Migratory Birds
Conserving the Nature of America

Import and Export of Migratory Birds

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which protects more than 1007 species of migratory birds, generally prohibits the import or export of listed species, including live birds; bird parts, nests, or eggs; and products made from them, unless you have been issued a permit.

This prohibition helps prevent the commercial exploitation of migratory birds by banning trade in live birds and such goods as mounted specimens, hats and other apparel adorned with migratory bird feathers, and arts and crafts items decorated with bird feathers and parts.

Permit Requirements

Unless you meet the requirements for an exception, you must obtain a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) before importing or exporting migratory birds listed in 50 CFR 10.13.  These permits are only issued when your possession of the bird, part or product is authorized in the United States.  For instance, you must have a valid migratory bird scientific collecting permit or qualify as an exempt institution under 50 CFR 21.12 (b)(1) in order to obtain a migratory bird import or export permit for scientific specimens.  You must be at least 18 years of age to apply for a permit.  Regulations for migratory bird import/export permits are in 50 CFR 21.21.

To apply for a migratory bird import/export permit, use this application form.



You do not need a migratory bird import/export permit to:

Sport-Hunted Birds

Import and possess ducks, geese, swans, doves, pigeons, cranes, rails, coots, gallinules, woodcock, snipe and shorebirds that you lawfully hunted in another country.  You can import them as carcasses, skins, or mounts as long as each bird you import has one fully feathered wing attached so that the species can be identified. 


You must provide evidence that you lawfully hunted the birds in, and exported them from, the country of origin.  This evidence must include a hunting license and any export documentation required by the country of origin.  You must keep these documents permanently.  50 CFR 21.21(b) 


You cannot import or export birds that someone else hunted.  50 CFR 21.62


If you are importing waterfowl, doves, and pigeons, you must abide by the limits set forth in 50 CFR 20.61.

Game Bird Feathers & Skins

Import, export, transport, ship or possess, for your own personal use, feathers and skins of lawfully taken migratory game birds.  The birds do not have to have been hunted by you in order for you to lawfully acquire the feathers and skins.  50 CFR 20.92  

Commercial import of feathers and skins is prohibited.  50 CFR 20.91

Captive-Bred Game Birds going to Canada or Mexico 

Export live, captive-bred, properly marked migratory game birds (ducks, geese, swans, doves, pigeons, cranes, rails, coots, gallinules, woodcock, snipe) to Canada or Mexico.  Birds must be marked in one of the following ways:

(a) Removal of the hind toe from the right foot;

(b) Pinioning of a wing by removal of all or some of the metacarpal bones of one wing, which renders the bird incapable of flight;

(c) Banding of one metatarsus with a seamless metal band; or

(d) A readily discernible tattoo of numbers and/or letters on the web of one foot. 

If you are transferring captive-bred game birds (other than mallards) to someone in Canada or Mexico, you must include a completed 3-186 form with your shipment.  50 CFR 21.25

Captive-Bred Raptors 

Export live, captive-bred raptors if you are a raptor propagator federally permitted under 50 CFR 21.30 and you obtain a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) export permit or certificate under 50 CFR part 23 covering each raptor.  (CITES raptor export permit application)


You must have complete documentation of the lawful origin and acquisition of each raptor to qualify for a CITES export permit or certificate, and each raptor must be banded with a Service-issued seamless metal band.  50 CFR 21.21(c)

U.S. Falconry Birds

Temporarily export and subsequently re-import a raptor or raptors (excluding eagles) you lawfully possess for falconry under a valid U.S. falconry permit provided each raptor is covered by a U.S. CITES certificate of ownership issued to you under 50 CFR part 23.  (CITES “pet passport” application)  Live eagles may not be transported out of or into the U.S.


You must have complete documentation of the lawful origin and acquisition of each raptor to qualify for a CITES certificate of ownership and each raptor must be banded with either a seamless metal band or permanent, nonreusable cable tie band issued by the Service.  You must bring the same raptor back to the U.S. when you return.  50 CFR 21.21(c)


(Note:  This export/re-import permit exception does not apply to foreign falconers temporarily importing MBTA-listed falconry birds to the U.S. from another country.  A migratory bird import/export permit is needed in this case.  In addition, you will require U.S. and/or foreign CITES documents and, if the species or subspecies is not native to the U.S., you will require a U.S. import permit under the Wild Bird Conservation Act.  Any bird you request a permit for must belong to you.  See Additional Requirements and A Note About Falconry Birds below.)




Additional Requirements

  • All imported and exported wildlife and wildlife products, including migratory birds, must enter and exit the United States through a designated wildlife port or authorized border port, unless you apply for and obtain a port exception permit. Sport-hunted game birds that you legally kill in Canada or Mexico may be imported through a U.S. Customs port of entry or border crossing.

    All imported and exported wildlife must be declared on a Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish or Wildlife (form 3-177).

    See Information for Importers/Exporters for more information about importing and exporting wildlife.

  • If the species of migratory bird you wish to import or export is also protected under CITES (link to CITES list), the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA), or the U.S. Endangered Species Act (link to ESA list), you may require additional permits.Contact the Service’s Division of Management Authority, Branch of Permits (International Affairs) for information about U.S. or foreign permits you may need under these laws.

    If you require a U.S. permit under one of these laws, your MBTA import/export authorization may be included on that permit, where appropriate.

  • Even if the species of bird you propose to import or export is not protected under the MBTA, it may be protected under CITES, WBCA, or the ESA.  For example, many non-native birds are protected under CITES and the WBCA and live birds may only be imported to the U.S. under a WBCA import permit for scientific research, zoological breeding or display, or personal pets. Check with the Service’s Division of Management Authority (International Affairs) if you have questions about importing and exporting nonnative bird, bird parts, or products.   

A Note About Falconry Birds

All raptor species are listed in Appendix I or II of CITES (link to CITES list).  Therefore, all raptors need a CITES pet passport or other CITES documentation to travel in or out of the U.S.  Also, all raptor species and subspecies that are not native to the United States are protected under the WBCA and require WBCA import or reimport permit to enter or reenter the United States.   Finally, the MBTA regulates birds to the species level, not the subspecies level like WBCA.  Therefore, a raptor with both native and non-native subspecies will require import and/or export authorization under both MBTA (link to MBTA list) and WBCA. 


The following scenarios are intended to provide examples of the documentation required under these laws to temporarily import and export falconry raptors, such as for falconry meets: 


1.  A U.S. falconer wishes to export a banded or otherwise permanently marked raptor held under his or her U.S. falconry permit, out of the United States and then return with the raptor to the United States: 


First, the falconer must check with the country to which he or she is traveling to confirm that it will accept a U.S. CITES pet passport.  If the raptor being exported is listed in CITES Appendix I, and the importing country will not accept a U.S. CITES pet passport, he or she will require a CITES import permit from the importing country before the U.S. can issue a U.S. CITES permit.


The falconer must apply for a U.S. CITES pet passport from the U.S. Division of Management Authority (DMA).  The pet passport covers CITES export from the United States (and CITES re-import to the United States if it is an Appendix I raptor).  If the raptor is a subspecies that is not native to the United States, it may also require a WBCA re-import authorization.  These authorizations will be combined on the pet passport. 


2.  A foreign falconer wishes to import his or her banded or otherwise permanently marked raptor into the United States and back out again: 


        All raptors are protected under CITES, so the falconer must obtain from their country’s CITES Management Authority a CITES pet passport or other CITES export document that covers CITES export from that country. If the species is listed under the WBCA, the falconer also needs a U.S. WBCA import permit from the Service’s Division of Management Authority.  If the species is listed under the MBTA, the falconer requires a migratory bird Import/Export permit from the Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office with jurisdiction over the port where he or she will enter the U.S.  If the species is protected under both WBCA and MBTA, all required authorizations can be obtained from the Division of Management Authority.  If the raptor is listed in CITES Appendix I, the falconer additional authorization may be required from the Division of Management Authority.  

To apply for a migratory bird import/export permit, use this application form.

For questions about this page, contact Susan Lawrence at Susan_M_Lawrence@fws.gov.

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Revised September 16, 2009


Last updated: June 15, 2009