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  • More information about the new Animal Welfare Act regulations

    Laura Bies
    • Author: Laura Bies

      USDA APHIS recently passed long-awaited regulations that cover birds not bred for use in research under the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. What does this mean for ornithologists?

    This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including OrnithologyExchange and the Ornithological Council.

    You can learn more about the rule and the background behind its promulgation here. To learn more about how it might effect you and your institution, read on.

    First, remember, if your birds are bred for use in research, they are not covered under the AWA. Bred for use in research means “an animal that is bred in captivity and used for research, teaching, testing, or experimentation purposes.” Birds captured in the wild and use for research are covered under the AWA.

    What institutions are covered?

    Exhibitors: Individuals or businesses with warm-blooded animals or birds (domestic or exotic) that are on display, perform for the public, or are used in educational presentations must be licensed as exhibitors with APHIS. Licensed exhibitors include circuses, zoos, educational displays, petting farms/zoos, animal acts, wildlife parks, marine mammal parks, and some sanctuaries.

    Captive birds in a wildlife sanctuary that are exhibited for public education would be regulated. Birds undergoing rehabilitation would be exempt from AWA regulation if they are not exhibited and physically separated at the facility from exhibited birds.

    Conservation and restoration entities that release birds into the wild or maintain bird restoration programs will not be required to be licensed, provided that they do not act as dealers or exhibitors.Rescues and shelters that do not exhibit or engage in any other covered activity are also exempt from licensing.

    Educational exhibits will likely need a Class C license.

    Research Facilities: Research facilities, which are defined under that law as “any school (except an elementary or secondary school), institution, organization, or person that uses or intends to use live animals in research, tests, or experiments, and that (1) purchases or transports live animals in commerce, or (2) receives funds under a grant, award, loan, or contract from a department, agency, or instrumentality of the US for the purpose of carrying out research, tests, or experiments.” If your research institution receives federal grants or transports birds across state lines, then it is a facility for purposes of the AWA and must comply with the law. Examples of research facilities include hospitals, colleges and universities, and pharmaceutical firms.

    Researchers will not need a license, but will likely need to register for research involving birds. Keep in mind that 'field studies,' as defined by APHIS, are not covered by the AWA. A 'field' study is a study conducted on free-living wild animals in their natural habitat, which does not (1) involve an invasive procedure, (2) harm, or (3) materially alter the behavior of an animal under study. The IACUC is responsible for evaluating whether an activity with wild animals is regulated under the AWA. Learn more about field studies and read recent guidance from USDA here

    Commercial Animal Dealers: Individuals or businesses who sell or offer to sell or transport or offer for transportation, in commerce, warm-blooded animals or birds for use in research, exhibition, or as pets must be licensed as a dealer. In addition, individuals or businesses who buy, sell, offer to buy or sell, or transport or offer to transport, in commerce, warm-blooded animals or birds to or from another dealer or exhibitor must be licensed as a dealer.

    Transporters: A person with a commercial business that moves animals from one location to another is considered a transporter under the Animal Welfare Act and must be registered with the USDA.

    What do covered institutions have to do?

    Under the AWA, research facilities must:

    1. Register with APHIS (Not required for federal facilities. Also, per USDA, research facilities that conduct only field studies do not need to register.)

    2. Establish and follow an IACUC process and appropriate review protocols.

    3. Follow housing and husbandry requirements set forth by the USDA.

    4. Report annually to the USDA (Animals used only in field studies should not be included in the annual report.)

    5. Undergo annual inspection.

    In practice, many research facilities working with birds are already meeting many, if not all, of these requirements, as a condition of funding that they already receive or because other research done by that facilities falls under the AWA. However, smaller institutions, especially those that work only with birds, should be aware of these new requirements.

    Under the AWA, exhibitors must:

    1. Secure a license from USDA.

    2. Complete a pre-licensing inspection.

    3. Follow housing and husbandry requirements set forth by the USDA.

    4. Undergo annual inspection by the USDA.

    What is the timeline?

    If you currently maintain a USDA license or registration, you have until August 21, 2023, to become compliant with the new avian welfare regulations. If you are not currently USDA licensed or registered, you have until February 21, 2024, to become compliant with the new avian welfare regulations.

    Additional Resources

    Read the OC’s Fact Sheet on the AWA.

    Use the Licensing and Registration Assistant tool on Animal Care website to see if you need a license or to register: 

    USDA Animal Care has prepared a series of videos to help the regulated community understand the new requirements.

    About the Ornithological Council

    The Ornithological Council is a consortium of scientific societies of ornithologists; these societies span the Western Hemisphere and the research conducted by their members spans the globe. Their cumulative expertise comprises the knowledge that is fundamental and essential to science-based bird conservation and management.  The Ornithological Council is financially supported by our member societies and the individual ornithologists who value our work. If the OC’s resources are valuable to you, please consider joining one of our member societies or donating directly at Birdnet.org. Thank you for your support!

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