Bird Law: Navigating US Bird Taxidermy Regulations

posted 2023 Aug by Allis Markham

Imbued with a fascination for the Victorian era and an ardent devotion to the art of bird taxidermy, I am often mesmerized by the convoluted legal entanglements swirling around my trade. The intricate network of laws and ordinances, notably those birthed from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, weaves a formidable tapestry governing our interactions with these avian marvels.

At first glance, the MBTA appears like a confluence of federal statutes guiding our relationship with birds. But upon deeper inspection, it unravels as an international accord, a treaty binding the United States with Canada, Mexico, Russia, and Japan. With a lofty ambition, it aims to protect more than 800 species of migratory birds by controlling their hunting, sale, possession, and even manipulation of their parts, nests, and eggs. This sweeping Act influences a broad audience, including birdwatchers, ornithologists, museums, educational institutions, and artisans like myself who have embraced the intricate task of bird taxidermy.

Through the artist's lens, the MBTA outlines a landscape replete with rules, guidelines, and permits. With an unquenchable enthusiasm akin to a Victorian-era collector, I maneuver through the complexities of the Act, constantly cognizant of its crucial role in preserving nature's delicate balance. The Act becomes my compass, guiding my dance with feathers and beaks through the labyrinth of legalities.

In my profession, the dictums of the MBTA are clear and resolute: no bird under its protection can be converted into a taxidermy piece without the necessary authorizations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an important partner in this complex ballet, issues two categories of permits typically required for taxidermy: import/export licenses and migratory bird permits. Generally earmarked for educational and research institutions, these permits add a fascinating layer of complexity to my craft.

Straying from the stringent lines drawn by the MBTA can lead to punitive repercussions. Minor infractions are treated as misdemeanors, attracting penalties that can escalate to $15,000 in fines or up to six months in jail. More egregious transgressions, such as the sale of migratory birds, can be classified as felony convictions, carrying the risk of a $2,000 fine or two years in prison.

Nonetheless, there are spaces within this intricate ballet where one can dance freely, moments beyond the regimented choreography. Not all birds are encased within the protective wings of the MBTA. Species not native to the U.S., like the house sparrow, European starling, and pigeon, and select game birds like turkeys and quail, fall outside the MBTA's jurisdiction. These birds can be legally transformed into taxidermy pieces, infusing vitality into my craft.

Taking a closer look, even within the MBTA's realm, certain species present an interesting dance of their own. Consider the crow, an American native with a unique legal status. Typically protected under the MBTA, crows become exempt from this protection during certain hunting seasons, as determined by individual states. Therefore, crows that are legally hunted during these seasons can be taxidermied. However, outside these periods, possession or taxidermy of crows without the requisite permits is deemed illegal.

This nuanced legal landscape forms the backbone of my craft. Working within these guidelines, my taxidermy pieces are the product of strict adherence to laws, careful navigation of permits, and, above all, a profound respect for our feathered companions.

One can legally taxidermy the following bird species in the United States, provided they are obtained legally, and any local or state regulations are also adhered to:

  • Parakeets
  • Parrots
  • Cockatiels
  • Finches  (non-native/domesticated breeds only)
  • Pigeons
  • European Starlings
  • African Starlings
  • House Sparrows
  • Quails (under specific hunting regulations)
  • Turkeys (under specific hunting regulations)
  • Chickens & Roosters
  • Guineafowls
  • Chukars
  • Peacocks
  • Ducks and Geese (non-native/domesticated breeds only)

In essence, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the art of bird taxidermy are woven together in an enchanting dance of legalities, ethics, and artistry. This delicate dance is not merely a tangle of rules to be navigated but an ode to the inherent beauty and rights of these winged wonders. Our understanding and compliance with these laws elevate us from mere craftsmen to custodians of nature, allowing us to create lifelike representations of birds while preserving their natural habitats and upholding their rights. Such is the magic and allure of taxidermy, an art that celebrates nature in all its splendid diversity.

Indeed, it is crucial to note that the guidelines protecting birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are not mere legal dictums but vital conservation laws. They are enshrined to safeguard our feathered companions, especially migratory birds, from the perils of human encroachment, commercial exploitation, and hunting.

The advent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can be traced back to the early 20th century, a time when fashion trends were recklessly depleting bird populations. At the time, plume hunting was a widespread practice to cater to the growing demand for bird feathers in women's hats, a fashion fad that drove several species toward extinction. In response to this ecological crisis, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was legislated in 1918, becoming a cornerstone of international bird conservation efforts. The Act not only sought to curb unrestricted hunting but also banned the sale, possession, and transportation of migratory birds, their parts, eggs, and nests.

Understanding and adhering to these laws is not just about avoiding punitive repercussions; it's about playing an active role in preserving avian biodiversity. These laws help maintain ecological balance and protect endangered and threatened species. As bird taxidermists, we are uniquely positioned to act as guardians of these winged treasures. Each specimen we work on is not just an expression of artistic endeavor, but a testament to our commitment to avian preservation. By respecting these laws, we not only contribute to the conservation of bird species but also ensure the sustainability of our craft.

Abiding by these laws allows us to craft masterpieces that pay homage to the beauty and diversity of bird species without infracting upon their existence in the wild. This harmonious blend of artistry and conservation underlines the heart of ethical taxidermy, allowing us to capture the majesty of avian life while upholding our responsibility to respect and protect it. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to treat these laws not as boundaries but as guiding lights leading us toward a more sustainable and respectful interaction with our feathered friends.

If you want to have a handy guide on navigating bird law, please check out the F&W website, where you can download an excel document with every protected bird species in the US.


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