The Ins and Outs of Owning Feathers

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Sometimes a House Tour does more than just inspire people to try a new paint color. Recently, we featured a house tour with many beautiful elements throughout, including these feathers. It sparked a debate in the comments about the rules for finding, buying and owning feathers. Well, here's the skinny.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16U.S.C. 703-712) states that no person shall own any parts of a bird, which includes feathers, unless exempted by other regulations. Just how many birds are covered? Well, more than you'd think. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Management Office:

The Act covers the great majority (83%) of all native birds found in the U.S. Many of the species not covered by the Act are covered by the Endangered Species Act , other Federal laws, or state laws, many of which are as stringent as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act . In the lower 48 states, all species except the house sparrow, feral pigeon, common starling, and non-migratory game birds like pheasants, gray partridge, and sage grouse, are protected.

The exemptions that do exist are largely around the protection of Native American rituals. Specifically, the Federal Wildlife Service has put in place exemptions for the following cases:

  1. Native American may legally possess eagle feathers and parts acquired before the federal laws were enacted. (1940 and 1962, respective)
  2. Feathers may be passed down within a family or received as a gift from other Native Americans, if they were legally possessed.
  3. Native American may wear feathers or own crafted objects with feathers, or transfer feathers to tribal craftsmen to be turned into clothing or ceremonial objects - however, no money can be exchanged for these services.
  4. Eagle feathers can, under no circumstances, be given to non-Native Americans.

Now, these are just the regulations for eagle feathers. There are several other exemptions for tribal members for hawk feathers too, which can be explored with the Federal Wildlife Service.

(Image credits: Elizabeth Giorgi)

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Liz is a writer and filmmaker from Minneapolis. She was nominated for a Webby and won an Emmy for Science of Watchmen, a documentary short about the physics in the comic book movie. She’s a tech obsessive, verified nerd and total Anglophile.