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Many don't realize collecting feathers is illegal

Birds like this egret nearly went extinct due to demand for feathers.
Birds like this egret nearly went extinct due to demand for feathers.
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Many bird lovers like to collect feathers they see fallen on the ground. They may not realize that it is illegal to possess wild bird feathers in the United States and that they risk getting in trouble or fined. Most people have no clue that it is illegal to collect feathers, even those that lie on the ground. People think it’s harmless because they did not kill the bird themselves. Or, they say they would claim their Native American heritage if they were ever caught. These excuses would probably be ineffective or difficult to prove.

Before the Migratory Bird Act was put into place in 1918, trade in bird parts such as feathers, nests and eggs, was so heavy that many birds were on the verge of extinction. Birds like snowy and great egrets, now common, were nearly extinct because their long, feathery plumes were popular in fashion. Collecting eggs and nests made it difficult for some species to reproduce because many species only lay one set of eggs per year. When the act was put into place, it made even the mere possession of any bird, bird parts, nests, and eggs a crime unless the collector was properly permitted. The reason for this is that it takes away the difficulty of determining whether the bird was killed for its feathers, or whether the feather was found.

Nearly all birds in the United States are covered by the Migratory Bird Act. The exceptions are non-native species like starlings, sparrows, pigeons, as well as domestic or feral birds. Native Americans are not automatically exempt from the law, but are given more leeway in collecting and possessing feathers for cultural and religious purposes. Hunters, also, must have the right permits to possess bird parts. This act also includes selling stuffed birds of most species, even when legally hunted.

The best thing to do is take a photo of a feather if you find one lying on the ground. Sure, someone else might pick it up and collect it, but they risk getting into trouble and not you. You are allowed to pick it up and examine it, but not carry it around with you. Or, you can limit your collection to domestic birds like domestic ducks and geese as well as feral birds like pigeons and starlings.