What Feathers Are Illegal To Possess? Understanding Why Bird Feathers Are Protected 

What feathers are illegal to possess

You’ve just discovered that it’s illegal to own or even sell most of the birds’ feathers in the US, and you want to know what these feathers are? Then you are in the right place. 

Most of the indigenous birds are safeguarded under a particular act known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). 

When it comes to protected birds, you are not even allowed to pick up and keep their feathers, nests, or eggs from your backyard or even a local park. 

While it may seem overreach, it’s part of an effort to protect the birds from commercial exploitation.

You may question yourself about the likelihood of enforcement on this, but hefty fines can result from violations. 

In case you will still doubt this, there’s a statement from the Fish and wildlife services that says in layman’s language, “Important Reminder: Feathers are protected.” That statement has a connection to the official words copied below:

“Under governmental law, it is illegal to take feathers home. They are beautiful and very remarkable objects. 

If you come across any feathers in nature, please appreciate, study, photograph them and leave them where you found them. 

What feathers are illegal to possess?

Regrettably, guarding birds occurs at the risk of inconveniencing young novice scientists, but the unfortunate truth is that such restrictions are crucial. 

We all have come an all-embracing way from the times of stuffing bird feathers and placing them on fashionable hats, but not enough has changed to let our guard below just yet. 

Some feathers that are illegal to possess are;

  1. Hawk feathers
  2. Osprey feathers 
  3. Vulture feathers
  4. Falcon feathers 
  5. All birds of prey feathers 
  6. Eagle feathers

What Birds Are Protected?

The feathers of certain domesticated species like chickens and turkeys are not protected, while eagles, hawks, jays, vultures, crows, ravens, and most other common native species are protected. 

Although some non-native species such as starlings, peacocks, some kinds of sparrows, and finches are not covered by the law.  

When the national government implemented the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, they made it illegal to sell or collect feathers for personal use, eggshells, or bones from the native bird species migrating to the United States. 

If all of you have ever chosen a beautiful blue robin eggshell and stored it on your table or rather have used it somewhere in an art project, technically, you’re breaking the law.

As someone in that business, this discovery may come as a surprise or shock, as feathers are similar to hats. 

As a millennial who has a determined appreciation for nature and sustainability, Hat collectors have been collecting feathers from the ground or from people and places who have respectfully acquired them. 

“No birds were harmed” in the collecting of the feathers is essentially what they say. But since becoming aware of The MBTA Act, they have to pay special attention to the feathers they find and use on their hats. 

More than eight hundred species are found on the Northern Cardinal, Barn Swallow, Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, Black-capped Chickadee, Barn Owl, Mourning Dove, Cedar Waxwing, American Crow, among others. That signifies the feathers of all of these birds are forbidden.

Why Are There Laws Protecting Native Birds?

There was a period when yearning to possess feathers nearly knocked down North America’s bird populations back in the days. 

Currently, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the only thing averting it from occurring once more. When the very first Europeans came to America, its natural resources appeared boundless. 

Essentially, the Great Plains were home to a mammoth of buffaloes. At least 5 billion passenger pigeons would make the sky dark with a swarm of birds, especially during their migrations annually. 

Keeping in mind that these natural resources were unable to be used up, hunters killed with recklessness.

On exactly September 1, 1914, the very last traveling pigeon passed away in detention. These species reduced drastically from the billions to zero and rudely shocked a nation that is not used to hunting restrictions. 

A majority of other bird species in the same period were also encountering very excessive reductions. 

Some steep declines were caused by a high demand for cheap and abundant meat; however, others were significantly driven mainly by fashion and design.

When the 1800s were coming to an end, feathers rapidly became the trend in women’s vogue. Women wore anything from personal feathers to whole taxidermy birds on their hats, clothes, or hairpieces. 

With its stunning wispy mating feathers, the snowy egret was exceptionally very high in the stipulation and hunted down persistently. 

Notably, colonies of thousands of birds could be eliminated by feather hunters within a short time. 

