Debunking of the Article “Bird Marts – The Single Greatest Threat to Avian Health”

There has been an article circulating the internet for some time now, which essentially bashes what is very commonplace in the bird world – bird marts. This article makes very dangerous claims that have raised the hackles of many avian enthusiasts today. The subjects swabbed eight different events across the country for disease at such bird events. The author claims that the goal of the testing “was to be able to demonstrate these problems exist universally throughout the US” and lists the results of the events. All records listed claim that the events tested yielded positive results for two or more major diseases. The article then goes on to continually bash anyone who participates in such events, even go so far as to conclude that “The potential for generating and spreading fatal avian diseases is unsurpassed anywhere in the world as it is at ‘bird mart’ type events. We have not found a single ‘bird event’ free of these diseases…. it is unconscionable to believe that:

anyone who cares for birds would hold any event where young birds are present for display or sale.
anyone would attend any event to purchase items for birds
any person would ever attend any event with such a high degree of fatal organisms waiting to be transmitted to healthy birds.
anyone would support or recommend any such event. ”
Such bold, brass, statements leave me reeling every time I read this article- and I have gone over it many times! In all fairness to such ‘bird events’, let’s discuss the many aspects not included in the article, and why such statements should be made with caution.

Issue #1- “These events have risen to become the single greatest threat to bird health we have ever encountered.”

The above statement is bold one. It’s enough to strike fear into any bird owners heart. The last thing we wish to do is track home communicable diseases that could make our birds sick, and potentially transmitted to our entire flock. What this statement does not include is several key elements. Who backs this statement that marts are the single greatest threat we have ever encountered? Are there statistics to back up this so called data? How many birds a year are victim of disease brought home from a mart? Why target just marts? Bird marts are not the only places where people can go and interact with birds, food, and supplies, in an open area. Bird stores that have live stock are the same, and there are even tourist attractions that mimic the atmosphere of a mart or show. In Miami, Florida, Parrot Jungle comes to mind. One can pay an admission fee (like a mart), walk through the many rows of birds that are out on stands and in habitats (like a mart). You can interact with some of the birds by feeding them, holding them, or even taking a picture with them (like a mart). Parrot Mountain in Tennessee is the same way. So why single out marts? There are many other venues that have the possibility to be just as dangerous, if not more.

Issue #2 – The Tests and Subsequent Results

The article makes the bold claim that “our goal was to be able to demonstrate these problems exist universally.”, and presents the results in a tabled fashion. Unfortunately, there are so many holes in the information presented its next to impossible to be able to grasp the entire picture. The article claims that eight events were tested, and swabbed for the following diseases: PBFD, Polyoma, and Chlamydia. In each event, two out of 3 diseases yielded positive results. What the article fails to say is how exactly the areas were tested. Was each area tested multiple times, in case of a false positive? Exact dates and locations are not listed, only month and year. The testing started in 1998, and ended in 2000, according to the so called study. Did the testing method vary at all? Were multiple swabs taken and tested by a panel of certified avian veterinarians, to ensure that a full spectrum study was carried out?

Unfortunately, so much as the text of the article reveals, none of the above questions can be answered. One question that lingers in my mind, is that; if there was such a high case of disease, were the venues notified so they could be properly disinfected? Interestingly, some of the test results report positives from a ‘reptile exhibitor’. Seeing as how reptiles are not birds, and therefore have different diseases that live on them (case in point, salmonella and turtles,) are those results an accurate reflection of true avian diseases? Another burning question I have is as to where these tests were taken, specifically. The claim to ‘demonstrate these problems exist universally’ cannot be supported. Eight tests in eight locations is a small number in comparison to the number of events and locations that take place each year. Because no information was given as to where the tests were conducted, it can only leave us to wonder if all these events happened in the same state or within the same area. If this is true, then the results yielded would be inconclusive as it would be a contained breakout and not one that people nationally must be concerned about.

Issue #2- The Time Period

Whenever someone brings this article to my attention (as it is on a semi regular basis, such is the internet age), the first thing I question is if this information is even relevant anymore. Why do I wonder this? Because all of this information was collected and presented eight years ago. While eight years doesn’t appear to be a long time in the past, with the rapid way we are embracing technology to learn more about our avian friends, eight years can be a lifetime. Eight years ago, we knew a lot less about food, diet, nutrition, Vitamin D synthesis, and viruses (just to name a few) then we do today. In this day and age we are armed with information that can overrule previously believed and carried out bird keeping practices. In eight years, leaps and bounds has been made with diseases such as Polyoma, PDD, and Aspergilliousis. Case in point is the statement made by the article author “Some exhibitors proudly display signs stating that their birds are protected by a Polyoma vaccine. Whether or not the vaccine offers any protection from Polyoma is still up for debate…”. Such a statement is a true sign of the times. Nowadays, it is the norm to vaccinate all chicks for polyoma, and species such as caiques that are more susceptible to the diseases are required to have the vaccination, because it is proven to be effective.

Issue #3 – Incomplete study

The statement that winds up the article is one that boldly proclaims “We have not found a single bird event free of these diseases!”. Again, I must reiterate. Only eight events were tested. The testing stopped in the year 2000 and only spanned a period of study lasting two years. How many events have gone, during and since the period of testing? One can only guess. I have attended several bird events, including actual bird shows, marts (with vendors), and roundtables. Many event curators now are starting to understand the worry of disease, and taking many precautions to prevent the spread of pathogens. The last mart I attended personally, all birds that were in the area had been tested only days before by a certified avian veterinarian, and were given a clean bill of health. If they did not vet check well, they were not allowed on the premises. While this is not the case for every event I have attended, it is certainly becoming more the norm.

Be Smart

Don’t let such articles keep you at home, worrying about potential diseases you could bring back to your pet bird. Anytime you enter into a store that carries live stock, go to a friend’s house that has birds, or even attend a bird club meeting, you are entering into a scenario where there would be disease. That doesn’t mean you can’t take proper precautions. Whenever entering into an event, taking the following precautions will help keep your household happy and healthy.

Don’t buy supplies that are unwrapped or cannot be disinfected (eg leather products, edible products) from any source that contains live stock. This goes for stores, educational venues, and marts/shows/etc. Always buy items that are sealed, and/or can be easily disinfected.
If you interact with other animals, be sure to sanitize properly before going and interacting with your animals at home. If going out to an event, wear older clothes that you can change out of upon arriving home. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your birds.
Wear an old pair of shoes. Its been suggested that a number of pathogens are tracked in on the bottom of shoes. Wear an old pair of shoes to any such event, and remove them before walking into your house.
Play it safe. If you are at an event, ask to see the health certificate of the birds you interact with. Perhaps inquire if there was any required testing for the birds that are on display. When were they tested, and what were they tested for?
Avoid bulk bins
Bird marts, fairs, and other venues can be very educational experiences for bird owners from all walks of life. Taking the proper precautions can help make these events a fun and stress free time.

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