AZA News Releases

AZA Comments on Establishing AWA Standards for Birds

October 28, 2020
Dr. Rosemary B. Sifford
Associate Deputy Administrator,
Animal Care, APHIS
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD  20737

Re:  Docket No. APHIS-2020-0068; Establishing AWA Standards for Birds; Virtual Public Meetings.

Dear Dr. Sifford:

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) respectfully submits the following comments on Docket No. APHIS-2020-0068; Establishing AWA Standards for Birds.  AZA would also like to align ourselves with the comments from the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians and the Association of Avian Veterinarians.

Founded in 1924, AZA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. AZA's accredited aquariums, nature centers, science centers and zoos annually host more than 200 million visitors, collectively generate more than $22 billion in annual economic activity, and support more than 208,000 jobs across the country. In 2017, AZA-accredited facilities spent $220 million on field conservation in 128 countries benefiting 863 species and subspecies. AZA-accredited zoo and aquarium professionals collectively care for over 50,000 birds covering over 1080 bird species on a daily basis.

Two hundred and forty (240) zoos and aquariums have met AZA’s strict accreditation standards to become members of the Association.  AZA accreditation involves a thorough review and inspection process which examines all aspects of an institution’s operation, including the animal collection, veterinary care, physical facilities, quarantine procedures, safety, security, finance, staff, governing authority, support organization, education programs, conservation and research.

The following AZA comments will focus on APHIS’ request for information pertaining to possible bird regulations and standards to be promulgated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  The comments submitted below have been circulated amongst the various bird specialist groups within the AZA and also the AZA Avian Scientific Advisory Group.  AZA stands ready to assist APHIS should more specific details be required as a result of this request.

AZA General Comments

AZA and its member institutions place animal welfare at the forefront of our mission and agree that the regulation of birds is a necessary step in ensuring the appropriate care and maintenance of bird populations in human care.  However, we are seriously concerned about the ability of APHIS, and in particular, the Animal Care Office to implement the resulting regulations that are developed in light of the agency’s serious shortage of both human and financial resources. Over the years, AZA, along with numerous professional and animal welfare organizations, have worked with the Congress and the Office of Management and Budget to increase the funding levels for the Animal Care Office in order to secure more inspectors and financial resources for the agency to carry out the mandates of the Animal Welfare Act.  Unfortunately, those human and financial resources continue to be severely stressed and from all indications, those resources will surely be further compromised with the possible regulation of bird dealers, breeders and public display facilities that will increase the number of inspection sites significantly.  This increase in inspection responsibility will likely come without any significant increase in funding or other resources.

In addition, we are also concerned about the level of avian welfare experience and expertise amongst current USDA AWA inspectors.  This is not meant as a disparaging remark towards these professionals but rather expressed as a concern about requisite in-service training necessary to bring these inspectors up to speed with avian welfare and care conditions. APHIS inspectors will need extensive training and information to effectively apply any new bird regulations—especially considering the unique requirements of specific bird taxa. 

AZA believes that is imperative that APHIS seriously address this impending situation and judiciously weigh the impact of these possible new regulations on its current mandate and resources and seek the necessary appropriations from Congress to promulgate and implement new bird regulations that are effective, equitable and efficient.

AZA Specific Comments-USDA Listening Sessions.
1.   Are there appropriate performance-based standards we could establish across a wide variety of species of birds?  Can we use classes of birds to set performance-based standards appropriate for the class?  If so, what might these classes look like?

AZA Response: AZA submits the following general outline for possible bird regulations.  AZA also has an annually-updated Accreditation Standards/Related Policies handbook and a series of Animal Care Manuals for certain species of birds that we would be happy to make available to USDA should the need for species-specific regulations be necessary.  In addition, there are many aspects of the existing AWA regulations for warm-blooded animals that can be applied to birds and bird facilities.

Facility (General)

AZA recommends that enclosures be constructed and maintained so as to provide sufficient space for the birds living within its boundaries.  The amount of space, layout of this space (depth, height, width, shape), and features within the space (perching type, number and locations; cover for hiding; water pools; amount of land area; amount of water surface area; etc) are highly species-dependent. When feasible and practicable, designs of spaces should reflect natural history and behavioral tendencies of the species enclosed and promote reasonably representative activity budgets. For example – small active perching bird species should have sufficient space and space complexity to allow for relatively normal flight/movement behavior; waterbirds should have large enough pools with sufficient water surface area to support the ability to swim, forage, bathe, etc. While assessment of the quality of spaces from an animal well-being perspective is somewhat subjective, spaces that only allow for time and activity budgets at the extreme low end of a natural range for the species should be considered substandard.  Inadequate space may be indicated by evidence of malnutrition, poor condition, debility, stress, or abnormal behavior patterns.  Space requirements for avian species vary greatly since species of birds vary from colonial birds that may require less space to territorial species that might require more.

