A Proposal for Improvement of the Avian Importation Process AAV 1989

Susan L. Clubb, DVM*
Jorgen Thomsen, M. Sc.**
*Pet Farm Inc.
5400 NW 84 Ave
Miami, R 33166
1250 24th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

The US regulatory system for importation and quarantine of birds has remained virtually unchanged since its inception in 1974. While fulfilling its intended purpose of protecting the poultry industry from poultry lethal viruses, it has come under criticism primarily due to mortality in imported birds. The system has sadly lacked consideration for the welfare of the birds being imported, the pet bird industry and the avicultural and pet-owning public.

As pressures are now being brought to bear on the pet bird industry, the time is certainly right for major changes in the system. Dwindling supplies, increased domestic production, a perceived or real decrease in demand, lower prices, increased overhead, regulatory pressures, as well as criticism from animal welfare and conservation groups make importation more difficult and less profitable.

A year ago a working group on the bird trade was established by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The concept of this quarantine improvement plan evolved as a part of an in-depth look at the regulations governing the importation of birds, especially United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations regarding quarantine station operation. However, it is important to note that at the time of writing, this concept has. not been officially endorsed by the working group on the bird trade or any constituent group.

The proposed plan contains a set of improvements which could be adopted in entirety or piecemeal. Another option is to propose specific regulatory changes to USDA or United States Department of Interior (USDI). Other aspects of the plan could be dealt with as pre-importation requirements, voluntary guidelines for importers, exporters, wholesalers and retailers, or provided in the form of educational literature. In the following we will suggest several options which could improve the welfare of birds imported into the United States.


A voluntary improvement plan could be modeled after the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). The NPIP was established in 1935 under the auspices of USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, to provide a cooperative program for the improvement of poultry health and the quality of poultry products.

The proposed Avian Quarantine Improvement Plan could be instituted under the auspices of one or more collaborating organizations, including but not limited to, USDA, AAV, Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PTJAC), WWF, American Federation of Aviculture (AFA), or Humane Society of the US (HSUS). Alternatively, the plan could be a separate self-supporting entity. The objective of the Avian Quarantine Improvement Plan is to establish a voluntary plan to provide guidance to importers and regulatory agents regarding avian quarantine procedures and practices. Furthermore it would provide the public a means of ascertaining the level of care provided birds while in quarantine. The plan is designed to augment existing regulations and provide a monitoring system for humane treatment and health maintenance programs. It is not the authors' intention to limit the scope of the plan to the importation of wild-caught birds. Most aspects of the plan will have equal implications for the international movement of captive-bred birds.


A. Authority

The plan will be implemented by (collaborating organizations). Financial support for the program will come from user fees paid by the importer (alternatives for additional support — perhaps a surcharge on birds). An administrator would oversee implementation of the plan.

B. Objectives

The goal of the plan is to improve stated aspects of the importation and quarantine process, handling, and transport of birds. Levels of the plan are outlined as goals for continued improvement by members.

C. Organization

Members shall participate in the plan on whatever level attainable for each lot of birds. The level of compliance shall be determined by the inspector who shall enter the station on at least two occasions during quarantine to evaluate care and condition of the birds. The inspector shall be an employee of the plan and should be knowledgeable in all aspects of importation, avian husbandry and disease control so he/she could also serve as an advisor or consultant to the importer in areas of feeding, disease control and housing of birds. At the time of release, the inspector shall provide a summary of findings to the importer and a certificate of compliance indicating at what level this lot complied with the standards. The certificate would list the species included and band numbers for traceabili-ty. A copy of the certificate could be provided to the purchaser of the birds. This certificate of level of compliance could be used in advertising, on price lists, etc. to indicate to the public the level of care actually given to that lot of birds.

The inspector could serve the dual purpose of reporting on species identification and numbers to USDI or USDA. Discrepancies could then be dealt with by agencies as appropriate. Each lot will be graded on a mathematical scale as to level of compliance with the plan.

