Jan. 5 is National Bird Day, an event launched 10 years ago to highlight both the importance and fragility of wild birds. Organized by nonprofit group Born Free USA, National Bird Day promotes the idea that birds are "non-domesticated animals that belong in the wild, where they can fly free and express their natural behaviors."


Born Free's slogan is "Keep wildlife in the wild," and one of its main goals for National Bird Day is to discourage pet bird sales. While domesticated dogs and cats can make great pets, the group argues that keeping birds in captivity is a bad deal for everyone involved.


"National Bird Day is about appreciating wild birds flying free outside our own windows, and also focusing on birds native to other countries who are captured in the wild or bred in captivity, fueling the captive bird trade," says Monica Engebretson, a wildlife biologist and senior program associate for Born Free USA. "Whether a bird is wild-caught or bred in captivity, it is very difficult to meet their needs in a home environment as they are intelligent, highly social, flight-adapted animals."


But that doesn't mean bird owners should just release their pet cockatiels and cockatoos. As National Bird Day organizers acknowledge, more than 4 million U.S. households already own pet birds, many of which couldn't survive on their own in the wild. (Even if their wings aren't clipped, pet birds often struggle to fly after years in a cage. Exotic birds also face a big disadvantage outside their native habitats.) And since avian sanctuaries can't take in that many birds, National Bird Day is also about "reducing suffering and improving the welfare of captive birds."


The National Bird Day website offers tips for making pet birds healthier and happier, such as feeding them a varied diet, providing the largest cage possible, establishing daily exercise and play routines, and making sure they have access to unfiltered sunlight or full-spectrum lighting.


The day is primarily meant to inspire respect and protection for wild birds, though, and it offers several ways to participate. One of its main targets is window colllisions: An estimated 1 billion birds die in North America every year after striking glass windows, a statistic that National Bird Day aims to reduce. "When birds see a window, they see the reflection of trees or sky and think they can fly through," Engebretson says. "Putting a few stickers on the glass does not solve the problem — despite popular belief — because birds perceive that they can fly between the stickers."


Windows don't have to be so dangerous, though. Born Free has suggestions for making your home's windows more bird-friendly, such as:


  • Using taut exterior "bug screens" to break up the reflection and cushion the blow if a bird does hit it.
  • Placing vertical exterior strips of tape on the glass, no more than 10 centimeters apart, or painting patterns with tempera paint.
  • Installing frosted or etched windows that are less reflective, or installing an awning or sun shade above them.
  • Positioning houseplants and flowers away from windows, so birds outside don't see them as potential sources of shelter or food.

On a lighter note, National Bird Day also tries to foster more general appreciation of native U.S. birds. Events are being organized around the country today to do that, and organizers also hope to popularize the hobby of bird-watching year-round. To help National Bird Day take flight beyond Jan. 5, Born Free will hold an inaugural bird photo contest this year; contestants must email their shots of wild birds by Jan. 31 to enter.


To set the mood for National Bird Day, here's a stunning video of starlings that went viral late last year. Even though it was filmed in Ireland, not the U.S. (and even though starlings aren't native to North America), it nonetheless illustrates how awe-inspiring birds can be when living free in the wild:



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Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Happy National Bird Day
Jan. 5 marks the 10th annual National Bird Day, organized by nonprofit group Born Free USA to promote protection and respect for all avian species.