Releasing Birds

On Samvatsari day observed by Jains, birds are freed in order to attain salvation. (Samvatsari falls on the last day of Paryushan and is considered a most pious day when forgiveness is asked from family and friends in case of having hurt them by saying Michhami Dukkadam.) Ironically, on the eve of this festival, hundreds of “free” birds from jungles are captured and brought in cages outside temples so people can buy and “free” them. Few know that for every bird sold for release, three have died during trapping and transportation; and upon release, none survive unless caught again and caged. So, not a single gets to be “as free as a bird”, but hundreds that were free in the wild land up suffering and dying.

It is not only Jains who “release” birds. In 2019 after undertaking first hand investigations BWC wrote to the Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change and the Chief Minister of Bihar about illegal capture and sale of munnias outside Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya for so-called release, and requested the Forest Department at Patna to take immediate action against the offenders. Details were printed in Compassionate Friend (summer 2019).

Freedom is Death

Birds bought and released from cages are unable to fly immediately or even survive because away of their natural habitat they do not know how to fend for themselves. They usually fall exhausted to the ground after initially soaring into the sky. Not perceiving danger, they could even get electrocuted when perching on overhead wires. Besides, it has been proved that radiation from mobile towers adversely affects the birds’ inborn navigation systems, they get confused and their flying becomes directionless.

Such birds cruelly and illegally trapped from the wild a week or so earlier, crammed in baskets and smuggled into cities, with little or no food and water (suffering from hunger and dehydration) never ever survive in urban areas devoid of adequate vegetation. They can also be attacked by dogs, cats and young boys armed with catapults.

A 2017 song entitled Mann Bharrya showed 2 caged white budgerigars being released. Such foreign birds can never ever survive. BWC wonders how the producer managed to get permission from the AWBI because no creatures can be used in filming without their approval.

Tough and Long Adjustment Needed

It is not at all easy to “save” birds from captivity. Dramatically flinging cage doors open and urging terrified and confused birds to fly away does not help them – in fact harms them. They need to learn to gradually adjust to the vastness of their new natural (not concrete-urban) surroundings and be able to fend for themselves not only for food, but also against predators in nature.

If born in captivity, it is almost impossible for them to instinctively take care of themselves in the wild. They would not know where to find food and water, what to eat, where to rest, how to build a nest, how to remain safe from the elements and other creatures. They may trust the type of birds they have been in close contact with and also humans which could turn out to be a drawback for their survival. Over and above which having lived in captivity they would lack the immunity and ability to cope with rough jungle life and would therefore suffer and die soon.

However, if within days of being caught in the jungle, birds are returned to the very same habitat from which they were trapped, there is a reasonably good chance of them adapting back to their natural wild surroundings. But, if fledglings (having been snatched from their nests) or if their wings have been clipped, their survival is doubtful.

If adult-captured birds have lived in cages for long, are to be released in the wild, they need to be conditioned in stages by gradually moving them into bigger and still bigger aviaries kept in surroundings similar to the wild area in which their own specie live and where they are proposed to be set free, with their cage doors kept open so they can, if they wish, return for the security of food and shelter. However, if they are from abroad they are unlikely to survive in our jungles; and, unless internationally protected it is not illegal to keep them in captivity and therein lies a loophole.

Interestingly, Delhi’s Jain Bird Hospital (opposite the Red Fort) shifts healthy pigeons to its roof top daily. These are the birds that have been nursed back to health. They are free to fly away should they want to and if they do, most of them manage fine because pigeons survive and breed in urban areas.

There are people who urge residents to keep bowls of water on building terraces, balconies, etc. for birds to drink during hot summer months. A noble deed no doubt, but it could back fire if there are cats in the area because they are bound to pounce upon and eat them. Watering and feeding pigeons can also back fire resulting in a serious pigeon menace – they breed very fast and in their droppings which contain harmful fungi and bacteria deface places. The droppings can also result in hypersensitivity pneumonitis – chronic cough and tightening of chest are the symptoms. Moreover, it is a good idea to construct building ledges at a 45 degree angle instead of horizontal so that pigeons can not nest on them. It can halt their population growth to some extent. In the beginning of 2020 considering the health hazard pigeon droppings can cause, the Municipal Corporation directed all its ward officers to take action against those people found feeding pigeons at public places.

Surprisingly in August 2012 (monsoon time) as many as 38 pigeons fell dead around the Pune Railway Station. Adulterated grain was ruled out so two birds were given to the Poultry Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for post-mortem following which death due to dehydration was suspected.


