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Legal Requirements for Raptor Possession

Many people ask “If I find an eagle or hawk feather, can I keep it?” The answer is "No." All raptors are protected by state and federal regulations. It is illegal to capture or kill a raptor; possess a raptor (living or dead), or any pieces or parts of raptors, including feathers, without proper permits from state and federal government agencies.

In the United States, wildlife species are considered the property of all citizens and are protected and managed by federal and state governments. Public sentiment, as well as the law, does not favor the unrestricted use of wildlife for commercial purposes. Thus killing, collecting, or taking into captivity most forms of wildlife is either against the law or strictly regulated.

Federal Permits

All birds native to North America, (which excludes pigeons, European starlings, and English house sparrows), are protected by at least one, and sometimes many more, federal laws. Additionally, many states and municipalities also regulate the keeping of wild birds.

Laws Regulating Native North American Raptors

  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act - 1918 - This was one of the earliest laws passed to protect wildlife in the United States. This law was initially an international treaty between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and has now been amended to include Great Britain and Japan. The Act prohibits anyone from taking, killing, or keeping any native bird, its parts, or its nest, without a permit or license. ALL raptors native to the U.S. are covered by this law.
  • Bald Eagle Act - 1940 - Congress passed this act in response to the slaughter of eagles during the first half of the twentieth century, and because of the special status bald eagles hold as our national symbol. This law protects both bald eagles and golden eagles, their nests, and nest trees. It specifically prohibits anyone from killing or disturbing either species.
  • Endangered Species Act (ESA) - 1973 - This act provides additional protection for any animal listed as "threatened" or "endangered." As of January 2002, the raptors listed under the ESA include the bald eagle, spotted owl, California condor, peregrine falcon, and snail kite.

Each of these laws has a separate set of regulations and permits. Depending on the species of bird you would like to possess, at least one and possibly three federal permits may be required.For example:

  • to keep a red-tailed hawk a Special Purpose Possession Permit is required under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,
  • to keep a peregrine falcon, you must have a Special Purpose Possession Permit and an Endangered Species Permit,
  • to keep a bald eagle, you will need a Special Purpose Possession Permit, an Endangered Species Permit, and an Eagle Exhibition Permit, issued under the Bald Eagle Act.

All of these federal permits are issued through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and require annual reports and renewal. Federal and state agencies and personnel are not exempt from obtaining required permits. This includes state and national parks, wildlife areas, research facilities, all of which must obtain the same permits as everyone else.

Laws Regulating Non-native Raptors  

  1. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - 1975 - Non­native raptors (those not regularly found in North America) are not protected under the previously mentioned laws. However, there are special regulations governing the import of non-native raptors. These raptors are listed under the CITES. The CITES requires special permits from the country of origin, as well as the U.S., before a raptor can be brought into this country.
  2. Wild Bird Conservation Act (1954) This law regulates the import of birds into the U.S.

Permits Required for Non-living Raptors

Special Purpose Salvage If you would like to have a hawk feather or a mounted raptor you still must have a federal permit issued under one of the previously mentioned laws and possibly a state permit. The salvage permit allows one to possess non-living raptors or raptor parts. Dead specimens collected under this permit may be mounted, prepared as study skins, or otherwise used for educational purposes, including public display.