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The Wild Bird Trade

Written by Kalvin

Every year, an estimated 350 millions animals and plants are traded internationally; amid them are around five million wild birds. The trade of wild species is worth £11.8 million (approx 20 million dollars), a large percentage of it being illegal. The illegal trade is flourishing and becoming increasingly organized. After habitat destruction, the wild animal trade is one of the main factors aiding the extinction of many species. A total of 66 species of birds are considered to be considerably threatened by the wild bird trade.

There's no sure way of telling if birds in pet shops are captive bred or wild caught. If asked, the staff or manager will not know, lie, or avoid the question. Imported wild birds are usually cheaper than captive bred birds, and for this reason, people still buy them and they're still traded in such large numbers.

88% of parrots, parakeets, lovebirds, and other hookbills imported into the UK between 1995 and 2000 were caught in the wild -- that's around 23,920 birds. A recent WWF report shows the UK imports a greater quantity for the pet trade than Europe as a whole. Often, people are ignorant and unaware that this trade even exists, nor do they realize that when they buy a bird that has been caught in the wild, they are contributing to a trade that involves cruelty, high mortality, and that threatens the survival of many species.

The Environmental Investigation Agency estimates that for every wild caught bird that reaches a pet shop, three others have died during capture, confinement, and transportation. After they are caught, the birds are transferred into bags, baskets, small boxes, or crates in which the trapper will take them home. They can spend days or even weeks in these containers being passed between dealers. Between capture and export, it's estimated that there is a 50% mortality rate.

It has been reported that birds have spent up to eight months at the holding premises of exporters before transport by air to their final destination. Studies of the conditions in which they are kept found they are overcrowded; show signs of distress; and lack food, water, and light. Symptoms of distress include feather plucking, dirty plumage, wounds, and exhaustion. The filthy conditions, overcrowding, excessive temperatures, and trauma increase disease susceptibility.

The Traps

Trapping of wild birds is illegal -- however certain types of trap are legal to use with the correct licensing.

Larsen traps
These are amongst the most common live catch bird traps, used for catching members of the Corvid family (crows, magpies, jays, jackdaws, etc.). The trap has three compartments -- the largest one is used to house a decoy bird; the other two compartments have spring-loaded doors held open by split perches. Once the decoy attracts the other birds, they land on the perch, which falls away under their weight, closing the trap on them. These traps are legal with a license, although it is illegal to use them to catch goshawks or sparrowhawks.

The following traps are used for smaller birds, such as finches.

Cage traps
Usually built as a double or treble compartment structure; like the Larsen trap, a decoy tame bird is placed in one compartment, seed or grain is placed in the two remaining compartments. As the bird enters, it lands on the perch that releases the door, trapping the bird inside. These traps are legal with a license.

Mist nets
The nets are made of very fine mesh so the birds are unable to see it. They fly into the net where they get stuck and are removed by the trappers. These traps are legal with a license.

Bird lime
This is an old method used to catch birds but is still in use. Bird lime is a sticky substance that sticks to the bird's wings or feet, rendering it helpless and unable to move until released by the trapper, who then cleans off the bird lime and cages the bird. Bird lime is usually spread on perches or feeding areas, although some trappers will place small amounts on the end of canes, which they will lightly brush against the bird's wings while it roosts, sticking its wings together and preventing it from taking flight.

A variation of this is used to catch parrots; they are usually trapped with tree gum, meaning that they get stuck to the trees on to which they fly, unable to move. They are then picked off the trees and attempts at cleaning them up are made. The trappers clamp the bird's necks with branches of the trees. The feathers of these trapped birds are also pulled out to prevent the birds from flying away.

Although some of these traps are legal with a license, illegal trappers don't hold these licenses so there is nothing regulating their use and no safety precautions are in place.

What Comes Next

Once the birds have been caught, the trappers then face the problem that they can't be sold without closed rings. Closed rings are made to fit young birds while they're still in the nest -- they fit over the foot and toes as they're more flexible. As the trapped birds are adults, the closed bands can't be fitted but need to be stretch to make them fit. An old method is to buy the right ring size for the bird captured then push a slightly larger nail through the ring, stretching it. With the aid of Vaseline the ring slips onto the bird's leg. Bird trapping has become very hi-tech and organized, as said before -- rings are now bored out on a machine with such accuracy that it's nearly impossible to tell if the ring has been tampered with. A sure sign that a bird has been illegally rung is bruising on the birds leg and missing scales.

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