What You Should Know About Migratory Birds


Bird Migration

More than half of the over 650 North American breeding birds migrate. They migrate to areas that have better resources for them including food and nesting locations. In the spring, birds tend to start migrating north to take advantage of budding plants, an increase in the insect population and a lot of good places to nest. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a massive decline of many birds due to overhunting and unregulated commercial trade in bird feathers, so laws were put in place to protect these birds. 

What Is a Migratory Bird?

First off, let's start with what the regulatory definitionopens a new window of a migratory bird is: "a bird of a species that belongs to a family or group of species present in the United State as well as Canada, Japan, Mexico or Russia. Most native bird species (birds naturally occurring in the United States) belong to a protected family and are therefore protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act." There are a total of 1,026 protected species that are on the List of Migratory Birdsopens a new window protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Migratory Birds Around Town

Some common birds around the Denver-area that are protected migratory birds are the double-crested cormorant, American crow, mourning dove, bald eagle, house finch, northern flicker, Canada goose, common grackle, red-tailed hawk, blue jay, American kestrel, black-billed magpie, meadowlark, great horned owl, American robin, chipping sparrow and mallard to name only a few. 

Birds of a Feather & The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The MBTA makes it illegal to take, possess, hunt, capture, sell or purchase any migratory bird or their parts (dead or alive and including feathers), nests or eggs of such a bird without a federal permit. This means it is illegal to move a nest or pick up the feather of one of the birds protected by this law. Yes, it is a felony to pick up the feather of a goose or robin. There are exceptions to the act, including hunting regulations and the Eagle Feather Lawopens a new window.

What feathers CAN you legally possess? Only birds that are not on the above mentioned List of Protected Birds: European starlings, house sparrows, Eurasian collared doves, ring-neck pheasants, peacocks, turkey and chickens are a few of the birds not protected under this act. If you're ever in doubt whether a feather belongs to a migratory bird or not, it's best to err on the side of caution and leave that feather be. 

Since its enactment, the MBTA has saved millions, if not billions of birds, and has saved many from extinction, including the wood duck and sandhill crane.

Keep Learning

To learn more about migrating birds and their migration, check out these titles:

A Season on the Wind

North on the Wing

Counting on Birds: Tales of Migration

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