D. Amendment

The provisions of the proposed plan would be changed from time to time to conform with the development of the industry and to utilize new information as it becomes available. These changes would be based upon recommendations made at a national program conference by official delegates representing participating importers, exporters, inspectors, administrators, veterinarians, aviculturists, retailers and outside observers.


A. Qualifications for Membership

1. Importer - Owner/operator of a USDA licensed quarantine station in active status; other person leasing a quarantine station for the purpose of importing birds.

2. Exporter - Person duely licensed or permitted to export birds from their native country.

3. Wholesaler, retailer, jobber or aviculturist who purchases and/or sells imported birds.

B. Denial, Suspension or Revocation from Participation

Participants in the plan, who after investigation by the administrator, are notified of their apparent non-compliance with the plan provisions or regulatiions, shall be afforded a reasonable period of time to correct such discrepancies, as specified by the administrator. If compliance is not demonstrated or achieved within the specified time, the administrator could debar the participant from further participation in the plan for such period, or indefinitely, as the agency may deem appropriate. The debarred participant shall be afforded notice of the basis for the debarment in accordance with procedures adopted by the administrator.

C. Advertising

Advertising shall be in compliance with the plan, and applicable rules and regulations. Birds from each respective lot could be advertised only with the certified compliance code. Certification should be supplied with each bird sold or provided to the buyer on request.

Each participant shall be assigned a permanent approval number by the administrator. This number or code (could be existing quarantine station codes) will be the official approval number of the participant and may be used on each certificate, invoice, shipping label or other document used by the participant in the sale of his/her products. The approval number shall be withdrawn when the participant no longer qualifies for participation.


A. Supervision

B. Training

C. Inspections

Each lot of birds would be inspected on at least two occasions during the quarantine period. The inspector would evaluate each lot on each of four in quarantine categories of compliance (A,B, C, and D under program outline). Evaluation of compliance with pre-import standards could be submitted with the official health certificate accompaning import and export permits and signed by a salaried veterinarian employed by the government of the exporting country. Compliance with transport standards could be certified by USDA.

The inspector could verify identification, and as much as possible, number of individual birds of each species. This information could be forwarded to USDI for verification of compliance with permits.


A. Compliance

1. Operation of quarantine station in compliance with existing federal regulations.

2. Birds are fed a ration medicated with chlortetracycline (or approved alternative pre- ventative therapy for chlamydiosis) or substitute a standard testing program where a percentage of the flock could be tested for chlamydiosis by ELISA or comparable diagnostic method and treat only infected flocks.

B. Standards for Operation and Maintenance of a Quarantine Station.

1. Cleanliness standards

a. Cage construction with wire floors so feces fall through the cage floor.
b. Cage trays, racks, floors reasonably clean and maintained.
c. Protocols established for the control of rodents or insect pests which may contribute to the transmission of disease.
d. Feed brought in fresh daily or stored in closed containers.
e. Feed and water dishes cleaned and disinfected daily.
f. Bowl placement so as to avoid fecal contamination of feed and water.
g. Disinfection as per regulation or the utilization of additional disinfectants as necessary when dealing with pathogens which are resistant to the approved products. For example, psittacine reovirus is resistant to phenolic disinfectants.
h. Garbage in containers or sealed plastic bags.

2. Ventilation standards

a. Ventilation shall be maintained at a specified level expressed in minimum air changes/hour, except in times of inclimate weather, at night, or in the presence of potentially hazardous atmospheric contaminants, at the discretion of the station operator.
b. Fans should be maintained in working order and inspected annually.
c. Fans should be cleaned of dust prior to initiation of quarantine.
d. Ventilation system should be designed in such a way as to eleminate detectable dead air spaces and minimize excessive odor or build-up of ammonia from the degradation of wastes.

3. The station shall be maintained within a reasonable range of temperatures.

4. A single quarantine lot, or isolation room within a quarantine station, should contain birds from one country or region only (optional but highly recommended).