Structural and Strength

AZA recommends that the housing facility be constructed of such material and of such strength as appropriate for the birds involved.  The indoor and outdoor housing facilities should be structurally sound, constructed of appropriate material type and be maintained in good repair to protect the birds from injury and contain the birds. Facilities should be constructed such that they exclude/deter potential predators and withstand extreme weather conditions that would be within the normal limits for the climate of the area.

Water and Power

AZA recommends that reliable and adequate electric power and adequate potable water be available on the premises.  Fresh potable water should be made available daily for birds to consume and fresh or salt water in which to bathe.  Waterfowl and other waterbirds can be housed in pools with water either naturally, automatically or manually refreshed in a time period that prevents the buildup of surface and suspended contaminants that can impact waterproofing and feather quality.  Flow or replacement rates should be correlated with and adjusted for flock size and usage.


AZA recommends that supplies of food and bedding be stored in facilities which adequately protect such supplies against deterioration, mold, or contamination from vermin.  We also recommend that refrigeration be provided for supplies of perishable food.

Waste Disposal

AZA recommends that provisions be made for the removal and disposal of animal and food wastes, bedding, dead animals, trash and debris.  Disposal facilities should be provided and operated so as to minimize vermin infestation, odors, and disease hazards.  The disposal facilities and any disposal of animal and food wastes, bedding, dead animals, trash and debris shall comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations relating to pollution control or the protection of the environment.


AZA recommends that facilities such as washrooms, basins, showers, or sinks be provided to maintain cleanliness among bird caretakers.

Indoor Facility

Ambient Temperatures

AZA recommends that temperature in indoor housing facilities be sufficiently regulated by heating or cooling to protect the birds from extremes of temperature.

Specific temperature requirements for Antarctic/Arctic bird species should be considered. Tropical species should be housed with access to shelter and heat that is suitable for the species where they are housed.


AZA recommends that indoor housing facilities be adequately ventilated by natural or mechanical means to provide for the health, and to prevent discomfort, of the birds at all times.  Such facilities should be provided with fresh air either by means of windows, doors, vents, fans, or air conditioning and should be ventilated so as to minimize drafts and odors.  The level of humidity for an indoor area should be maintained at a level that ensures the health and well-being of the birds housed as directed by the attending veterinarian in accordance with generally accepted husbandry and professional practices. Adequate ventilation is defined as:  Meeting or exceeding accepted human standards (ASHRAE or equivalent) for numbers of air changes per hour.


AZA recommends that indoor housing facilities have ample lighting, by natural or artificial means, or both, of good quality, distribution, and duration as appropriate for the species involved with full spectrum lighting being optimal.  Such lighting should be uniformly distributed and of sufficient intensity to permit routine inspection and cleaning.  Lighting of primary enclosures should be designed to protect the birds from excessive illumination. Lighting for Antarctic and arctic bird exhibits should have a lighting schedule that meets current industry standards.  Artificial light cycles that are manipulated to provide variation will provide stimulus for molt and reproductive cycles.

The control of photoperiod should be considered for any bird enclosure in an attempt to approximate conditions that are natural for the species contained.  Extreme disparities in photoperiod that are not natural for the bird in the wild should be avoided.


AZA recommends that a suitable sanitary method be provided to rapidly eliminate excess water from indoor housing facilities.  If drains are used, they should be properly constructed and kept in good repair to avoid foul odors and installed so as to prevent any backup of sewage.  The method of drainage shall comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations relating to the protection of the environment.

Outdoor Facility

Shelter from Sunlight:

When sunlight is likely to cause overheating or discomfort of the birds, sufficient shade by natural or artificial means should be provided to allow all birds kept outdoors to protect themselves from direct sunlight. 

Shelter from Inclement Weather:

AZA recommends that natural or artificial shelter appropriate to the local climactic conditions for the species concerned be provided for all birds kept outdoors to afford them protection and to prevent discomfort to such birds.  In addition to shelter, other appropriate amenities may provide adequate environmental comfort for an individual including, but not limited to, localized heated or cooled areas (i.e. perches, floors, or substrate), sprinklers, open water, or windbreaks that will allow for specific species to display natural behaviors appropriate for an individual to protect itself and prevent discomfort.   Individual birds should be acclimated before they are exposed to the extremes of the local climate.  Waterfowl will utilize open water to protect themselves from low environmental temperatures.  Long-legged birds, for example Ciconiiformes and Phoenicopteriformes, should have adequate space in their exhibit which is free of ice.

