In August, 2002, Howard Voren invited experienced aviculturists to join together so that they might found a national professional organization to address concerns over "USDA regulations, political groups pushing for the addition of many Psittacines to the federal protected list, difficulty with continually changing airline shipping regulations" and other matters. The organization's voice "would represent the interests of professional aviculturists, first and foremost." The response was enthusiastic.
Over the first several months some 80 members discussed the formation of the new organization, the role it needed to play in representing aviculture, and how it would best serve the bird breeder.
A Turning Point for Aviculture in the U.S.
Through the 1970's and 1980's, in addition to the common birds, such as canaries, budgies and cockatiels, the American public became interested in keeping a wide variety of pet and aviary birds. Magazines such as Cage Bird Hobbyist, Bird Talk, and the short-lived Bird Breeder magazine piqued the interest of hobbyists and pet owners alike. Pet shops began to specialize in birds, bird shows and bird marts became popular in much of the country, and bird clubs proliferated.
The September 1990 issue of "The Gallup Poll Monthly" reported that more than 51% of Americans claimed they would like to own birds, yet only 6% of households reportedly owned one. The same issue reported that 58.42% of households owned pets, and 61% agreed that "people who have household pets, such as dogs, cats, birds, etc., lead a more satisfying life" "than people who do not have pets."
More than 1.8 million parrots legally entered the international trade from 1982-1988 of which 80 percent were imported into the United States. Over 400,000 were imported in 1989 alone. Due to continuing pressures from wildlife organizations, the Wild Bird Conservation Act was signed into law in 1992. Since the Act became effective in October 1993, the vast majority of birds sold by the nation's pet stores have been domestically bred.
Until the late 1980's the pursuit of aviculture had been largely considered a hobby. The domestic production was nothing more than a supplement to the imported birds being sold in pet shops. As importation was about to end, many hobbyists began to gear up their production with the intention of supplying the pet trade's demand for birds.
The Next Step
Although aviculture was to become an industry, those who were breeding and selling birds were not organized into a cohesive and recognized group. The foremost reason for this was that their breeding stock was virtually uninsurable against theft. The aviculturist's only safeguard was to remain as secretive as possible. To allow the location of a bird farm to be known to the public was to open one's gates to theft. The value of the breeding stock was multiplied many times over when importation stopped and replacements became both rare and expensive. Most parrots do not become productive until they are four to ten years old, and, in addition, most birds are selective in choosing their mates. Therefore, the theft of bonded pairs, and especially producing pairs, represented a loss which could not be replaced for years to come, if at all.
Legislation Without Representation
As a result of the seclusion and lack of organization, aviculture has had no recognition as a viable industry. However, aviculture has attracted the attention of activist animal rights organizations which propose legislation, on local, state and federal levels, much of which is designed to regulate aviculture out of existence.
Other than the OPA, avicultural organizations in the United States are either organized for charitable and educational purposes, 501(c)(3), or as social organizations, 501(c)(4). As such, legislators have had no point of contact from which they might seek the unencubered views of the avicultural trade. Many legislators are not even aware of the industry's existence.
The avicultural hobbyist can provide valuable input on the keeping of birds, and most do indeed enter into commerce with their production. However, they are not likely, as individuals, to be recognized as the principle stakeholders when legislation is primarily directed at commercial and pet store interests. In addition, by their very nature, 501(c)(3) membership organizations allow any individual to join who is willing to pay dues. Therefore, the majority of a club's membership may be pet owners and small hobbyists who do not recognize the requirements of avicultural commerce. Indeed, even hobbyist breeders may prefer to side with a caring, but misinformed, public, rather than defend commercial interests which they may see as their competition. Further, they may believe that their personal advantage will be in avoiding regulation for hobbyists, but requiring it for large bird farms and pet stores.
The natural habitats for birds are threatened in various degrees. For many of these species, the captive gene pool is very limited. Well-funded "avian rescue" organizations make it a point to acquire highly endangered species as "poster" birds which they buy with large budgets received as charitable donations. The basis for "rescuing" a bird is so broadly defined that "abused" may mean only that a bird has changed locations during its life, including moving from the breeding facility to be sold in a pet store or even directly from a breeder to the to an individual who acquires it as a companion.
The OPA condemns the warehousing of healthy, vibrant and desirable birds. The welfare of these birds should include either being given the opportunity to mate and breed under the care of a a competent aviculturist, or to flourish in a personal relationship with a person.
The OPA promotes high standards of care for birds, which includes protecting the future of aviculture in general.
The OPA recognizes that pet stores provide an invaluable service in that they are the way most people become familiar with birds.
OPA recognizes the importance of the bond with companion birds and other animals, which has been scientifically proven to be a psychological and physical benefit to the lives of people.
All who keep birds should be aware that most attempts at regulation and legislation are drafted and promoted by the same organizations which seek to end the keeping of birds and animals as companions. Though the facilities and procedures may differ, whether the interest is on a hobby or a commercial level, the welfare of the birds is of utmost concern.