C. Caging Density Guidelines

Tables 1 and 2 detail standards for caging density expressed in square inches cage floor space for species as they are divided into major categories. Standards should be expressed in three levels - maximum density (or minimum space), good density, or ideal density. Adequate number of perches should be provided to allow all birds to perch comfortably. An alternative method for determining perch space requirements could be expressed in a range of linear perch space per bird.

Linear perch space available can be divided by the minimum capacity to determine the carrying capacity of each cage where perch space may be the limiting factor.

D. Disease Control Plan

1. Vaccination

While vaccination is in its infancy, in the future polyvalent vaccines should be available which will help prevent disease and subsequent mortality and morbidity in quarantine. In order to be most successful, vaccination should begin in the country of origin, followed by boosters in quarantine and possibly after release. In quarantine, vaccines should be administered when birds are banded, as each bird is handled at this time. A different needle should be used for each bird.

Table 3 details suggested use of vaccines for major groups of psittacine birds utilizing vaccines currently available, or available in the near future. Note that only approved products can be used in quarantine and the use of paramyxovirus III vaccine, or any orthomyxo-virus or paramyxovirus vaccines, is prohibited in quarantine.

Eventually vaccination prior to importation should be mandatory as it is for domestic animals. Certainly if vaccines could be developed for chlamydia, psittacine beak and feather disease, E.Coli, etc., they should be incorporated into vaccination programs. The first dose should be administered as soon as possible after capture. Boosters may be given after release from quarantine if exposure is likely.

2. Parasite control

Newly captured birds should be treated for internal and external parasites. Treatment for internal parasites should be broad spectrum (levamisole, ivermectin or other appropriate anthelmintic) for nematodes. Cockatoos, lories and African grey parrots may benefit from treatment for tapeworms (praziquantel). Amazons should be given nitrofurazone or another coccidiostat to control bacterial infections and coccidiosis and resultant mortality from enteritis. Lories, toucans and mynahs should be treated with sulpha drugs or trimethoprim sulpha conbinations for coccidiosis as they may be sensitive to nitrofurazone.

3. Diagnostic capability

Systems should be established for the accurate diagnosis of disease in birds while in quarantine, for example, fee-based bacteriology or virology services utilizing tissues currently being processed by National Veterinary Services Laboratory for the detection of poultry lethal viruses.

4. A guidelines booklet should be developed detailing disease control measures, action to be taken in an outbreak of selected infectious diseases, the proper use of antibiotics, etc.

E. Feeding Recommendations

A guidelines booklet should be prepared with practical recommendations and minimal and optimum requirements for feeding commonly imported species. Handfeeding diets and techniques should also be included.

B. Pre-importation Conditioning and Holding Guidelines

1. Foreign holding facilities

Holding facilities should be managed much as a quarantine station. "All in - all out" management should be practiced (the facility should be completely emptied between lots and disinfected to prevent the accumulation of pathogens or birds which may serve as a reservoir for disease agents.)

2. Cleanliness

Cages should be constructed without the use of wood or porous surfaces which defy disinfection (understanding that some building materials may be unavailable in some countries). Wood perches should be replaced between lots or metal or plastic perches should be used. The entire facility should be disinfected between lots. Cages may be disinfected by rolling in fire if suitable chemical agents are not available. Chlorine bleach is available in most countries and is effective against most disease agents.

3. Water

Water supplies should be sanitized by chlorination and/or boiling.

4. Feeding

Natural foods, such as fruits, palm nuts, corn for species which may prey upon such crops, etc. should be offered during the transition period to a captive diet. Cleanliness of feed supplies should be maintained. Training birds may be used to assist in adaptation to new diet.

5. Isolation of Groups

Each new group of birds should be isolated until such time they are determined to be stable and free of apparent disease, prior to mixing with the entire export lot.

6. Preconditioning

Preconditioning should include internal parasite control, external parasite control, vaccination, use of appropriate antibiotics and adequate holding time to convert birds to a captive diet prior to shipping. The requirements for preconditioning will vary with the species and country of origin, availability of feeds, etc.

