastion.[1] In last issue’s ThRoundup, a picture from @BirdsCaribbean (Tw) highlighted the peril that wild Caribbean parrots like the Sisserou on Dominica face from hurricanes. When we think of private and government conservation efforts, we too often consider only dangers human civilization and development pose for wildlife, but, as @Iguacachic demonstrated, measures can and must be taken to aid wild populations in the face of natural disasters too.

Photo credit – Tom MacKenzie of US FWS

For bird conservation, the best-conceived plans are those produced through coordination of cooperating organizations – private and governmental entities for bird conservation alongside those for natural resources, climate, land use, and cultural management.[2] A comprehensive conservation program “requires a thoughtful strategy that incorporates conservation tools, restoration and adaptive management practices, monitoring procedures, and educational outreach – in essence, the integration of bird conservation into a variety of human activities and planning processes.”[3] In short, a successful conservation program includes emergency preparedness for natural disasters.

The Puerto Rico parrot (Amazona vittata) stands an impressive twelve inches high and is the only wild parrot in the United States and its territories. First identified by Peter Boddaertt in 1783, the Taino Indians named the parrot “Iguaca” as an onomotapoeic tag for its call. Under the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FSW) Conservation program in Puerto Rico (conducted in cooperation with Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER)) two captive-bred flocks of Iguaca enrich the two remaining free flocks in the El Yunque and Rio Abajo Commonwealth forests through reintroduction of captive-bred young into the wild.[4] The agencies also maintain specialized, protected nesting structures in the forests to aid in the survival of wild young.

The Iguaca barely survived into this century, but a turnaround came when it was listed as an endangered species in 1967. Urban development — especially the construction of roads through the wilds — destroyed habitat, and the pet bird trade steadily diminished Iguaca numbers. ScientificAmerican reported that Iguaca numbers had dwindled to thirteen in 1975.[5] As of 2014, however, approximately 100 captive-bred birds from the Fish & Wildlife/DNER breeding program had been reintroduced into the wild, where they are carefully tracked and monitored. The two captive breeding programs on the island house approximately 230 (FSW) and 175 (DNER) birds.

The special hurricane survival center on Puerto Rico was built in 2007, is constructed of sturdy cement, and has a back-up generator. Once the birds are moved to the center, humans must, of course, stay with them for care and feeding.

What about the Sisserou parrot, that 19-inch tall bird on the Lesser Antilles island of Dominica, the Amazon Imperialis? In 2012 it was estimated to have approximately 250-350 birds remaining. As in the US, conservation plans are made jointly between government agencies and private conservation societies. As it turns out, this species is the least successful in reproduction of all Amazon parrots, and, consequently, the captive breeding programs are even more critical to their survival.[6] Because not all Dominica lands have been brought under wildlife management and protection, and because foreigners do still attempt to hunt the bird, education of the population has been critical to success with these birds.

The more facets of public interest involved in conservation, the healthier the program. That’s today’s takeaway!

[1] http://www.newsweek.com/2017/10/06/how-230-endangered-parrots-survived-hurricane-irma-665911.html

[2] US Fish & Wildlife Service, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, and Caribbean Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Avian Conservation Planning Priorities in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (2015), at http://acjv.org/documents/PRUSVI_plan.pdf

[3] Id. at p. 307.

[4] https://www.fws.gov/caribbean/es/Parrot.html. For other endangered species conservation efforts in Puerto Rico, see https://www.fws.gov/southeast/puerto-rico/ .

[5] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/sunday-species-snapshot-puerto-rican-parrot/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_amazon.

Birds Eye View

How will you Identify Your Bird? To Microchip or Not


If your bird is larger than 100 grams, you may have wondered whether to microchip him or her for identification purposes. A usable technology for over twenty years, micro-chipping has undergone significant development: manufacturers have miniaturized the glass-encapsulated chip, and implantation no longer requires anaesthesia. Should you look up the procedure on YouTube, you would no doubt run across scary bird surgery videos showing implantation of older, larger microchip capsules, but the truth of the matter is that today chips are implanted with special injection devices: nothing more invasive than subcutaneous insertion of the chip is involved.


(By HowStuffWorks)

While breeders may employ micro-chipping as a means of tracking genetic and health information, the companion bird owner does so in lieu of banding, for purposes of identification in event of loss, mix-up, or theft. The “chip” itself is composed of a capacitor, RFID chip, antenna, and the biocompatible glass capsule. Emission of radio waves by a scanner in appropriate proximity activates the chip, which then transmits the identification number, typically fifteen digits long, encoded in the chip. It is not a GPS device and it does not admit of tracking an animal’s movement.