Statistically, modern calculations insist that more than 100,000 egrets were destroyed to supply the feather fashion trade in a single year.

Most other bird species encountered the same hunt down, and their total population declined. Fashion and design was not the only critical issue they had to be worried about. 

Numerous national and international museums and individual feather collectors were vigorously killing the birds to fill their collections with the world’s rare or pleasing feather specimens. 

Regrettably, when a species gradually grew rarer because of overhunting, that was when the feather collectors would indeed decrease. 

Indeed, scientific collectors determined to take away one final rare specimen before its extinction might be the root reason for that entire extinction. 

This was the same scenario with the great auk, the last colony of fifty birds destroyed by collectors in support of museums needy for one previous specimen.

Are You A Bandit If You Have A Bird Feather Gathering?

As per the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, owning native bird feathers or parts of eggshells is illegal. It does not matter if you come across them in your yard. 

This resonates reasonably as draconian on the surface; however, the harsh reality is that generally outlawing typical feather gathering is a vast essential casualty of securing all birds. 

Ideally, the extensive history of the ivory trade in the United States signifies what can occur with liberal wildlife trade rules and laws.

In 1989, the entire sale of ivory was significantly restricted in the United States, except for antique ivory in the country immediately before the restriction was fully implemented. 

As it came out, this was a vital loophole. Essentially, fresh ivory was still imported and extensively sold at a significant volume. 

The sole difference was. Currently, the sellers had to discover methods to depict the ivory as older than it originally was. 

Unfortunately, elephants were still being slaughtered consistently to supply the United States ivory market continuously.

All the time, the United States ivory market officials witnessed this specific happening, and all the following laws were approved, toughening the restrictions governing the exchange of ivory. 

Today’s rules say that ivory for sale should be 100 years of age or even have not more than 200 grams of pure ivory. 

Even today, horns are endlessly leaked through under the pending claim of them being ancient, rising in some cases restricting and eventually halt the selling of any ivory whatsoever to limit the bloody harvest.

Notably, if somebody was allowed to accumulate and trade bird feathers that the birds usually shed, it’s a reasonable chance that a comparable happening would transpire. 

Subsequently, if a hunter aimed and killed a hawk and then plucked the feathers, how could you tell that he had not just found the feathers on the ground? 

If a poacher moved around pulling nests from trees, there would be a slight difference between those and a nest someone might find after it tumbled to the ground on its own.

Why Are Feathers Protected?

All birds are defended under one specific federal Migratory Birds Treaty Act. The laws rigorously impede the possession, killing, capture of all bird feathers without appropriate permissions. 

There is never an exemption for shed of old feathers to make new feathers or those taken from the road- or window-killed birds. 

Bird feathers can devise safety hazards and public health and can dangerously affect someone’s sustenance. 

Amid this bird carnage, the flows of evaluation slowly began to change. Hats that are not made from feathers started to show up as upright alternatives.

Fascinating famous people refused to acknowledge their supporters’ autographs until their backers took a vow to quit rocking feathers in their hats. 

Recently campaigners established to promote bird viewing to enjoy their attractiveness without destroying them at all.

As the public’s interest in bird protection started to rise, some states implemented regulations to protect birds. 

In the year 1918, an influential federal law was passed watching all birds by the national government.


It is important to note that a law preventing people from collecting migratory bird feathers is a misdemeanor. 

Violators would be fined up to $50000 or be confined to as much as possible 60 days in jail. Not sounding absurd these days, the roots of the law are sound and still serve a purpose.

At times you also could be asking yourself about the bird’s feathers you see at the shops.

Certain species are not guarded under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; possessing and picking their feathers is acceptable. 

In the real sense, it means that non-native classes like European Starlings and House Sparrows are related, along with the non-migratory birds like chickens, quails, House Sparrows, turkeys, Mute Swans, and the rest.

So the next moment you happen to see a bird feather on the ground, you would better be sure it’s from a different species of bird that does not migrate.