AZA also recommends that all facilities have appropriate contingency plans in place in the case of extreme weather conditions.  

Surface Requirements for Indoor and Outdoor Primary Enclosure and Housing Facilities

AZA Recommendations:

  • Constructed and maintained so that they have no sharp edges that could injure the bird.
  • Contain the bird and prevent accidental opening of the enclosure, including by the bird.
  • Given opportunities to remain clean and dry.
  • Enable all surfaces in contact with the bird to be readily cleaned or replaced when excessively soiled.
  • Have floors that are constructed in a manner that protects the bird from injuring itself or sustaining injuries such as bumblefoot (pododermatitis).
  • Perching opportunities should be species specific and in a variety of sizes.  Perches should have an irregular surface so as to reduce the likelihood of causing bumblefoot (pododermatitis). 
  • Perches, bars and shelves should be kept cleaned and replaced when worn. 
  • Cage bottoms, sides, furniture, floor, perching, cliffs, burrows, nests, pools, caging, plantings, vines, ropes, rocks (artificial and natural) should be cleaned regularly and be in good repair.


Veterinary care should be available at short notice, either from on-site staff or a locally available veterinarian who is trained or experienced in avian medicine. 
Cleaning of Enclosures

AZA recommends that excreta be removed from primary enclosures as often as necessary to prevent contamination of the birds contained therein and to minimize disease hazards and to reduce odors.  When enclosures are cleaned by hosing or flushing, adequate measures should be taken to protect birds confined in such enclosures from being directly sprayed with a stream of water or wetted involuntarily.

Excreta and food waste should be removed from inside each indoor primary enclosure as often as necessary to prevent an excessive accumulation of feces and food waste, to prevent the bird from becoming soiled, and to reduce disease hazards, insects, pests and odors.

Dirt floors, floors with absorbent bedding and planted areas in primary enclosures must be spot cleaned with sufficient frequency to ensure all birds the freedom to avoid contact with excreta, or as often as necessary to reduce disease hazards, insects, pests, and odors.

When steam or water is used to clean the primary enclosure, whether by hosing, flushing or other methods, birds must be removed unless the enclosure is large enough to ensure the birds will not be harmed, wetted or distressed in the process.

Sanitation of Enclosures

Subsequent to the presence of a bird with an infectious or transmissible disease, AZA recommends that cages, rooms, and hard surface pens or runs be sanitized either by washing them with hot water (180 degrees F at the source) and soap or detergent, as in a mechanical washer, or by washing all soiled surfaces with a detergent solution followed by a safe and effective disinfectant, or by cleaning all soiled surfaces with saturated live steam under pressure.  Pens or runs using gravel, sand, or dirt should be sanitized or replaced when necessary as directed by the attending veterinarian.


AZA recommends that appropriate chemicals be kept on-hand, and used to effectively disinfect enclosure structures including walls, mesh, perching, and floors where practicable. All bird species are sensitive to fumes or odors and may experience respiratory problems, therefore chemicals must be selected to ensure proper disinfection without the emission of injurious fumes.


Premises (buildings and grounds) should be kept clean and in good repair in order to protect the birds from injury and to facilitate the prescribed husbandry practices set forth in this subpart.  Accumulation of trash should be placed in designated areas and cleared as necessary to protect the health of the birds. 

Pest Control

AZA recommends that a safe and effective program for the control of pests be established and maintained.  

Food and water containers

AZA recommends that food and water receptacles must be kept clean and sanitary, including preventing the accumulation of biofilm.


Food should be available daily or as appropriate for the species and provided so as to:

  • be easily accessed by the bird(s)
  • minimize feeding competition
  • remain fresh throughout the feeding period
  • be nutritionally balanced
  • be species-appropriate
  • be fed at least once a day except as direct by veterinary treatment or normal fasts or by other professionally accepted practices    


Potable water should be provided as often as necessary for the health and comfort of the bird.  Frequency of watering should be dependent on factors including age, species, condition, size, and type of bird.  All water receptacles should be kept clean and sanitary.  Water should be provided in a manner that makes it most easily accessible and safe to specific bird groupings.  An example would be the water level within a vessel to allow it to be reachable by species X, or ensuring that the vessel is set up in such a way to prevent accidental drowning (water level, exposed stone or other haul out, traction on edge, etc.).


Birds contained in the same primary enclosure should be compatible.  Birds should not be housed near animals that could create health disorders.  Environmental enrichment should be considered for all birds but especially for singly housed specimens.


Each bird should be uniquely identifiable, when possible.  This can be done by using unique identifiers such as an appropriately fitted leg band, wing tag, neck band, transponder; or a unique cage number, in circumstances where only one bird is accommodated.  If birds have unique characteristics, such as sexual dimorphism or other physical distinctions, photographs may be used as a means of individual identification.

