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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Possession of Migratory Birds, Including Feathers, Nests, and Eggs

A type of question that we commonly get involves well meaning people who want to rescue young or injured birds, secure feathers for artwork, or salvage eggs or nests for various purposes.

Anyone desiring to possess migratory birds or their parts or products should be aware that all of these are covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16U.S.C. 703-712), which implements a series of international treaties designed to protect migratory birds.

Some key provisions of the Act are worth keeping in mind:

In summary: your best approach is to take a hands off approach...look but don't collect. If you find an injured bird or abandoned nestling, call the local game warden before you pick it up. (If this seems cruel, take a minute and read the FAQ entitled "How do I care for an abandoned nestling?")

Most of the above information is taken almost verbatim from a short paper entitled Birders And U.S. Federal Law, by Craig Faanes, Cleveland Vaughn Jr., and Jonathan Andrew. In addition to material covered above, their paper contains a thought-provoking discussion of other types of behavior by bird lovers that can run afoul of federal law, and is worth taking a few minutes to read.

In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Management Office offers A Guide to the Laws and Treaties of the United States for Protecting Migratory Birds.

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