RAPTORS AND THE LAW

by John Brooks
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Protection of Raptors
The federal protection of migratory birds has a long history in the United States dating back to 1916 when a treaty was signed with Great Britain, on behalf of Canada, for the protection of most migratory birds. This treaty resulted in the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 1918, which is the basic law in effect today. Although raptors such as hawks and owls were not protected by the original MBTA, they were later included as an amendment in 1972. The Bald Eagle has been protected since the enactment of the Eagle Act in 1940 and the Golden Eagle, also under the Eagle Act, since 1962. State laws and regulations today likewise protect all migratory birds.

The precise language in the MBTA states:
“Unless and except as permitted by regulations made as hereinafter provided, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or egg of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or in part, of any such bird or any part, nest or egg.”

As you can see from this legal language, migratory birds are highly regulated. Some migratory birds, like waterfowl can be legally hunted and possessed. However, there is no such provision for raptors. Eagles, ospreys, hawks, falcons, kites, owls, vultures and all other native North American birds of prey are strictly protected, to include a prohibition against the taking or possession of their parts such as feathers or talons. The only exceptions generally allowed for individuals to these prohibitions require permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Educational and scientific institutions are exempted from most permit requirements.

Penalties for violations of the MBTA can reach $15,000 and six months imprisonment for common violations. The sale or barter of migratory birds is a felony with penalties up to $500,000 and two years imprisonment. Some raptors are also protected under the Endangered Species Act, and both the Bald and Golden Eagles are also protected under the Eagle Act.

Questions concerning the protection of raptors should be directed to a local state Conservation Officer or the nearest office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Raptor's Roost
Text: Bob Gress and Vanessa Avara
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