The Horrifying Truth Behind the Exotic Bird Trade

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How many species of domesticated birds do you think there are?

With the popularity pet birds have gained recently—especially on social media—people have become more and more exposed to the many varieties of birds that are kept as pets: parrots, macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels, canaries, caiques, pigeons, budgies, you name it! You might guess that there are upwards of a hundred breeds to choose from.

And that would be accurate. However, what many people don’t know is that few, if any, of these species are actually domesticated, even in the loosest sense of the word.

The sad reality is that a lot of the birds that end up for sale as pets have actually been taken straight from their natural habitat, and smuggled over borders in horrid conditions; conditions so bad that an estimated five out of six birds don’t even survive.

They've been seen stuffed twenty at a time into small carrier cages, or individually into cardboard tubes and plastic bottles. They’ve been wrapped up in cloth, newspapers, and even tape, and stuffed down people's pants as they board flights.

No, this is not an exaggeration. Even a cursory search will reveal these shocking cases aren’t even outliers.

Fortunately, this has become far less of a problem in recent years, with new laws being passed and more groups rising up to defend our feathered friends. Birds bought in the USA and Canada are far more likely to have been bred locally than captured and smuggled.

But there’s still the risk that when you buy from a pet store or other seller you could end up contributing to this cruel industry.

So, as always, adopt, don’t shop, and if you must buy an animal, be sure to do so from a reputable seller who practices ethical breeding and who actually cares for the birds they help raise.

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Shepard King is an aspiring author and editor of fantasy and science fiction, an obsessive world-builder, and an occasional writer of amateurish, depressing poetry. You can find more of his work at