For those who will be regulated by USDA under the Animal Welfare Act for non-exempt facilities with birds not bred for use in research the time is ripe for you to submit comments to the proposed regulation published on Feb. 22, 2022 in the Federal Register.  Comments are currently due by April 25, 2022.

Because all birds were previously exempted under the AWA, those who will be regulated should scrutinize the proposed regulations vigorously and provide timely submitted, scientifically supported objections or requested amendments for consideration by USDA officials.

Proposed regulations are presented in response to comments received and reviewed during the agencies listening sessions and additionally in each proposed amended section.  Examples of the proposed regulations is provided, but a complete review should be conducted by the regulated community:

Enclosures: “We include in this proposal a performance-based requirement that floors of primary enclosures be constructed in a manner that protects the birds’ feet and legs from injury, which addresses issues of harmful flooring regardless of composition, as well as a requirement that substrate be safe and non-toxic to the birds being housed.”

Sanitation: “standards . . that we propose for facilities having birds require a sanitary, pest-free environment conducive to their health and welfare but also allow for flexibility in how the standards are met.”

Lighting and Climate: “[L]ighting should be species-specific and need not mimic sunlight if the species is nocturnal” and birds should be provided shelter from weather extremes.

Recordkeeping: “We propose to apply the existing recordkeeping requirements to persons engaging in these AWA-covered activities involving birds, unless otherwise exempt. We consider an accounting of each covered animal important for the purposes of ensuring adequate health and welfare, even for high-volume produced birds.”

Research Concerns: “APHIS’ proposed changes to the regulations do not require that field studies involving wild birds be inspected, nor do we propose to prohibit field surgeries on wild birds, provided that such activities are conducted in accordance with current established veterinary medical procedures. As provided in proposed § 2.31(d)(1)(ix), we would not require that persons transport wild birds to dedicated facilities for medical procedures.”

Feeding and Watering: “We would require that food be nutritious, species-appropriate, and presented in a manner that encourages natural foraging behaviors specific to the species.”

Environmental Complexity:APHIS . . . would include similar enrichment requirements [currently required for nonhuman primates] specifically for birds.”

Contact With Birds: “We are not proposing regulations that would restrict breeders from handling their birds humanely.”

Veterinary Care: “Under the regulations we propose, birds covered under the Act would be subject to veterinary requirements to ensure animal welfare.”  The agency invites comments about routine husbandry practices including beak trimming and wing trimming, acknowledging that such practices can be performed to preserve health.

Identification: “In these proposed regulations, we include identification standards for birds that allow for flexibility in meeting the requirements, including attaching information to primary enclosures identifying each bird housed within, using leg and wing bands for identifying birds, and employing microchips.”

Nesting and Breeding Activities: “We acknowledge the concerns of many commenters about the impact that inspections could have on the health and safety of their birds, particularly during periods of breeding and nesting. We note that APHIS inspectors would work with newly regulated persons to identify optimal times for inspections so that disruptions are minimized while maintaining the unannounced nature of inspections. As with inspections of other types of animals, APHIS inspectors are required to observe professionally accepted standards for minimizing the risk of introducing disease into facilities.”

Transportation: “We acknowledge that there could be legitimate reasons to transport an unweaned bird, but also agree with the concerns cited above. We note that under the standards we propose, carriers and intermediate handlers would not be permitted to accept unweaned birds for transport unless transport instructions are specified as a part of the program of veterinary care . . . The proposed regulations include an exemption from AWA licensing for anyone transporting a migratory bird covered under the MBTA from the wild to a facility for rehabilitation and eventual release in the wild, or between rehabilitation facilities. Any person transporting a migratory bird is currently required to obtain authorization to do so from USFWS.”

There are also amendments to several definitions that warrant scrutiny, including, for example, the definitions of carrier, exhibitor, farm animal, intermediate handler, pet animal, retail pet store, and weaned and new definitions of bird, bred for use in research and poultry.

Based on the comprehensive nature of these proposed regulations, it would not be unexpected if the deadline for receipt of comments is extended, upon request.  But make sure to get your comments in before the deadline, whether extended or not.