The Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) of 1992 Comes of Age AAV 2014

Susan Clubb, DVM Dipl ABVP (Avian)

Session #4220

Affiliation: Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics, Inc, 3319 E Rd, Loxahatchee, FL, USA

Abstract: The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 dramatically changed the pet bird industry, aviculture, and ultimately avian medicine in the United States. But 21 years later, the exemption allowing the importation of captive bred birds has not been implemented. As we lose species as well as genetic diversity in many psittacine species, allowing the importation of foreign captive bred birds can be important for the future of US aviculture.

Introduction - A Little Bit of History

In August 1988, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) convened the cooperative working group on bird trade (CWGBT), in an effort to move the bird trade debate in a more constructive direction. At the outset, this unusual coalition agreed that the controversial issues surrounding the bird trade merited objective analysis and informed discussion, and that these issues should be addressed at the federal rather than the state level. I was honored to represent AAV in the working group.1

The controversy surrounded the large number of wild caught birds that were legally imported by licensed import- ers into the US each year, and concerns about humane treatment, mortality, and conservation issues surrounding these imports. During previous years, more than 500,000 birds were imported into the United States annually, the majority sold as pets or breeding birds.1

During the first 6 meetings (18 months), CWGBT members participated in comprehensive analysis of United States federal wildlife regulations as well as bird import and mortality data. It became clear during initial dis- cussion that a number of federal procedures, although well intended, were not adequately protecting the species and individual birds in trade. Group members unfamiliar with the complex procedures required of importers and exporters grew to appreciate the difficulties they face. At the same time, individuals who had not previously appreciated the detrimental effects that unsustainable exploitation is having on wild bird populations increased their understanding of this aspect of exotic bird importation. All group members agreed that trade-associated mortality, whether during pre-export, transport, or during the quarantine process, represented a waste of natural resources and a serious concern from the standpoint of animal welfare. The group further agreed that captive breeding efforts were paramount to the resolution of many of the problems associated with trade in wild-caught birds, including high trade volumes and species conservation.1

The CWGBT prepared a series of joint recommendations, the Findings and Recommendations of the Cooperative working Group on Bird Trade, which were presented to the US Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and State in March 1990. A summary of these findings was presented at the 1990 AAV Conference.1

During the next year (6 meetings), the CWGBT labored to draft legislation that embodied the spirit of the rec- ommendations. On April 2, 1991, the draft bill, entitled “Exotic Bird Conservation Act of 1991,” was submitted to the Committee.1

The Exotic Bird Conservation Act called for a 5-year phase out with quotas of imports of wild birds for sale as pets, imports of breeding stock to be sold to registered aviculturists, and unlimited import of foreign captive bred birds. The Exotic Bird Conservation Act also delineated exemptions as in the WBCA.1

But 3 groups that participated in drafting the Exotic Bird Conservation Act withdrew from the CWGBT (Humane Society of the US–HSUS, The Animal Welfare Institute AWI, and The Animal Protection Institute), withdrew their support, and aligned with Defenders of Wildlife and introduced a competing bill entitled the Wild Bird Protection Act. This act called for an immediate ban on all imports for the pet trade, would require marking of all birds in trade, and would limit imports under the exemptions for zoos, cooperative breeding, and personal pets.2

Staff of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee were unable to negotiate a compromise, and both bills were submitted concurrently to the House of Representatives on June 4, 1991. On April 9, 1992, a third bill known as HR 4958 was introduced to the House of Representatives by Gerry Studds. This bill was drafted by the staff of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and was based on the recommendations of the CWGBT. It was modified one more time, removing stiff criminal penalties, passed as the Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 and signed into law on October 23, 1992.2

Provisions of the WBCA

The Wild Bird Conservation Act limits imports of exotic bird species to ensure that their populations are not harmed by international trade. It also encourages (theoretically) wild bird conservation programs in countries of origin by ensuring that trade in such species involving the United States is both biologically sustainable and of benefit to the species.3

Most bird species listed under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) are listed under WBCA, and therefore not allowed to be imported, with the following exemptions3:

  • Birds native to the 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • Two parrot species: budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus) and cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)
  • Birds in the following families:
    • Anatidae (ducks, swans, and geese)
    • Cracidae (guans and currasows)
    • Dromaiinae (emus)
    • Gruidae (cranes)
    • Megapodidae (megapodes)
    • Numididae (guineafowl)
    • Phasianidae (pheasants and quails)
    • Rheidae (rheas)
    • Struthionidae (ostriches)

Non-CITES species are exempt from regulation under the WBCA and comprise most of the imports since en- actment.

Approved List of Avian Species that Can Be Imported Without a WBCA Permit.

A “clean list” of captive-bred species that are either common in trade, commonly bred, or in some cases, color mutations of species that are not allowed to be imported in their wild-type color was developed by the USFWS.

Species not on this list and found on any CITES appendix are prohibited for import except under the exemptions. CITES permits or ESA permits are still required for importation of some species. Arranged alphabetically by Latin genus. The USFWS has developed a list of species “exempt” under the WBCA and allowed for importa- tion if they are “bred in captivity” in another country and no known wild specimens are in trade worldwide. This list appears below.3

Order Falconiformes: Buteo buteo (European buzzard)

Order Columbiformes: Columba livia (rock dove)

