Migratory Birds
Conserving the Nature of America

Permits - Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act Summaries


The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), originally passed in 1918, implements the United States' commitment to four bilateral treaties, or conventions, for the protection of a shared migratory bird resource. The original treaty upon which the MBTA was passed was the Convention for the protection of Migratory Birds signed with Great Britain in 1916 on behalf of Canada for the protection "of the many species of birds that traverse certain parts of the United States and Canada in their annual migration." The primary motivation for negotiation of the 1916 treaty and the passage of the MBTA was to stop the "indiscriminate slaughter" of migratory birds by market hunters and others. The MBTA was subsequently amended as treaties were signed with Mexico (1936, amended 1972 and 1999), Japan (1972), and Russia (1976). The Canadian treaty was amended in December 1995 to allow traditional subsistence hunting of migratory birds.

Each of the treaties protects selected species of birds and provides for closed and open seasons for hunting game birds. The MBTA protects over 800 species of birds by implementing the 4 treaties within the United States. The list of migratory bird species protected by the MBTA appears in Title 50, section 10.13, of the Code of Federal Regulations (50 CFR 10.13).

The MBTA provides that it is unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or any part, nest, or egg or any such bird, unless authorized under a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior. Some regulatory exceptions apply. Take is defined in regulations as: “pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” The MBTA protects over 800 species of birds that occur in the U.S.


In 1782 the Continental Congress adopted the bald eagle as a national symbol. During the next one and a half centuries, the bald eagle was heavily hunted by sportsmen, taxidermists, fisherman, and farmers. In 1940, to prevent the species from becoming extinct, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act. The Act was extremely comprehensive, prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, or offer to sell, purchase, or barter, export or import " of the bald eagle "at any time or in any manner."

In 1962, Congress amended the Eagle Act to cover golden eagles, recognizing that the population of the golden eagle had declined at such an alarming rate that it was threatened with extinction. Another 1962 amendment authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to grant permits to Native Americans for traditional religious use of eagles and eagle parts and feathers.

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Last updated: June 15, 2009