India’s Bird Trade

Birds Need Freedom and the Company of Other Birds

Because few humans care enough to acknowledge and appreciate birds’ feelings and remarkable intelligence, these animals suffer terribly. If more people appreciated how rich and complex birds’ lives are in the wild, humans’ exploitation of birds, which is fuelled by the illegal “pet” trade, would be curtailed.

In their natural habitats, birds continually communicate with each other. Some bird species, such as crows, have hundreds of distinct calls that ornithological researchers have identified. Birds also make sounds that we don’t usually hear, like the hushed chatter and whispering that nesting birds use to communicate. They take turns talking, just as we do in conversation.

Birds are remarkably adept at navigating the skies and remembering exactly where they have hidden thousands of tiny seeds. To find their way back to these caches, birds use the sun, stars, landmarks and sometimes the Earth’s electromagnetic field to guide them.

Birds also play, dance, engage in “hide-and-seek” and other structured games and even slide down snow banks and climb back up over and over again for the sheer joy of it. Many species, such as geese and pigeons, mate for life and will not take a second mate if their first is lost. All birds crave company because they are meant to live in flocks, and they are keen to preen each other, fly in pairs or groups, play together and share egg-incubation duties.

Birds also grieve, just as we do. For example, after a car killed a coucal’s (a member of the cuckoo family) mate, the bird refused to leave her side or stop trying to revive her. In another incident, a robin who crippled his rival in a fight fed him and kept him alive. And on another occasion, pairs of terns lifted up a hurt flockmate by his wings, carrying him to safety.

In some ways, chickens are as smart as little kids, says Dr Chris Evans, an animal behaviourist at Bristol University in the UK. Chickens can learn to use switches and levers to change the temperature in their surroundings, and some have learned to open little doors to feeding areas. Discussing chickens’ various abilities, Evans, who studies the birds, explains, “As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list their attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people [think] I’m talking about monkeys”.

African grey parrots have a greater aptitude for learning than some 5-year-old children. Veterinarian Dr Brian L Speer says, “We’re beginning to realize these animals are impressively intelligent. They’re a lot smarter than we used to think”. One parrot, Alex, can understand and use hundreds of English words and phrases and can even creatively combine words when he needs to. He came up with the term “banana cracker” to indicate a banana chip and “rock corn” to indicate a rocklike Brazil nut in its shell.

Crows sometimes use tools fashioned from twigs to pick up food. But one crow amazed birdwatchers when she went one step further and made her own tool! She cleverly bent a piece of wire in order to hook a piece of food that she couldn’t have otherwise reached.

India’s Flourishing Avian Black Market

Even though the Wildlife Protection Act bans the trade and trapping of all indigenous birds and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species restricts the trade of foreign birds, a black market involving 300 of the country’s estimated 1,200 bird species thrives openly in many places.

Laws designed to protect India’s birds are well intentioned but rarely enforced.

One of the largest illegal trades in animals takes place at Mumbai’s Crawford Market. In 1997, the Bombay High Court ordered a committee to conduct raids at the market, temporarily curbing the illegal trade. But the committee is no longer active, so the illegal activities of the animal dealers at the Crawford Market, as well as at other markets just like it, are mushrooming.

Domestic Hawking

Bird markets thrive openly in many cities because police and wildlife officials commonly accept bribes from sellers. At the Nakhas market in Lucknow, one bird hawker sells ravens, rafter pigeons, wild roosters, turkeys, ducks, lovebirds and sarus cranes (the sarus crane is the world’s tallest flying bird and an endangered species). He keeps the cranes behind his shop next to a garbage heap.

Every Sunday at the Hoga market in Kolkata, village trappers provide the local sellers with more than 6,000 birds. The next morning, the sellers offer the birds at other markets in and around Kolkata.

Hati Bagan is another booming bird-trading location.

Death in Transit From Forests to Cities

Poachers illegally transport thousands of birds who are captured from the bird-rich hills and forests of the northeast, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – primarily around the Gangetic Plain and in the foothills of the Himalayas – or from southern states such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Deccan Plateau.

Packed in small boxes and shipped on trains to cities, an estimated 60 per cent die in transit as a result of broken wings and legs, thirst or sheer panic. Station masters and loaders are paid to look the other way.

Smuggling Birds Out of India

In March 2001, more than 10,000 birds were confiscated from one illegal dealer at the Mumbai airport. Approximately 50 of these grand-scale seizures happen each year, but many birds slip through the cracks, making it clear that the ban on bird trading is, as conservation biologist Abrar Ahmed called it, “ineffective”.

While tens of thousands of birds are exported from India, many are confined to cages in homes right here.

Hideous Methods Are Used to Trap Birds

Fledgling birds are often captured from their nests, and other birds are caught in traps or nets, which can seriously injure or kill both adult and baby birds.

Trappers sometimes use a method that involves attaching a slip noose to a cow’s back and tail. As the cow swishes her tail, the noose opens and closes. On a typical day, at least two birds become caught in the slip noose, and they often break their legs or suffer from other injuries.

Trappers also use “mist nets” and “clap nets”, which catch unwitting birds who fly straight into them. Struggling to break free, most birds caught in these nets suffer serious injuries.