Order Psittaciformes: Agapornis personata (masked lovebird), Agapornis roseicollis (peach-faced lovebird), Aratinga jandaya (Jendaya Conure), Barnardius barnardi (Mallee ringneck parrot), Bolborhynchus lineola (line- olated parakeet, blue, yellow, and white forms), Cyanoramphus auriceps (yellow-fronted Kakariki parakeet), Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae (red-fronted Kakariki parakeet), Forpus coelestis (Pacific parrotlet, Lutino, yellow, blue, and cinnamon forms), Melopsittacus undulates (budgerigar), Neophema bourkii (Bourke’s parrot), Neophema chrysostoma (blue-winged parrot), Neophema elegans (elegant parrot), Neophema pulchella (turquoise parrot), Neophema splendid (scarlet- chested parrot), Nymphicus hollandicus (cockatiel), Platycercus Adelaide (Adelaide rosella), Platycercus adscitus (pale-headed rosella), Platycercus elegans (crimson rosella), Platycer- cus eximius (eastern rosella), Platycercus icterotis (western [stanley] rosella), Platycercus venustus (northern rosella), Polytelis alexandrae (princess parrot), Polytelis anthopeplus (regent parrot), Polytelis swainsonii (superb parrot), Psephotus chrysopterygius (golden-shouldered parakeet), Psephotus haematonotus (red-rumped para- keet), Psephotus varius (Mulga parakeet), Psittacula eupatria (Alexandrine parakeet, Lutino and blue forms). Psittacula krameri manilensis (Indian ringneck parakeet), Purpureicephalus spurious (Australian red-capped parrot), Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus (scaly-breasted lorikeet).

Order Passeriformes: Aegintha temporalis (red-browed finch), Aidemosyne modesta (cherry finch) Chloebia gouldiae (Gouldian finch) Emblema guttata (diamond sparrow) Emblema picta (painted finch) Lonchura cas- taneothorax (chestnut-breasted finch), Lonchura domestica (society [Bengalese] finch), Lonchura pectoralis (pictorella finch), Neochmia ruficauda (star finch), Poephila acuticauda (long-tailed grassfinch), Poephila biche- novii (double-barred finch), Poephila cincta (Parson finch), Poephila guttata (zebra finch), Poephila personata (masked finch), Serinus canaria (common canary).

The Exemptions

Four exemptions to the WBCA were established by the act, allowing the USFWS to issue import permits for scientific research, for personally owned pet birds, for zoological display, or for cooperative breeding programs designed to promote the conservation of the species in the wild by enhancing the propagation and survival of affected species.

The exemption for cooperative breeding programs has been used on a limited basis by aviculturists. At least 3 cooperators must apply to establish a cooperative breeding program. Primarily, these are for species that have not been commonly imported in the past. First, the cooperative breeding program must be developed and ap- proved. Then, each person will be required to apply for import permits for each import of birds. Typically, these programs have a quota of birds that are allowed to be imported. Cooperative breeding programs are not allowed for CITES App I species. These programs require oversight by an association. The American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) is often called upon for oversight. Approximately 6 programs had AFA oversight, including black cockatoos/blue-eyed cockatoos, pyrrhura conures – 2 groups, mynahs, toucans, and blue-headed macaws.

The personal pet exemption can be utilized by US citizens who have obtained pet birds abroad and owned them for at least 1 year and are moving their residence back to the US. The service also allows birds listed under CITES that are exported from the United States by their owners to return to the United States as long as they were exported legally with a CITES permit and a copy of the permit is presented when the birds are to be returned to the US. There are also provisions for pet passports for CITES listed birds.

USFWS was contacted to provide data on the volume of exports under the exemptions. At the time of writing that information was not available.

Provisions that Remain Unutilized

The WBCA allows the importation of wild-caught birds into the United States when the US Fish and Wildlife Service determines that such importation is biologically sustainable and non-detrimental to species survival in the wild. In addition, the agency requires that CITES is being implemented effectively in the countries from which the birds are exported. It provides opportunities for importation of wild-caught birds meeting sustainable-use criteria under one of the exemptions.

(The final rule implements procedures establishing criteria that would enable wild-caught bird species to be included on the list of birds approved for importation to the United States. Wild-caught birds on this approved list could be imported without a WBCA permit if they came from a country that had developed a scientifically based management plan for sustainable use of the species.) This was proposed for blue-fronted Amazon parrots (Amazona aestiva) to be imported from Argentina. Comments in the Federal Register, however, were primarily against the proposal, and it was declined by USFWS. The price structure as proposed would also make the cost of the imported birds so high that they would be difficult to market.

The Exemption for Foreign Captive Bred Birds still has not been implemented, and in fact may be more important today than it was in the early years of the WBCA. Proposed rules were developed and published on March 17, 1994, but remained unfinished at the end of the Clinton Administration. Since significant time has passed since the publication, the Service will now need to re-propose this rule and seek public comment before publishing its final decision and promulgating regulations (Rosemarie Gnam, oral communication, March 2014).

This aspect of the Act may be very important for US aviculture at this time, because after 20 years with very limited imports, many species have become scarce, difficult to find, or may have limited genetic diversity. A recent trend in aviculture is for aviculturists to “adopt” a species and attempt to build stable, genetically diverse captive populations. For numerous species, this is no longer possible in the US. Finalization of this portion of the Act could allow us to obtain much needed breeding stock (Rosemarie Gnam, oral communication, March 2014).

Another provision in the Act, the Exotic Bird Conservation Fund, also was never established. It never received any appropriations from Congress. It was envisioned to be funded by fines for violation of the WBCA. Since enactment, fines have been very low - perhaps limited to a single person (Rosemarie Gnam, oral communica- tion, March 2014).

An action item for aviculture should be to request that this portion of the WBCA be implemented.


1S.L. ECxolutibcbBird Conservation Act. Paper presented at: Association of Avian Veterinarians Conference; 1991; Chicago, IL.

2S.L. LCelugbisblative update. Paper presented at: Association of Avian Veterinarians Conference; 1992; New Orleans, LA.

3. US Fish and Wildlife Service. Available at: