The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the primary legislation
protecting native birds in the United States and one of this
country's earliest environmental laws. It prohibits the "taking" any
native birds; "taking" can mean killing a wild bird or possessing
parts of a wild bird, including feathers, nests, or eggs. Exceptions
are allowed for hunting game birds and for research purposes, both
of which require licenses or permits. It is also illegal to try to
incubate wild bird eggs, to keep nests or eggs even for "show and
tell" educational purposes, or to have road-killed birds in your
possession without a permit. (Note: Injured native birds should be
brought immediately to a licensed, trained wildlife rehabilitator
who handles such species.)
is illegal to transport, trap or kill native non-game adult birds
like Blue Jays or Mockingbirds without a permit, even if they are
harassing birds at nest boxes or feeders.
Despite the title, the Act also protects birds that are not
considered "migratory" (like eagles, hawks, and Chickadees).
Permits are seldom granted to individuals, even for research. A
State permit may be required in addition to a federal permit -
contact your state game warden/wildlife management agency for more
Do not move a nest, bring eggs inside to keep them warm, incubate
abandoned eggs, etc. - even if you are trying to help. Besides being
illegal, you will probably do more harm than good.
Technically, you should not transport orphaned eggs or nestlings,
touch adults or young, or bring an injured bird home to help it - in
Maryland, only a licensed wildlife rehabilitator can do that.
A list of protected birds is available here.
Introduced bird species (like House Sparrows, European Starlings,
and Mute Swans) and captive-bred game birds (like
domestic mallards) are not protected by federal law. Mute Swans,
however, are protected by State law.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is responsible for administering
this Act. While the law is not often enforced, penalties are severe
- up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $15,000. Equipment
used to pursue, hunt, or trap can also be seized. To report violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in Maryland, please contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Regional Office (Division of Migratory Birds) at 413-253-8643 or the Maryland Natural Resources Police at 800-628-9944.
This act has its roots in late nineteenth-century opposition to
the millinery trade. The fashions of the 1880s and 1890s favored
hats adorned with real feathers and stuffed wild birds. The most
popular feathers were the long plumes of egrets and herons. The
trade in feathers took a tremendous toll – 200 million wild birds
per year by some estimates. Populations of the most hunted species
declined precipitously. Then people, including hunters, became
concerned about wholesale slaughter of certain species. This
prompted passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. Before
this law was passed, hunting of non-game birds was basically
Click here for a list of Maryland
Wildlife Rehabilitators and Wildlife Damage Control Operators
Most of the time, when people encounter wild animals, they are
filled with excitement and wonder. However, there are times when
being face-to-face with nature poses a new set of problems and most
people simply don't know what to do. DNR's Wildlife and Heritage
Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have teamed up
to provide you with a Toll-free 877 phone number to report nuisance,
injured or sick wildlife situations.
Birds Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:
Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and
Sialis- All about bluebirds: •
580 Taylor Ave., Annapolis MD 21401
Call toll-free in *Maryland* at 1-877-620-8DNR (8367)
Out of State: 410-260-8DNR (8367)