Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 – All Feathers are NOT Created Equal!

no feather

Because of my American Indian heritage, I am often asked if the feathers I paint on are Eagle feathers….Let’s just get one thing clear here – even joking about painting on Eagle feathers is the equivalent to jokingly shouting “bomb” in an airport terminal. However, instead of being surrounded by the TSA, you’d be surrounded by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Alright so even though I am slightly exaggerating about joking about painting on Eagle feathers, the possession of ANY feather from a federally protected bird is illegal and can result in large fines and jail time.


“Why,” you ask? Well, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, of course! Ok, all joking aside, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a very real document which prohibits you from having any animal, parts, or products (including feathers, bones, nests, eggs, etc) in your possession. In a nutshell, this particular treaty protects any bird that migrates (which is just about everything). If you are serious about painting on feathers, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the document.


Oddly enough, after reading the document, a common question that arises is, “So….what birds/feathers are actually protected under the treaty?” I think a better question is, What birds are NOT protected under the treaty?” Let’s just say that if I were to list all of the protected birds below this paragraph, then my website would probably implode. But seriously, for the sake of saving space, and because I know you are curious to see the list of protected birds, here it is.

I usually tell people that if they want to know an easy way to remember what birds are protected, I have created my own general Rule of Thumb: “In the good ol’ U.S. of A., if you can’t buy it in a pet store, or you can’t legally hunt it, or you can’t buy it in a grocery store, then you can’t have any piece of it – feather, bone, or other.”


Now I must point out that enrolled members of federally recognized American Indian tribes may apply for a permit for the use of Eagle feather for religious purposes and tribal ceremonies. But just because you are part of a federally recognized tribe does not mean you can just go around picking up Eagle feathers for your collection – You can still receive some hefty fines and/or jail time if convicted of illegally possessing protected feathers. Technically, if you do not have a certificate for every body part, feather, or bone from the bird, then law officials have no way of knowing that the animal was not poached.

And if you think the government isn’t that serious about these laws, then read this and this for a bit of an eye-opener. (And there are plenty more new articles like this floating around on the web)

So remember – just because you see a pretty feather on the sidewalk while taking a stroll in the park, doesn’t mean you can pick it up and take it home, let alone paint on it and sell it.


Since this post is already lengthy enough, I will soon be doing another post on what types of feathers are best and legal for feather painting – yes, my personal favorite combo! 😉

Anyhow, this post was mainly to inform you feather lovers out there that there are lots of restrictions out there when it comes to feathers. So educate yourself now and save yourself the headache later.

Thanks for reading!




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