EU Ban Forces Global Trade In Wild Birds To Drop By 90 Percent


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Native to swathes of Latin America, the Scarlet Macaw is a highly traded bird. NancyHlisnikova/Shutterstock

Pretty little birds of the world, we've finally got some good news for you. Thanks to a European Union (EU) ban on wild bird imports back in 2005, there’s been a massive 90 percent global drop in the trade of wild birds, the most widely traded animals in the world.

The findings come from a new study published in Scientific Reports that explains how the number of birds traded annually fell from 1.3 million to just 130,000 after the EU ban. 


Birdbrains get a very bad rap but many species of birds are highly intelligent. Ounce for ounce, birds have considerably more neurons in their brains than mammals. This means they are capable of suffering from emotional distress as a result of transit, poor handling, or unsuitable living conditions.

However, that’s just one part of the concern of trading exotic bird species. This study showed that trade is the main gateway for birds to enter new ecosystems where they can become invasive species. Equally, it can also disturb the ecosystem of the country of the bird’s capture.

“When wild birds are caught and sold to another country it has consequences in both areas,” Dr Diederik Strubbe, an ecologist from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a statement

“In the country the birds are captured, it can lead to biodiversity loss. Likewise, our study shows that international bird trade is a main cause of exotic birds spreading around the world. The birds can damage local ecosystems, destroy crops, and outcompete local birds."

Global bird fluxes before (A) and after (B) the EU trade ban on wild birds in 2005. Reino et al., 2017

Before the 2005 ban, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain bought up to two-thirds of all wild birds sold on the global market. Almost 70 percent of these originated in the West African countries of Guinea, Mali, and Senegal.

On the other hand, the ban has also forged out some new and potentially problematic trade routes. Trade out of West Africa has reduced, but exports from southeast Asia are now fueling a growing market in China and Singapore. Latin America, a place rich in biodiversity, has become the main exporter of wild birds, with a huge flow of trade now going from South America to North America. The monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) of Mexico, for example, has seen a massive increase in trade.

“Worryingly, we document a shift in wild bird trade towards areas with a high biodiversity,” added lead author Luis Reino. “These regions are now exposed to a higher risk of bird invasions. Thus, our results clearly speak for a global wildlife trade ban, if we want to reduce the number of traded birds, and minimize the risk of exotic birds spreading. The positive thing is that our study shows such a policy will likely be effective."


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