Micro-chipping your bird is a relatively safe and reliable alternative to maintaining the banding placed by the breeder for identification, provided the insertion is performed by a qualified avian veterinarian. Attempted owner insertions can be exceedingly dangerous to the bird.

Reasons to make the switch are several: 1) banding can catch on bird toys, cages, and household furniture and fabrics causing injury– from profuse bleeding even to fractures; 2) debris can build up under a band and cut off circulation to soft tissue, eventually causing gangrene; 3) if the band annoys your bird and he tugs or pecks at it, the band can become a hazard from the bird-induced damage; 4) the identifying numbers may wear off; and 5) the band can readily be removed by an unauthorized person.

Most of the world has followed one of two specific ISO standards. Some have a national database for registering the animals The ISO standard contains fifteen digits, including one digit to identify animal type and three digits to indicate either country code or manufacturer. Both standards specify a radio frequency of transmission of 134.2 kHz.

The United States, however, has not regulated animal microchipping for the most part, at either state or national level. There three frequencies are found: 125, 128 and 134.2 kHz. Thus, for US owners, there exists the possibility that the chip will not be read when attempted due to the scanner not using the frequency of the inserted microchip. However, it is not unsafe to insert more than one microchip and if you move somewhere where the ISO frequency is used, a second microchip can safely be inserted. Both 125 and 128 kHz microchipping systems are more prevalent in the US than the 134.2 kHz ISO standard.

While some countries have adopted national registers for animal chipping, other countries, like the United States allow a multitude of registry databases. In the US, the vet scans the microchip, and upon obtaining a reading, establishes ownership by consulting petmicrochiplookup.org, which identifies the database of registration.

Birds weighing in excess of about 5.5 kgs are usually microchipped at the back of the neck, while smaller birds receive the microchip subcutaneously in the left pectoral muscle. Several days of transient inflammation are common, but then fibrous tissue develops over the microchip, preventing it from migrating throughout the body.


(By theworldofafricangreys.weebly.com

After micro-chipping, the owner needs to register the microchip with a database, have the chip scanned annually to test for proper operation, and finally, maintain current information with the registering database.

When weighing whether replacement of your bird’s banding with a microchip is the right course, remember that no one can entirely escape-proof or theft-proof their home to protect their birds. And, a bird is not likely to find his way home again.
Birds Eye View:

Wind Energy & Policy

As renewable energy reaches new efficiency and extends to greater use, we must recognize that its various sources—like wind energy—may still pose environmental threats While the rise of wind energy has meant a growth in manufacturing jobs, a decrease in fossil fuel emissions and opportunities for more stabilized farm income in the form of rent, it also means an increased threat to wild bird and bat populations: not only do the turbines move at speeds upwards of 200 mph, their height (including blade tip) may range between approximately 475 and 640 feet and in the future yet higher (no data available on the lower reach of a blade in motion). The problem zone for birds extends from about 350 feet and upward. In the US, estimated bird-turbine collisions range between 33,000 and 573,000 per year; deaths from such collisions are estimated at between 134,000 and 327,000 per year, likely to rise to 1.4 million per year by 2030. Songbirds are most impacted.

(Photo by Mother Jones)

In 2014, the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals established an Energy Task Force (ETF) for the UK, Europe, the Mideast and Africa. This forum brings together environmental, energy industry, and international finance organizations. As Ed Percy of Bird Life International summarizes, the ETF ultimately means “pragmatic solutions for sustainable energy development“ in these regions. The United States lacks such a mechanism for a regular airing and reconciling of renewable energy development issues of such diverse interest groups.

In 2016, the Obama Administration established a wind energy goal of 20% of US energy production by 2030 (a six-fold increase). Ironically, Red (Republican) states top the achievement charts in wind energy expansion as their geographic locations and agrarian economies provide fertile fields for growth (i.e., Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota and Oklahoma).

Politics of wind energy aside, most experts in the field recognize certain turbine planning guidelines that minimize threats to wild bird populations: 1) build structures away from bird habitats without fragmenting them; 2) build away from migratory routes, particularly nocturnal migratory routes; and, 3) implement “Shutdown on Demand” responsive to coordinated systems of radar, cameras and active observers. Importantly, soaring birds cannot easily alter their flight path or maneuver, and they fly lowest in daytime when searching visually for food.

Clearly, it would benefit both wild bird and human populations to have regular fora in which all concerned interest groups could air their issues and together develop pragmatic solutions, as done under the US Energy Task Force. While that organization plans to globalize, likely a significant portion of US interests would resist implementation of that model. Accordingly, American bird lovers may find their interests best served by playing their usual role in the domestic drama of supporting interest groups that engage in judicial, legislative and policy

Bird’s Eye View:

No, You Can’t Import a Parrot! Here’s Why:

So you’ve been nosing around on Instagram (where IS your loyalty?!), and you find a gorgeous parrot for sale in Indonesia that you’d love to buy. But you can’t. And you want to know why.

