Migratory Bird Treaty Celebrates 100 Years or Protection


This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, originally between the United States and Canada (a British colony at the time) and by 1918 also encompassing Mexico, Japan and Russia. This federal law declares it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird.”

That pretty much covers every part of the bird and any manner of “possession.”  It is illegal to take a baby screech owl that has fallen out of its nest and try to raise it at home.  It is illegal to keep a wild red-shouldered hawk as a pet.  You are not even permitted to pick up a blue jay feather in your back yard under your bird feeder and keep it.  We treat over 2,000 birds and mammals each year at PRWC.  So what makes us so special?  We have multiple licenses from both the federal and state governments to possess and care for injured and orphaned wildlife, specifically migratory birds.  As a condition of those permits, we must adhere to some very stringent rules governing the way we care for these treasured species.

Rehabilitating patients may not be on display to the public.  They must be protected from the sight and sounds of people talking and working around them.  At PRWC we make every effort to keep our patients calm and comfortable so they can be released back into the wild as soon as they have recovered sufficiently.  This is especially important for certain species like hawks, owls, crows, blue jays and other bird and mammal species that habituate to humans so easily.

When an animal is habituated to humans, they lose their innate mistrust and become accustomed to the proximity of people.  This can be dangerous for birds that will eventually be released as they may stay too close to areas of high traffic and too much human activity.  This same conditioning is responsible for neighborhood birds that are hand fed hot dogs, French fries and bread (ugh, don’t even get me started on that!) and even bird feeders.  These birds can often become easy pickings for hawks, cats, and other predators—even incidental ones, like cars.

PRWC also has strict guidelines about what we may and may not do with the birds that do not survive.  Under the Migratory Bird Treaty, it is illegal for unpermitted people to possess feathers, bones or any part of or a whole carcass of a bird.  One of the biggest exceptions to that rule is the Native American people.  They may register and receive eagle feathers and bodies (or parts) for religious and cultural purposes through the National Eagle Repository.  PRWC ships the carcasses of bald eagles that do not survive their injuries to the repository for that purpose.  We may not give feathers directly to Native Americans, though.  They have to go through the registry and there can be a wait of two years or more depending on the specific parts they are requesting.

There is also a non-eagle repository for all other types for birds.  It operates in the same manner and facilitates the dispersal of feathers and bodies (or parts) of birds other than eagles.  PRWC ships birds to them also so that the Native Americans’ cultural heritage may be preserved while helping to ensure that additional animals do not need to be harmed.


While it is a federal offense to be caught in possession of any type of wildlife, especially migratory birds, it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to transport an injured or orphaned bird or mammal to PRWC.  This is one of the fastest ways to get help for the injured and will hasten life-saving treatment.  While we have a few volunteer transporters, it can be time-consuming to track one down and get him or her to the exact location of the injured animal.  When the original person who finds the incapacitated bird can bring it to PRWC, it saves valuable time and can help save its life.  Simply wrap the bird in a towel or sheet and bring it to PRWC as quickly as possible.  With the expertise of the staff at licensed rehabilitation facilities like PRWC, the guidance of laws protecting the birds and the help of the concerned public, we can ensure the existence of these precious resources for generations to come.