Wild Bird Conservation Act

The Wild Bird Conservation Act (“Act”) is federal legislation enacted by Congress on October 23, 1992.  It is a conservation law providing a series of measures to conserve exotic birds.  Pursuant to 16 USCS § 4903, the term exotic bird means:

  • Any live or dead member of the class Aves that is not indigenous to the 50 States or the District of Columbia, including any egg or offspring thereof and does not include:
  • domestic poultry, dead sport-hunted birds, dead museum specimens, dead scientific specimens, or products manufactured from such birds; or
  • birds in the following families: Phasianidae, Numididae, Cracidae, Meleagrididae, Megapodiidae, Anatidae, Struthionidae, Rheidae, Dromaiinae, and Gruidae.


In Humane Soc’y v. Babbitt, 849 F. Supp. 814 (D.D.C. 1994), the court ruled that the Act is intended to conserve birds in the wild in order to protect their genetic diversity and the integrity of the ecosystem in which they are found.  Another purpose of the Act is to protect birds in commercial transit from inhumane treatment.  The Act was enacted by Congress in response to a concern that populations of many species of exotic wild birds have declined dramatically due to habitat loss and the public’s demand for pet birds[i].  Among other measures, the Act places a one-year moratorium on the importation of any exotic bird of a species that is listed in any appendix to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora[ii].

In addition, the Act also has the following purposes[iii] :

  • Promoting the conservation of exotic birds by assisting wild bird conservation and management programs in the countries of origin of wild birds;
  • Ensuring that trade in species of exotic birds involving the U.S. is biologically sustainable and is not detrimental to the species;
  • Limiting or prohibiting imports of exotic birds when necessary to ensure that wild exotic bird populations are not harmed by removal of exotic birds from the wild for trade, or exotic birds in trade are not subject to inhumane treatment.


In Page v. United States, 51 Fed. Cl. 328, 338 (Fed. Cl. 2001), the court ruled that, the Act sharply limited the number of birds importable into the U.S. and permitted the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services to increase the number of quarantine facilities for imported birds based upon the higher number of available personnel to provide bird importation-related services.

The U.S. is considered as the world’s largest importer of exotic birds and as a party to the Convention, plays a pivotal role by:

  • Assisting countries of origin in implementing programs of wild bird conservation, and
  • Ensuring that the market in the U.S. for exotic birds does not operate to the detriment of the survival of species in the wild.


Sustainable utilization of exotic birds has the potential to create economic value in them and their habitats, which will contribute to their conservation and promote the maintenance of biological diversity generally.  Broad international attention has focused on the serious conservation and welfare problems which currently exist in the trade in wild-caught animals, including exotic birds.  However, several countries that allow for the export of their wild birds often lack the means to develop or effectively implement scientifically based management plans.  Hence, the U.S. provides assistance to these countries by developing and implementing management plans to enable them to ensure that their wild bird trade is conducted humanely and at sustainable levels.

The Act provides a series of nondiscriminatory measures that are necessary for the conservation of exotic birds.  The Act makes an activity unlawful if any person imports any exotic bird in violation of any prohibition, suspension, or quota laid by the Act[iv].  However, the Act does not apply to importations made incident to the transit of exotic birds through the U.S. to foreign countries if the applicable requirements of the Act have been satisfied with respect to the trade in those exotic birds[v].  Any person claiming the benefit of any exemption or permission has the burden of proving that the exemption or permission granted was valid and was in force at the time of the alleged violation[vi].

The Secretary of Interior (“Secretary”) may authorize the importation of a bird of the species if the Secretary determines that such importation is not detrimental to the survival of the species and the bird is being imported exclusively for any of the following purposes[vii]:

  • Scientific research;
  • Zoological breeding or display programs;
  • Cooperative breeding programs that are designed to promote the conservation of the species and maintain the species in the wild by enhancing the propagation and survival of the species.


The Act establishes the Exotic Bird Conservation Fund (“Fund”) that consists of amounts received by the U.S. in the form of penalties and fines collected under the Act, donations for exotic bird conservation, and appropriated amounts.  The Secretary uses the Fund to provide financial assistance for projects to conserve exotic birds in their native countries.  Under this Act, the Secretary is authorized to direct review of opportunities for a voluntary program of labeling exotic species, certification of exotic bird breeding facilities and retail outlets, and provision of privately organized or funded technical assistance to other nations[viii].

The Act provides civil or criminal penalties to persons who knowingly violate and also to any person who is engaged in the business as an importer of exotic birds who violates the provisions of this Act[ix].

However, the Act does not preclude states from regulating the sale, transfer, or possession of exotic birds if the state regulation does not authorize sale, transfer, or possession of exotic birds prohibited under this Act and is consistent with international obligations.[x]

[i] Humane Soc’y v. Babbitt, 849 F. Supp. 814 (D.D.C. 1994).

[ii] 16 USCS § 4904.

[iii] 16 USCS § 4902.

[iv] 16 USCS § 4910.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] 16 USCS § 4911.

[viii] 16 USCS § 4913.

[ix] 16 USCS § 4912.

[x] 16 USCS § 4916.

Inside Wild Bird Conservation Act