Birds Kept as Companion Animals
In Australia and around the world, birds are commonly kept as companion animals – often in totally inappropriate housing and conditions – as people often believe that they are somehow easier to care for than dogs and cats. In reality, they require more specialised care, commitment, and resources than dogs and cats do.
Evolved to fly long distances, swoop and soar, and perch on high branches while seeking out food provided by nature, birds kept as companions are instead confined to cages where they can barely spread their wings, let alone fly, and given a monotonous diet of seeds.
At first considered a novelty and admired for being “cute” or “pretty”, they’re often soon forgotten. As thinking, feeling beings who have behavioural and emotional needs similar to those of a child, this neglect has a devastating impact on their welfare.
Birds are often denied veterinary assistance because of the expense and lack of vets specialising in bird care. Because they’re small animals, it’s often assumed that if they become ill, it’s preferable to let them die rather than spending time, energy, and money on treating them.
Most birds kept as “pets” are confined to wire-mesh cages. Shops that sell birds also sell cages, but employees may not know or care about the proper cage size for a particular species. In a cage, birds are totally dependent on humans for food, water, climate control, and company.
Toys – often completely unnatural and foreign to them – may be provided to cater artificially to their natural inquisitiveness. But these can become obstacles and dangers if the birds become entangled in them or are frightened by them.
Many pet shops in Australia have stopped selling dogs and cats, yet most still have cages crammed with colourful birds. The whistling and chirping coming from a cramped pet shop cage is far more likely to be the sound of distress than of joyful singing. The welfare of birds is largely left to the state governments, which issue “codes of practice”, sets of standards and guidelines which are largely voluntary.
In addition to pet shops, birds are also available through magazines, online via Gumtree or Facebook, or direct from breeders’ websites.
Constant breeding and captivity result in significant psychological and physiological trauma to birds. The females – who are not designed to breed constantly – often have their babies stolen from them to be sold or traded. Both parents experience grief when this happens, and their offspring are denied the opportunity to learn vital skills from them. This trauma can cause psychological problems which can then manifest as physical behaviour such as feather plucking, fear of humans, and biting.
Captivity is unnatural for birds, as their instincts tell them to fly amidst the trees and forage amongst the grass and flowers. Most people, including breeders, don’t know how to care for and accommodate them. Many people even take birds or eggs from the wild and expect them to survive somehow in an unnatural environment.
Kept indoors, birds cannot thrive as they would do in nature. Many are exposed to harmful substances such as cigarette smoke and can become extremely frightened if living in a home where there are raised voices or other stressful stimuli. Many birds are kept alone, denied the right to interact with others of their own species. Human interaction cannot replace a relationship with another bird.
What You Can Do
- Write to your local Member of Parliament and ask for the following:
- A ban on the sale of companion birds online, from “backyard breeders”, and at markets, expos, and pet shops
- The introduction of companion bird welfare laws, as the current codes of practice are often totally ignored and, in any case, not mandatory
- A ban on all bird breeding
- The promotion of bird adoption, in order to save thousands of neglected and rejected homeless birds
- Sign relevant bird-welfare petitions.
- Speak out against bird abuse and complain to anyone selling birds.
Join Australian organisations, such as PETA and Let Companion Birds Fly, that fight the exploitation and abuse of birds.