At least three variations of the “lime stick” method are used. Trappers apply bird lime – a substance made from peepal tree sap and slaked lime – to extension poles, which they use to probe trees’ high branches and the insides of domes while using insects and bird decoys as bait.

Bird Trading Wreaks Ecological Havoc

Birds play an important role in maintaining ecological balance. Their dwindling numbers are beginning to take a devastating toll on India’s forests, which need birds to spread seeds in order to thrive. It is estimated that for every parakeet or munia in captivity, one fewer tree grows in India.

Many of the birds who are widely traded are threatened species, such as the swamp francolin, green munia, Finnâs baya and Shaheen falcon.

Of the 300 species of birds who are traded, 16 are among the world’s most highly endangered, 36 are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and six are included on the Red Data list of endangered species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Enslaved and Stressed in Captivity

Birds, who should be nesting with a mate of their own choosing, socialising, soaring through the sky and otherwise living a full life, suffer severe stress and unhappiness in captivity. If separated from a previous partner, captive birds become depressed and can pine, grieve and even die of a broken heart.

Confining birds results in “acting out” behaviour, including mood swings, temper tantrums and neurotic or destructive acts, such as chewing on carpet and electrical and phone wires; pulling out feathers; and engaging in self-mutilation, sometimes to the point of death. Because wild-caught birds are often frightened and high-strung, they may nervously nip at their owners, who may as a result decide that they never want to handle them again, condemning the birds to live the rest of their lives imprisoned in a cage.

What to Do if You Already Have a Bird

If you have a bird, please click here to read PETA US’ tips on caring for captive birds.

If you or people you know already have birds and are unable to provide them with a life filled with companionship, interesting things to do and space to fly in, please consider the following:

• Birds need other birds. Find out if there is a bird sanctuary or a very large, securely enclosed aviary in which you can safely release the bird. Ideally, birds should be placed with other members of their species. Check the climate, potential for mating, opportunities for privacy and other key factors.

• Mating should be allowed, but please don’t allow breeding. Either eliminate nest boxes or hollow out eggs by draining them through a small hole. Neither solution is ideal, but these birds are living under unnatural conditions, and it would be inhumane to allow more birds to be born into a captive environment.

• If you cannot find a reputable sanctuary or aviary, donate the bird to someone trustworthy and kind who has other birds of the same species, allows them to live in a free-flight environment and will never separate them once they have bonded.

• Do not put a large bird like a macaw with a small bird like a cockatiel – this can be terrifying to the smaller bird. Also, species from different continents may never get along and can transmit diseases to which the others have no immunity.

Read and learn all you can about the types of birds you have, including how they live in the wild. For example, it can frighten a tree-dweller to be placed on the floor or in a cage that’s low to the ground.

If you have a wild-caught bird, please contact PETA India right away:

PETA India
PO Box 28260
Juhu, Mumbai 400 049
+91 (022) 4072-7382
+91 (022) 2636-7383 (fax)


Let your birds fly “free” – meaning in the house – for extended periods every day, allowing them to spend as much time out of the cage as possible. Convert your balcony or porch into an aviary, or build a good-weather aviary in your backyard. Otherwise, provide a “bird-proof” room or rooms – with no ceiling fans or other bird hazards. Include a bird “gym” or tree that will give your birds an opportunity to exercise.

Some birds have learned to seek the security of a cage at night. Inside the aviary, provide a covered cage or similar retreat that the birds can enter and exit at will. Birds like to sleep at dusk and must be given a familiar, quiet, covered, dark place to stay in. They also like to rise at dawn.


Cages should be as spacious as possible, with ample room for birds to spread their wings and fly. Your birds should not be given the opportunity to put their heads through the cage bars, because they can easily become trapped between them. Many cages are made of galvanised wire. These cages should be thoroughly washed and scrubbed to eliminate the risk that the zinc, which is used to galvanise the wire, could become toxic to your birds.

Birds need to exercise the muscles in their feet, so supply wooden perches of different shapes and diameters – from a perch the size of a pencil to a dowel that’s too large for the birds to wrap their toes all the way around it.

Poisons and Other Hazards

Do not cut the birds’ wing feathers. Instead, let them fly so that they can enjoy themselves. Eliminate hazards such as ceiling fans, pots of water, open toilet bowls, places where they could get stuck, sprayed vegetables, electrical wires, large glass windows and mirrors.

The fumes emitted by overheated Teflon and by self-cleaning ovens are deadly to birds – never use them if you have birds in your home.

Peanuts can contain aflatoxin, which can be fatal to birds. Pencil lead can also be fatal if eaten. Chocolate, parsley and avocados are poisonous to birds. Make sure that none of your plants is poisonous to the species of bird living in your home.

Use ecologically safe products – no strong cleaners, aerosols, artificial air fresheners or insecticides.

Some apartment complexes demand that you make your apartment available to exterminators – usually you can legally refuse for health reasons.


Give your birds thoroughly washed natural fruit, such as peepal tree fruit, every day. Cabbage stalks, carrot pieces, small pieces of chapati, boiled rice, seeds (such as millet), sprouts, corn, green chillies, watermelon and mango are all healthy snacks for birds. Parakeets enjoy seeds with a high oil content, such as sunflower seeds.