You can’t buy it because the United States has a law – the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA), enacted in 1992 — which helps the world’s nations conserve wild birds by discouraging their circulation in international trade. More specifically, the WBCA, as administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, implements US commitments under the Convention on International Trade in Threatened and Endangered Species (CITES) by banning importation of all bird species in Appendices I-III. Virtually all parrots are included in the ban.

For qualified US breeders (and aviculturist clubs), there are a few exceptions, like the Captive Bird Program (CBP) which with considerable regulatory oversight permits the importation of qualified captive-bred stock for breeding with the purpose of conserving a population or establishing a new population. (See Link 1 below)

Under a second program, captive-bred birds listed at 50 CFR 15.33 (CFR is the Code of Federal Regulations) can be imported with the appropriate permits if it can be demonstrated that 1) they were not captured from the wild; 2) they are not exploited in international trade; and 3) they breed successfully in aviculture throughout the world. You can see this extensive list at Link 2, below.

International Travel with Your Pet Birb will not be Easy

So now, realizing that federal law impacts the international movement of captive-bred birds, you begin to wonder whether you could take your bird with you on a trip outside US borders and still return. That depends on the genus and species of your bird.

You must determine whether certain permits apply and obtain them before beginning your travels. You will also have to reenter through a Designated Port of Entry to have your bird examined for disease, and you will have to give 72-hour advance notice. IT’S NOT EASY!!! See Link 3 below.

Are the benefits of the complex regulatory scheme worth the cost? That’s a difficult question which no doubt gets different answers when asked in different quarters. We can point to successful wildlife conservation programs in other countries which have benefited from a ban on US importation of their species of bird. Certainly, we benefit from the inspection of birds for disease when they enter (or reenter) the US. But that doesn’t change the fact that, for the owner of a pet bird, the requirements for travelling internationally with your bird are onerous.

Link 1: http://www.afabirds.org/import_export.shtml

Link 2: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/50/15.33.

Link 3: https://www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/traveling-with-your-pet-bird.html

Bird’s Eye View: Replacing the Clean Power Plan

[Birds Eye View seeks to start a conversation. It does so by drawing a line in the sand, articulating a reasoned argument. Its purpose is to precipitate reflection and measured discourse: it is a rhetorical device to engage you–what stone has the author left un-turned??!! Write us back in a Letter to the Editor submitted to Birb0bserver@gmail.com.]

Canary in the Coal Mine

Have you had a canary in the coal mine experience?

I have. I was living in the basement apartment of a Silver Spring, Maryland two-story. The apartment had gas utilities and an installed gas-burning space heater in the bedroom. One day Little Boy Blue and Miss Teal, my two parakeets, stopped singing. In fact, they seemed poorly. And I felt off, too. I insisted the landlord call the gas company to check for leaks. In fact, the company discovered a leak in the installed space heater. I’m grateful to the birds because I wouldn’t have thought to test air quality without them.

Typically, airborne pollutants impact our birb companions—and wild birds—before we notice their impact on us. Wild birds are canaries in the coal mine when it comes to the environment’s air quality. In the United States, the federal government protects air quality under the authority of the Clean Air Act and its associated rules and regulations.

The Obama administration promulgated one rule in particular –the Clean Power Plan — regulating power-plant emissions. Yesterday, September 15 The Hill news organization reported that Trump Administration officials may issue a proposed rule to replace, not just repeal, the Obama Era rule either this month or next month. Generally the Trump Administration has questioned whether humans do in fact contribute to global warming and climate change, and so has sought to implement more industry-friendly rules than the Obama Administration, The Hill suggests the Trump Administration will take a more middle-of-the-road position with regard to power-plant emissions in this forthcoming Proposed Rule

This shift in direction is a positive development for all of us, including wild birds and companion birbs alike. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 92% of the earth’s human inhabitants live in air polluted beyond acceptable safety levels. Rest assured, if it’s not safe for us, it’s not safe for our birbs with their smaller, more sensitive lungs!

Air emissions impact birds not only directly in the air they breathe, but also in a grand geo-climatic cycle: as acid rain, the pollutants precipitate out into ground water and the food chain, impacting everything from fertility to immunity.

Let’s keep an eye out for the forthcoming rule, and let’s remember that as members of the public we can provide feedback to the Government through the regulatory comment period through Comments on the appropriately posted Proposed Rule.

Many of you in the community are likely highly knowledgeable on specific matters of air quality, the environment and their impact on birds. We hope you will contribute Letters to the Editor to help educate those of us with lesser knowledge.