South American and Asian psittacines should be given chlortetracycline (or perhaps enro- floxacin) and a suitable antifungal compound (gentian violet is recommended) prior to shipping to reduce shedding of chlamydia during transit. These products can be readily mixed into cooked rice or corn. Due to the high incidence of salmonellosis in African psittacines, they should receive an an antibiotic such as nitrofurazone or chloramphenicol prior to shipment again to reduce shedding in transit.

7. Domestic Transportation

Land transport times should be minimized and routes should be as direct as possible. Only new boxes or disinfected cages should be utilized. The number of times a bird or lot changes hands should be minimized as much as possible.

8. Trappers

Transport, holding and care standards from trapping site to export holding facility should be established. Licensing of trappers should be investigated or educational material established for utilization by trappers. These measures alone may significantly reduce pre-export mortality.

G. Intraspecific Aggression

Some species are very aggressive when caged and special rules of handling should be applied to these species to reduce mortality due to fighting. Compatible groups should be established in the country of origin in the approximate number that will be caged together while in quarantine, or larger groups which can be subdivided, but not in small groups which are later combined. As much as possible, these groups should remain together until sold without the introduction of additional birds. Selection of pairs for breeding from such groups may also reduce aggressive behavior for the aviculturist. An alternative approach is to spread aggressive species among more mild-mannered species. Table 4 outlines species in which intraspecific aggression is a problem, and those species which can be freely intermingled without aggressive behavior.

Feather plucking or chewing may also be a problem for some species. Lovebirds, canaries and African finches commonly peck and pluck each other's heads. Mixing of species, the use of low protein foods and low light levels may reduce such behavior.

Additional small cages should be provided in a quarantine station for separation of birds which are persecuted by cage mates, or separation of a single aggressive individual from a group. In caging aggressive species, perch space should be maximized and all perches should be the same height to prevent birds fighting over the highest perch. Aggression between cages may also be a problem especially if they are touching or share a common wall. For example, cockatoos will often bite off toes of small birds in adjoining cages.

While cockatoos are not typically aggressive in cages (in a non-breeding situation), they become very aggressive when confined in a tight space. Overcrowding in shipping is very dangerous.

H. Transportation Guidelines

1. Density standards should be established for birds in transit utilizing a mathematical formula by which the carrying capacity of any box can be determined for any species. Species in commerce could be divided into groups based on size and temperament, and standards developed for each of these groups utilizing minimum box height (interior) and minimum floor space required expressed in square inches.

2. Box construction should follow, as a minimum, standards established by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as detailed in its annual guidelines manual. Only new boxes should be used.

3. Schedule on shortest, fastest route possible. Ground transportation time as well as holding time for customs clearance, etc. should be minimized as much as possible.

4. Separation of aggressive species which may fight in boxes. For example, large cockatoo species may benefit from compartmentilization of boxes.

5. Adequate food should be provided in the boxes for the duration of the trip as well as a source of moisture either as containerized water or fruits.

6. As airborne disease transmission may occur from box to box while in transit, care should be taken to avoid exposure to other birds on airplanes. Shipment of more than one quarantine lot on an airplane should be avoided.

I. Post-release Holding Facilities

Guidelines for post quarantine holding facilities, wholesalers, pet shops or other consumers which may hold birds after release from quarantine, should be established to reduce disease transmission between quarantine lots or individual birds post-quarantine.

J. Record-keeping

Record keeping systems should be established to aid in traceability of birds utilizing the currently established banding program or alternative identification systems (such as im-plantable transponders). Quarantine bands should not be arbitrarily removed until such time as the bird reaches the ultimate owner/ aviculturist.


Certain aspects of the voluntary improvement plan could be proposed to USDA by way of resolution, as regulatory or procedural changes. Some aspects which could be addressed include:

A. USDA recognition of the pet bird industry as a significant industry needing guidelines and regulatory assistance for improvement of health and welfare of imported birds as well as improvement of product sold to the public.

B. Acceptance by USDA that health and welfare of birds in quarantine should be second only in importance to prevention of introduction of poultry lethal viruses.

