More birds are sold each year than any other wild animal. At its highest point, the number reached 1.3 million sold per year. In 2005, the EU banned bird imports and it caused a drastic 90% reduction of wild bird trades around the world. Though it was very effective, the new law does have other indirect consequences.

The bird trade is negative both for the regions where the birds are taken and where they are sold. It can cause bird species to become endangered in their native habitats and can lead to invasive species in non-native habitats. Invasive birds can be bad for local ecosystems and for crops. Europe was the major importer and trader of exotic birds before the ban was put into place. Five European countries — Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain — were responsible for importing two thirds of the trade before 2005. Most of the birds then came to Europe from Western Africa, mostly Guinea, Mali, and Senegal.

Cramped wild birds being sold in Indonesia. Image credits: Krotz.

The EU took initiative in banning the wild bird trade in 2005. Now, researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Porto decided to see what effect this ban has had on global bird trade. The good news is that number of birds that are traded each year is about 130,000. This is a big drop from the previous figure of over 1 million. Overall, the wild bird trade has been effective.

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There are two indirect consequences of this new law. Firstly, the types of birds that are traded have changed. Before 2005, passerines, such as yellow-fronted canaries, made up 80% of traded birds, while parrots made up about 18%. Now, the percentages are switched, with parrots being the most traded group of birds by far. Still, fewer than half the number of parrots as before are being traded so it is an improvement. It would be good to cut down on the number of parrots sold further because they are one of the most threatened groups of birds and easily become invasive.

Another indirect effect is that West Africa is no longer the biggest exporter of wild birds. Now, South America exports at least 50% of wild birds. As a result, people from Mexico and the USA are buying more wild birds. Other people from biodiverse areas, like south-east Asia, have started buying more birds also, becoming at risk of having species invasions.

Though this legislation has had an overwhelmingly positive impact and shows how effective legislation can be, it has caused supply and demand to shift in ways that could have different environmental impacts. Similar legislation in the countries where trade has shifted to would likely reduce the trade of wild birds even further.

Journal reference: Luís Reino, Rui Figueira, Pedro Beja, Miguel B. Araújo, César Capinha, Diederik Strubbe. Networks of global bird invasion altered by regional trade ban. Science Advances, 2017; 3 (11): e1700783 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700783