Some people feel they are doing a good deed when they buy birds from a pet shop and make them escape their caged existence. Unfortunately they are unaware that this humane act can also back fire to such an extent that the same trader could very well pick up the so-called released bird and re-sell it. Unless born in captivity, these small birds sold in pet shops have been clandestinely transported from different states in India, originating from dense forests where they were illegally and cruelly trapped probably using bird-lime – a thick and sticky adhesive substance smeared on branches and twigs to which birds get stuck. Another method of catching birds in the wild is by keeping a female bird as “bait” in a cage in order to attract male birds in large numbers which are immediately captured in the clap-net laid down. Many birds (including migratory ones) that fly into the mist-nets or get caught in mechanical traps struggle in panic to escape, hurting themselves severely, and are therefore simply left to their fate. Bird poachers have begun initiating children and teenagers in the hope that forest officials will not arrest minors.

… and Protecting

Although hunting is part of tribal culture, the villagers of Kuldihi (Lalgarh – Bhaudi forest belt of West Bengal) traditionally and fearlessly protect birds like parrots, cuckoos, eagles, kites, hawks, owls, storks, ibis, migratory birds, and bats of their village and no one dare harm them. In fact they follow another unwritten practice in as much that they use no chemical fertilisers or pesticides for their crops in case the birds are harmed, in turn they say the birds help farmers by eating snails in their fields.


Believe it or not, in 2013 the Tata Institute of Social Sciences disgracefully began exploring the possibility of teaching parrots to talk to be companions to the elderly! This, in addition to plans involving a unique course in training monkeys in plucking coconuts. In fact, they submitted a project proposal to the Kerala government. Immediately BWC strongly objected to both the Tata group and the Government and hope neither the bird- nor the animal-slavery will materialise.

To the misfortune of parakeets, roadside fortune tellers have not stopped keeping them. Despite the birds which are always found in a very poor condition, being confiscated by the police and taken to rescue centres, the activity some how continues. For example, in December 2013, forest department personnel caught 11 rose-ringed parakeets (a protected species under the Wildlife Act) at Bengaluru’s Sajjan Road Circle fair. Confined to tiny cages, they were dehydrated, their wings (including primary feathers) had been clipped, and the claws and feet of some had been amputated.

In Bengaluru these fortune tellers who hail from Tamil Nadu, live in Goraguntepalya. Way back in 1999-2000 they were raided and 160 parakeets had been confiscated from them but they did not give up their practice. During the breeding season they themselves poach fledglings from their forest nests and train them to pick cards.

The solution obviously lies in educating people into not relying on innocent parrots to predict their future. These birds should also never be released into the wild because most can not even fly and they would definitely not know how to survive on their own.

Birds and Temples

People have seen wild parrots perching on the Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram. Birds fly around other temple complexes too, such as Somnath. In fact, it is common to see not only free birds, but other animals like dogs and cows on temple grounds.

At the Madhurai Temple, the “fish-eyed” Goddess Meenakshi is seen to be accompanied with a parrot. The temple used to accept live parrots donated by devotees and keep them in a large cage. Requests from an animal welfare organisation and some devotees made the temple authorities realise the cruelty involved and seeing that the parrots were dying in captivity, they decided around 2007 to discontinue accepting birds. They “released” the existing 60 or so birds – none must have survived. However, the beneficial outcome in the long run was that since then, every year about 1,000 parrots have not been subjected to trapping in the wilds and caging at this temple.

Literally Painted Finches and other Bird Exports

To look exotically rare some birds could have been literally painted in bright colours: a basket full of dozens of birds is dipped into paint or they are sprayed with a stirrup pump. Those that get paint in their throats and eyes are simply discarded as are the ones that die during such processes. Months later upon moulting, the birds are an unattractive drab brown and are no longer wanted, therefore abandoned.

In 1977, Beauty Without Cruelty asked the Government of India to ban the export of literally painted finches (there is a specie that goes by the name of painted finches) which was done, but unfortunately the practise of painting the birds sold within the country continues.

In 1980 BWC strongly backed the Jain community’s objections to doves being included in the list of birds permitted to be exported from India. As a result of protest letters and telegrams to the Government, doves were taken off the list by the end of the year.

In 1991, in response to BWC’s representations, all birds were shifted to the Banned List of the Export Policy. Like all Government policies, this policy gets reviewed each year and exceptions have been made. Unfortunately, in 1997 the export of exotic birds of foreign origin was reopened.

In 2011 BWC got first hand information from some suppliers of birds from India. A self-claimed major supplier of macaws to Asia and Europe peddled the birds for prices ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 60,000, claiming “our stock are in both sexes, they are hand raised birds, well-socialized and tame birds, very funny and interesting, will sit on your hand, fly around, stay in their cage and respect orders. Blood DNA testing, has their registered microchip implant, accurate veterinarian records, they are so funny, like dancing. The babies are 5 months old, 8 months old, while the others are 2 years old. They are very eager to learn and play, come with their cage, toys, food samples and accessories. They also have health guarantee for one year.”

No Peace for the Birds

BWC has known celebrities or politicians in India to officiate at some festival or function by taking a white pigeon or dove in hand (sometimes one in each hand) and making them fly off without caring about the cruel fate awaiting these poor birds. Racing (homing) pigeons should not even be used as releases just because they would probably fly home.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections pigeons were exploited for campaigning by two political parties. Their party symbols were tied round their necks and they were made to fly to particular localities. BWC approached the Election Commission and was pleased that they banned the use of live animals and birds in campaigns and asked politicians not to refer to their rivals as animals or birds.

Despite this ban in October 2015 celebrations in honour of a politician in Andhra Pradesh resulted in grave cruelty and death to birds. Supporters stuffed live pigeons and doves in rocket cones and fired them as display. Some fell dead while others’ wings and feet were scorched. They had even stupidly tied party flags to the necks of the birds with “welcome” written on them.

Ironically in August 2016 for the inauguration of the All India Peace & Humanity Campaign, students were made to release a few doves at the Freedom Park in Bengaluru.

Long ago in 1995 BWC India joined animal protection groups from around the world (collectively representing 5 million people) in a protest requesting that the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games cancel the planned live bird release at the opening ceremonies in Atlanta in 1996, following which there was no release of Olympic doves or white pigeons. Dove shaped balloons have been released in some places like at Norway.

A Vatican tradition on the last Sunday in January was to fly two doves out of the window overlooking St Peter’s Square. However, after they were attacked by a seagull and crow in 2014, the practice was discontinued in 2015 by Pope Francis who released “peace balloons” instead. But balloon releases are not as harmless as they seem. They pose an unintended death threat to countless marine lives and birds that eat the balloon pieces, or get entangled with the string or ribbon attached to them.

Balloons are the biggest threat to seabirds. A 2019 study by researchers at the University of Tasmania in Australia found while soft plastics only accounted for 5% of the plastics consumed by albatrosses and other birds, they were responsible for 40% of deaths. Balloon fragments resulted in blockages of the gastrointestinal tract followed by infections that caused death.

Human “bird-brains”

A 2001 report stated that 8,000 birds were illegally trapped in India every day and about 50,000 traders earned their living from these hapless birds. It is obvious that bird-poaching is flourishing because the country’s 118 bird sanctuaries are unable to give them the much required protection. It is also flourishing because of the demand for live birds. Forest-captured and captive-born birds (who have lost their natural instincts) are sold not only for release, but as “pets”, to kill for meat, medicine or black magic, for bird-fights and taxidermy.

For years BWC explained to Jains who attended lectures organised by the society under the patronage of their Munis that birds bought and released from their cages outside Jain temples have been seen to fall exhausted to the ground after initially soaring into the sky. Such birds trapped from the wild a week or so earlier, brought to cities, with little or no food and water, never survive in urban areas devoid of vegetation. Therefore, by buying them (for release) a demand is created and money made available for the trade to continue. 1986 onwards due to a lesser number of birds being bought, very few bird-sellers were seen outside Jain temples in Mumbai.

Selling birds for release outside Bodhgaya sites has been a practice despite the police cracking down on the sellers when complaints are received. There is a mistaken belief that by releasing a bird in the name of a dead person brings peace to the soul. In 2019 BWC found munias being sold @ Rs 80 to 100. They had been illegally trapped from the wild and caged for sale despite there being no evidence that Lord Buddha released birds. Upon release, some birds were re-captured and re-sold whereas others got killed by predators.

A judgement delivered in May 2011 by the High Court of Gujarat in a case filed by the state against a trader directed that the birds be freed – they probably did not survive. Thereafter, Haryana issued orders against trading in and keeping birds in captivity.

Yet again in 2012, a NGO working for bird conservation and headed by a politician’s wife, bought birds from Hyderabad’s Murgi Chowk (an illegal wildlife market run by goons), however the Anti-Poaching Squad fearing the birds would spread infection, stopped them from being released in the KBR National Park and took them to the zoo instead. By buying birds for release, a demand is created and money made available for continuing the trade in birds which are doomed to die. Although well-meaning, the exact opposite of what is intended happens when trapped birds are released: birds that were already free in the wild are captured, tortured and released in alien surroundings… so they either suffer and die or survive to live in a cage, jailed for life; and the money paid is utilised to make hundreds of more wild birds go through identical suffering and death.

Beauty Without Cruelty discourages people from trading in and keeping caged birds irrespective of their origin: wild or captive-born, Indian or foreign. Birds don’t deserve life-imprisonment even if kept in so-called comfort. Prevention (not caging) is certainly better than cure (releasing) and people should desist from caging birds in the first place. Vegetarians should especially regard this as an extension of their principle of non-violence. True vegetarian homes never have birds in cages or fish in tanks.

Caging Birds is Illegal

On 22 July 2021 the Animal Welfare Board of India sent its third Advisory (the earlier two were of 28 October 2011 and 06 May 2013) to The Chief Secretary, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and the Director General of Police of all States/UTs requested them all to ensure that the ban on caging birds was implemented and to take steps to wrap up illegal bird markets. The operative part of the judgement of the Hon’ble High Court of Gujarat dated 12 May 2011 was stated:

“This Court is conscious of the fact that this court is dealing with the interim custody of the muddamal birds/animals but in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case and the manner in which the birds/animals are kept in the cages and looking to the pain suffered to the birds/animals, this court is of the opinion that the only order which can be passed in the interest of justice would be enlarge the birds/animals free in the open sky/air. As such the learned Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate had rightly passed an order directing to enlarge the birds free in the open sky, however, the Revisional court, without assigning any reasons, had set aside such a direction. Even section 451 of the Code of Criminal Procedure confers powers upon the Court for custody and disposal of the property pending trial and the Court may make such order as it think fit for the proper custody of such property, pending conclusion of the inquiry or trial and if otherwise expendient to do so, Court may, after recording such evidence as it thinks necessary order it to be sold or otherwise dispose of. Considering the aforesaid provision and considering the fact that if birds in question are not ordered to be disposed of by way of enlarging them free in the air/sky, in that case looking to the hot weather, there are all chances that the birds may die. Under the circumstances also, it will be expedient and in their interest to enlarge the birds free. Under the circumstances the order passed by the revisional court to that extent deserves to be quashed and set aside and the order passed by the learned Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate directing to enlarge the birds/animals in the open sky deserves to be restored.”

Furthermore, the Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its order dated 7 May 2014 had also recognised the five fundamental rights of the animals including the right to live with dignity, and announced 12 stringent measures/directives for the Government and other implementing authorities to stop cruelty to animals and birds, one of which stated “The Governments would see that if the provisions of the PCA Act (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 as amended in 1982) and the declarations and the directions issued by the Court are not properly and effectively complied with, disciplinary action be taken against the erring officials so that the purpose and object of PCA Act could be achieved”. Without doubt, the caging of birds also violates the five fundamental freedoms as stated in this judgement: freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress, freedom from physical and thermal discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

Moreover, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in its order dated 15 May 2015 was “of the view that running the trade of birds is in violation of the rights of the birds. They deserve sympathy. Nobody is caring as to whether they have been inflicting cruelty or not despite of settled law that birds have a fundamental right to fly and cannot be caged and will have to be set free in the sky. Actually, they are meant for the same. But on the other hand, they are exported illegally in foreign countries without availability of proper food, water, medical aid and other basic amenities required as per law. Birds have fundamental rights including the right to live with dignity and they cannot be subjected to cruelty by anyone including claim made by the respondent. Therefore, I am clear in mind that all the birds have fundamental rights to fly in the sky and all human beings have no right to keep them in small cages for the purposes of their business or otherwise.”

Lastly on 31 May 2019 the Punjab and Haryana High Court accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals granting them the “corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person” adding that animals can not be treated as “objects” or “property” and are “entitled to justice” signing off the verdict with the motto “live and let live”.

Many of the directions in the verdict had been passed on 4 July 2018 by a division bench of Justices for Uttarakhand by issuing the following mandatory direction: “The entire animal kingdom including avian and aquatic are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person…”
Page last updated on 16/10/21