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Is It Cruel to Keep Caged Birds?
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Is It Cruel to Keep Caged Birds?

Critter Culture Staff



The subject of keeping birds in cages can get very heated. People on both sides of the argument may have powerful feelings. Those who are against pet birds start with the belief they're meant to fly in wild environments with flocks of their own kind. We prevent these natural behaviors by keeping birds in cages. There are many other factors involved in this debate too. Most of us can agree that neglecting pet birds in dirty, cramped environments is cruel. It isn't so easy to find common ground on other issues. However, we can learn about various concerns and try to understand opposing perspectives.


Where do pet birds come from?

Green parrot perched on the open door of its cage JillLang / Getty Images

The U.S. State Department estimates that wildlife trafficking produces up to $10 billion annually. Birds are the most commonly trafficked animal, and 2 to 5 million birds per year are illegally traded. Trafficking is so destructive that it seriously damages many wild populations of parrots, macaws, and other popular pets. Avoid trafficked birds by researching sellers thoroughly in advance. Any individual or business selling pet birds should provide straightforward documentation of the bird's origins. Long, complicated supply chains or reluctance to provide information are red flags.


Never capture wild birds

Barn Owl M-Reinhardt / Getty Images

No one should try to capture wild birds as pets. A wild bird won't be happy in a cage, and the stress alone could cause sickness or death. It's very easy to injure the bird as well unintentionally. The situation may differ if you encounter a sick or injured bird. People with a fondness for animals have a hard time walking away from a bird in distress. If the bird cannot fly, move it to a safe place, then contact a wildlife rescue or other professional to ask for guidance.


Bird mills

parrots in a small cage Joa_Souza / Getty Images

Puppy mills are businesses that breed dogs in terrible conditions to produce as many puppies as possible for profit. Sadly, there are equivalent operations in the bird industry. Unethical breeders can keep hundreds or thousands of birds in cramped spaces to produce a constant stream of babies to sell. This is another good reason to carefully investigate a bird's origins and double-check information from sellers. Ethical breeders are usually happy to provide proof of good conditions and healthy birds.



parrot in cage with toys Caymia / Getty Images

Make sure pet birds have plenty of space. All birds in the cage should be able to spread their wings fully, climb the sides of the cage, and jump between perches, toys, and food containers. Small birds should have at least one square foot of space per bird, while medium birds need 1-1/2 square feet. Large birds, such as macaws or grey parrots, need to perch comfortably without their tails poking out of the cage. These are just minimum requirements. If you're able to provide more space, your birds will appreciate it.



Young woman smiling at pet bird indoors Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images

The intelligence of pet birds is part of what makes them so enchanting and desirable in the first place. A smart bird adapted to living with a flock in a nearly limitless natural environment isn't happily locked in a small cage with nothing to do. Enrich your bird's environment with toys, a variety of foods, and lots of places to climb and hide. Spend as much time as possible interacting with your birds, and create safe rooms so your birds can fly freely outside the cage at times.


Social life

two birds in a cage wonry / Getty Images

Most birds are very social animals. Wild birds live and travel in flocks. Birds separated from their flock, especially the highly intelligent breeds, may be very distressed and repeatedly call out while trying to rejoin their companions. If you choose to keep pet birds, keep at least two of the same species together. More birds would be better, but keeping a small flock isn't always possible.



two birds kissing ZenShui/Michele Constantini / Getty Images

Try not to separate adult birds. Birds in a flock can identify each other and develop social ties. If separation is unavoidable, keep mated pairs together. Many species of birds mate for life, and separated partners won't find new mates. Pet birds may also develop strong attachments to their human family and experience separation anxiety. Don't leave birds alone for long periods with no warning. Birds also experience distress if their environment changes abruptly. Prepare for changes in advance and introduce birds to a new environment gradually.



White swan in the water DenKuvaiev / Getty Images

Pet swans aren't kept in cages, but they're still very controversial. A pond or other body of water is necessary for swans, but clipping their wings is the only way to keep them in one place. Some people believe it's cruel to take the ability to fly away from a bird that flies across continents in the wild. The counter-argument is usually that captive-bred birds never experience flight, so they don't miss it. Mute swans are even more controversial as pets because they're considered an invasive species in many states.


Freeing caged birds

A small bird jumping out of a birdcage imacoconut / Getty Images

Pet birds can't be released into the wild. Although it may be well-intentioned, releasing pet birds almost always ends in their deaths. Birds from tropical or sub-tropical climates can't survive winter weather in most of the United States. Captive-bred birds of any species aren't safe in the wild because they don't know how to find food, avoid predators, or do anything else that wild birds learn from their parents.


Rescue birds

bird sits on hand of a person Aleksandr Zubkov / Getty Images

Adopting birds from rescue organizations is a great way to add feathered friends to your family. You don't have to worry about accidentally supporting traffickers or unethical breeders because most rescues are non-profit organizations that simply want to help animals in need. Birds from rescues are already pets and can't be released, so a good home is the best outcome. Staff and volunteers are usually invested in the health and happiness of the animals, so they can offer advice and help you provide an excellent home for your new birds.


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