Know the Requirements: USDA Announces New AWA Standards for Birds

Matt Matasci Matt Matasci · Updated February 23, 2024

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A man is holding a parrot.

In February 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new standards to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). These new standards provide guidelines for birds not bred for use in research; birds were previously not covered at all under the AWA.

The new standards serve to ensure the humane handling, care, treatment and transportation of birds. When the new rule was proposed, the USDA received over 19,000 comments from stakeholders, avian industry groups and the general public — these comments were used to create the new standards.

The new updates to the AWA standards affect pet transportation professionals, including those that use CitizenShipper. You can find the document detailing all of the standards here, but we’ll explain the new rule in detail. The USDA also released a series of four videos explaining the new rule:

Pet transporters that already have an Animal Care license or registration for covered mammalian species must be compliant with the new AWA standards by August 21, 2023. You aren’t required to apply for a new license or registration before your current license expires.

If you’re not yet licensed or registered with Animal Care, you may conduct covered avian activity without a license or registration until February 21, 2024. In order to continue, you must be licensed or registered.

Don’t forget to apply at least 90 days before the deadline, as it takes some time for your licensing or registration to process and to have the pre-license inspection scheduled. If you wait too long to apply, you may have to wait a month or longer before you can resume covered avian activity. To get in touch with the Animal Care branch of the USDA, you can email animalcare@usda.gov or call (970) 494-7478.

A vet holding a green parrot adheres to AWA standards for birds.

Do I Need a License or Registration to Transport Birds?

As an animal transporter, you’re probably wondering whether or not you need a license or registration through USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), specifically if you’re transporting birds. The short answer is that yes, you need a registration in order to be compliant with the new AWA standards.

Requires Licensing Through APHIS

Businesses that breed, sell or broker the sale of birds, or exhibit birds are required to obtain a USDA license to be compliant. A person applying for a new license must submit an application, pay a fee and pass an inspection demonstrating full compliance. There are three types of licenses.

  • Class A: Breeder — people that sell birds hatched on their property.
  • Class B: Broker/Dealer — businesses that purchase and then resell birds that were not hatched on their property.
  • Class C: Exhibitor — those that exhibit birds to the public.

Each license class allows for minor types of other regulated activities. For example, if you have a Class C Exhibitor license, you’re also able to breed and sell the offspring of your birds.

A parrot perched on a man's shoulder.

APHIS Registration Types

As an animal transporter, you only need to be registered through the USDA. Registration is free and requires only minimal effort on your part. Businesses that transport a bird owned by someone else may need to obtain a registration. There is neither a fee nor a pre-registration inspection when applying for a registration.

The following transportation activities involving birds require a USDA registration:

Carriers

  • The operator of an airline, railroad, auto carrier, shipping line or any other business that transports animals for hire.
  • This is the most common type of registration as related to transportation.
  • It includes anyone hired to transport animals to pet stores or to the buyer of an animal.

Intermediate Handler

  • An intermediate handler is a person that receives custody of an animal in connection with commercial transportation.
  • This requirement includes boarding facilities that transport animals or take responsibility for them after shipment.

Birds Bred for Research

Birds that are bred for research — used for teaching, testing or experimentation — are not covered by the AWA. As the name of the new standards would suggest, birds bred for research don’t fall under these new standards.

For more guidance, you can head to the USDA website to access their licensing and registration assistant. The tool will direct you to the appropriate license or registration application and usually only takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Conclusion

Existing pet transporters using CitizenShipper should already be registered or licensed by the USDA. If you’re considering starting a career in animal transportation — whether or not you plan to transport birds — follow the above protocol to ensure you’re compliant with the AWA.