Capture and restraint

AZA recommends nets, gloves and other equipment appropriate for the species be on-hand for routine and non-routine captures. Staff should be trained in the use of such equipment.


Primary enclosures

AZA recommends that licensed facilities follow all International Air Transportation Association (IATA) Live Animal Regulations and related Container Requirements for the off-site transport of birds by air. The current AWA regulations for warm-blooded animals also provide a good guide for transport of birds moving forward.

2.  How do bird breeders avoid interfering with nesting and breeding or other biological activities of birds?   How can we ensure that housing, feeding, or inspection requirements do not interfere with these activities?

AZA Response:
When conducting an inspection in facilities housing avifauna, AZA recommends that USDA inspectors plan the inspection so that she/he has not visited another facility with birds within the past 72 hours.  If this is not possible, inspectors should shower, change clothes and shoes before inspecting the next facility. Shoe covers can be used in place of changing shoes.   Inspectors should consider the following when planning an inspection for birds:

  1. Time of the year – is it breeding season for a large portion of the collection?  Breeding birds are easily disturbed, and in some cases, should not be inspected until after the breeding season.   Inspectors should be familiar enough with the bird species at a facility so that they conduct inspections outside of typical breeding seasons.
  2. Are there currently birds in quarantine?  If so and the area is cleared by management to inspect, the inspector should inspect the quarantine facility last.
  3. Are there endangered, rare or unique birds at the facility?  If so, the inspector should follow the institution’s policy for access in those areas.  Additional foot traffic in these areas may be harmful to some species of birds.

Inspectors should follow the institution’s biosafety procedures including showering, wearing additional garments and/or shoes, using foot baths, and heeding the advice of the institution’s management staff on which areas should not be inspected at that time.

In addition, during this COVID pandemic, we have found that the inclusion of remote access (eg., live stream video) to sensitive areas for the purposes of inspection has been beneficial. Many AZA members are currently using keeper-held iPads for live in-house holistic welfare assessments (to minimize the number of staff in close proximity as a COVID precaution). There are decidedly limitations, but a great deal of useful observational information can be gleaned. Many facilities, especially breeding facilities have closed circuit TV or digital camera streams that allow close monitoring without disturbing the animals under observation; some even have 'night vision' capabilities.

3. Should we revise or add exemptions for certain dealers, exhibitors, operators of auction sales, and carriers and intermediate handlers of birds not bred for use in research?  If so, what should those exemptions be?  Please provide supporting data if possible.

AZA Response:
AZA believes at this time there should not be any exemptions for certain exhibitors, dealers or handlers.  We understand that certain entities may request exemptions from licensure and inspections based on size of collection or species of bird but we are not qualified to make those determinations at this time.

The biggest concern for AZA is that many facilities do not have any guidance regarding minimum standards of animal welfare for birds.  The volume of birds entering commercial trade is staggering and we would like to see standards set for all phases of avian care including transport, quarantine, public display, sale and rehabilitation.  In addition, AZA believes that it is imperative that USDA immediately remove the stay on the final rule related to the development of contingency plans for all USDA licensed facilities. 

In our professional experience, birds generally require more specialized care than common domesticated pet animals (e.g. cats and dogs).  Some exotic bird species have proven to be more tolerant of captive conditions and inexperienced owners. Additionally, there are some private hobbyists who have devoted great time and resources to developing their avicultural skills and should be considered professional with respect to their abilities to provide good quality welfare for the exotic birds in their care. However, these are the exceptions not the rule. There are many exotic bird species being commercially raised, sold and then kept by inexperienced owners. These birds have very poor welfare potential based on the inherent specialized needs of those species and the inexperience or inability of their owners to provide for them. If part of the impact of proposed regulations becomes a reduction in the numbers of species and numbers of exotic birds in the commercial trade, this should be viewed as a positive result from an animal welfare perspective.

4.  Are there thresholds beyond which an entity should not be required to be licensed?  For example, we are aware that there are many entities who breed small numbers of birds; if we should exempt those entities, what exemption criteria should we use?

AZA Response:  See Response #3

5. Are there certain species which should be exempt?

AZA Response:  See Response #3

As APHIS continue to formulate future policies to address the regulation of bird populations in human care, I strongly encourage the agency to call upon the informational resources and expertise of the AZA and its member institutions.  We can assist the agency in developing effective, common-sense regulations that can help protect both bird populations and the general public.  In addition, the AZA and the AZA Avian Scientific Advisory Group would be interested in conducting avian care workshops for APHIS inspectors to assist with necessary training should future APHIS bird regulations warrant.

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