We Must Remember Our Wild Winged Friends

"Dad, do you hear that knocking sound?" I could hear the sound of the trees swaying in the wind. I could hear the sound of snow mixed with leaves crunching under our feet. And, I could hear the knocking sound not far away. "There, it's a red-bellied woodpecker." My 12-year-old daughter was pointing up to a nearby tree. She is a much better, smarter, and more devoted birder than I am, and I couldn't be more proud.

All too often, when we think of wild animals and advocate for their freedom, we think about bears, elephants, lions, or tigers. But birds, despite being kept as pets in the millions in the United States alone, are wild animals themselves and certainly deserve the same freedom as the whales of the ocean or big cats of Africa.

On January 5 we celebrated National Bird Day: a special day every year to recognize the plight of birds, acknowledge why they should remain in the wild, and remind ourselves that, if we are to rescue them and keep them as pets, we have to do right by them and give them everything possible to live as natural lives as possible.

Personally, while not considering myself a "birder," I certainly admire and cherish birdlife. As an animal advocate, I worked way back in 1992 to pass the Wild Bird Conservation Act, federal legislation to end the importation of wild-caught birds for the pet trade. As a bird rescuer, I once took in a Washington, D.C. city pigeon with a broken wing. "Polonius the Pigeon" lived in a large cage in my bedroom on Capitol Hill until, little by little, he gained strength, started escaping the cage, and... well... started pooping all over my bedroom. First, Polonius got on the bed, then the dresser, then the curtain rod. One Easter Sunday, I took him to the local park and away he went, up into the tree branches above; free again.

I have birds outside my office window and birds in my yard at home. I have stared at a hummingbird fluttering right in front of me as I sit on the front porch of our family vacation home. I have also had the privilege of seeing wild birds living freely on six continents.

I'm not much of a birder, but it seems birds have been a rather consistent part of my life and my world view. It also seems this is the case for so many people. Birds are all around them, but rarely do they take time to admire their magnificence. This week was a time to pause and pay homage to our feathered friends.

Birds are highly intelligent, highly social wild animals. Some, like parrots, are long-lived, even outliving their humans when kept in captivity.

In the wild, they are suffering. More than one-third of the world's 330 parrot species are threatened with extinction. The ongoing destruction of their forest homes makes nesting and breeding challenging. Their tree perches and nests are continually exposed to human predators who poach in the greedy pursuit of birds to supply the pet trade.

Millions and millions of birds are commercialized in the pet trade, often to unwitting humans who are ill-prepared to provide them the quality of life--and natural lives--that they deserve. Talk about a commitment! Birds can live for 60 years in captivity. If I were to acquire one now, I'd have to survive past 108 in order to fulfill my responsibility. I know I can't do that, so I'll continue admiring them in the wild for as long as I am able.

At the Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in the fall of 2016, the African grey parrot was listed on Appendix I after a brutal battle of government delegates, thus stopping international commercial trade in the species. This was an excellent result for African grey parrots, but so much more needs to be done.

We need to stop commercializing birds as pets universally. They are not companion animals; they are wild animals. We need to support bird sanctuaries and rescue centers that often have to take birds confiscated from poor conditions in homes, or deal with animals who have outlived their "owners." We need to support conservation efforts for birds in the wild all across the globe. We need to do more to save birds... before it's too late.

Perhaps, a good starting place is learning more about birds and why their plight is so important. Take a moment to visit www.nationalbirdday.org to learn more. Then, look out your window, or go outside and look up, and admire the wild animals soaring through the skies above. They are admirable animals, to be sure.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Adam