C. Establishment of standards in the following areas:

1. Cleanliness of cages, flights, and feeding utensiles.
2. Provision of wholesome feed and water on a daily basis.
3. Ventilation standards.
4. Caging density standards.

D. Consideration of alternative therapies for chlamydiosis or possible substitution of a routine testing and treatment program.

E. Re-examination of necessity for three-day abstinence from contact with birds after entering quarantine station and, if possible, repeal of same. This regulation severely limits veterinary care in a quarantine station.

F. Re-examination of some aspects of standard virus isolation techniques utilized at National Veterinary Services Laboratory with the intention of reducing delays in release of birds from quarantine.

G. Establishment of a routine vaccination program with possible pre-import vaccination requirements. Other pre-import requirements may include treatment for parasites, facility standards, holding periods, etc.

H. Propose to USDI reasonable transport guidelines, especially regarding density standards in shipping boxes. Perhaps propose that USDA, rather than USDI, monitor compliance with these standards.


Development of educational materials for various aspects of the industry could be separate from either the voluntary improvement plan or regulatory changes, or could be utilized as part of the plan.

Some aspects which are especially amenable to this approach include:

1. Pre-export Recommendations
a. Guidelines on the construction and management of a holding facility with control of disease as the primary aim, including cage construction and disinfection procedures.
b. Guidelines on feeding, especially for more delicate species, including recommendations on feeding natural or native foods as part of transition to the captive diet.
c. Disease prevention programs including "all in - all out" management, common diseases and preventive measures, treatment for species common in commerce, parasite control, and methods for conditioning.
d. Methods for dealing with intra-specific aggression.
e. Establishment of routine vaccination programs.
f. Multilingual guidelines for holding, transport and care by trappers.

2. Quarantine Recommendations
a. Disease control plans including vaccination and recommendations on course of action in the advent of disease.
b. Feeding practices, including handfeeding techniques.
c. Chlamydiosis control.
d. Intraspecific aggression.
e. Caging including density recommendations.
f. Multilingual educational material for quarantine employees regarding quarantine regulations.
g. Identification guide for common species in trade.


The pet bird industry has reached a critical point in its evolution. The importation of wild- caught birds for pets is winding down and in all likelihood should be considered to be in its final years. It is also likely that trade will continue, perhaps for those species which would otherwise be killed as crop pests. Certainly the international trade in captive-bred birds as well trade in wild-caught birds for avicultural purposes is likely to continue.

A decrease in trade numbers or change in the ultimate destination of imported birds should not, however, decrease the resolve of those inside and outside the industry to improve the system. The time is right for the industry to embark on a self-improvement program with help from veterinarians, aviculturists, conservationists, and regulatory agencies. The first step would be the resolve by all involved to make the system more intuned to the needs of the birds.

Major improvements which could significantly decrease mortality in imported birds in-; elude pre-export vaccination, a comprehensive disease control plan and the utilization of J density standards in shipping and caging.

Table 1. Density Standards for Caging Birds in Quarantine

Note: Density standards are based on a horizontal 2 x 2 x 4 ft cage containing a known number of birds which can be satisfactorily maintained while in quarantine. Utilization of the floor-space requirement, the carrying capacity of any cage can be determined by dividing the floor-space in square inches, by the floor-space requirement of each species. For simplicity, commonly imported species have been divided into groups by size and temperament.

Table 2. Perch Space Requirements (in inches) for Housing Birds in Quarantine (Groups as in Table 1)

Group 1           9-15 inches
Group 2           6-9
Group 3           5-8
Group 4           4-6
Group 5           3.5-5
Group 6           3-5
Group 7           2.5-4
Group 8           2-3

Table 3. Suggested Vaccination Program for Imported Birds

Table 4. Intraspecific Aggression

Species in which intraspecific aggression is a problem:

Toucans and Toucanettes
Adult Yellow-naped Amazons
Lories and lorikeets
Fig parrots
Hawk-headed Parrots

Species in which interchange between cages is not a problem: