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Feathers and the Law

Happy Summer Thunder Puppy Clan!

This month I would like to share with you what I know about the legality of keeping feathers you may find in your bird watching and hiking excursions.

Most people do not realize that keeping most feathers and bird parts is actually a federal offense!

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, makes it illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid Federal permit.

The act has been modified to also include certain species of reptiles and fish by the addition of the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 as well as the Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act of 1978. The Endangered Species Act also overlaps the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Other counties are part of the act including, but not limited to Canada and Mexico.

There are many misconceptions about what would allow a person to legally posses bird parts that are protected.The basic rule of thumb regarding bird parts, is that if you are not legally allowed to hunt the bird, or keep one as a domestic farm animal, it is not legal to posses any part of the bird or nest for any reason, no matter how it was obtained.

There are three permits issued that allow for a person or organization to posses any items listed as protected.

  1. Falconry permits are issued to a licensed falconry expert to keep and train the birds for hunting and sport. Anyone with a falconry license may keep the molted feathers for the purpose of splicing molted feathers into a bird with damaged feathers.

  2. Licenses are issued to organizations such as zoos and museums to keep and hold parts of the animals listed as protected.

  3. Licenses are granted to members of a Federally Recognized Tribe in the United States for eagle parts. Federal Tribal Members may place an application with the National Eagle Repository where eagles that have been killed by poachers or are victims of roadkill are taken and eventually sent to Federal Tribal members. Contrary to what many people believe, Tribal members have no legal right to hunt or trap any protected birds. Technically, any feathers a tribal member posses is supposed to have come with a permit from the government. Many bird parts that tribal members posses have not come through the system, but wildlife officials tend to look the other way in these instances as long as the person holding them is a Federally Recognized Tribal Member and has not been poaching the birds illegally.

It’s important to note that even if an item was made for sale by a tribal artisan that contains protected species parts, it is illegal to sell or purchase these items.

It is also important to note that anyone who holds a permit to keep such protected animal parts are strictly forbidden to sell or give away any of the listed items.

The illegal sale of protected bird parts can, at times, be rampant with todays online culture. I personally found many illegal items listed for sale on eBay some years back, and was eventually forced to form a group to watch eBay to report illegal feathers. eBay finally took action to curtail the problem, but also made it much more difficult to report illegal bird parts!

I have also seen many artists sell items for tens of thousands of dollars that were covered with illegal feathers. Many of there artists have been rudely convinced they were doing nothing wrong and the galleries that sell the items have been completely unaware of the law as well.

From experience, I also know that wildlife officials can sometimes become overzealous about enforcing such laws.I have seen bird enthusiasts harassed by wildlife officials and I have heard horror stories of the BATF (apparently now the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Feathers!) conducting sting operations on unsuspecting business owners that had no idea they were violating the law.

For your convenience, you can now download a complete 45 page PDF list of all the current species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by signing up for Our Thunder Puppy Clan Newsletter. If you are currently a newsletter subscriber and would like the link to download, please email Lonny and he will gladly send you the pdf.

So, keep yourselves protected out there my friends! It’s best to leave your bird prizes where you find them, and if you want a momento of your bird watching and hiking experiences, I am here to help!



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