FAQs/Commonly Asked Questions

About Migratory Birds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the nation’s premier wildlife conservation agency. By law, the Service is responsible for conserving migratory birds and their habitats. But what does that mean and how do we do it?

Q: Why should I care about birds and their habitat?
Migratory birds are among nature’s most magnificent living resources and play a significant ecological,  economic, and cultural role in the United States and internationally. Because of their ubiquitous and conspicuous presence, migratory birds symbolize America’s experience with our natural world. Birds enrich our lives in many ways; the loss of bird populations would immeasurably diminish the quality of life for the American public. Birds have intrinsic value to people as threads in the earth’s ecological tapestry, as pollinators, predators and prey. Birds are also actively  appreciated and enjoyed by millions of people (22.9MB) throughout the country. Many of the habitats that support thriving bird populations also support other types of wildlife.
Q: What is a migratory bird?
The  dictionary definition of migratory bird (or other migratory wildlife) is a bird that travels from one place to another at regular times, often over long distances. The regulatory definition of migratory bird is much different. In regulation, a migratory bird belongs to a family or group of species present in the United State as well as Canada, Japan, Mexico or Russia, four nations with whom the U.S. has signed Migratory Bird treaties.
Q. What does the Migratory Bird Program do?

The goals of the Migratory Bird Program are to protect, restore, and manage migratory bird populations to:

We are responsible for maintaining healthy migratory bird populations for the benefit of the American people through:

Q: Are migratory birds protected by federal laws?
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. The list of protected species is reviewed and updated regularly. The Migratory Bird Program also maintains lists of species of particular conservation or management concern, including Focal Species, and Birds of Conservation and Management Concern.
Q: How do I identify a bird?
There are many ways to learn how to identify different families and species of birds. We have information on identifying birds as well as choosing a bird guide, binoculars and other bird-watching tools.The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has some good tips for  building your bird ID skills.
Q: When do birds migrate and where can I see them?
The most common bird migration pattern involves flying north in the spring to breed in the temperate or Arctic summer and returning in the autumn to wintering grounds in warmer regions to the south. However,  each species, or group of species, migrates at a particular time of the year, and distances vary greatly. We have many resources and links to help you find birds year round.
Q: How many migratory birds are there?
As of December 2013, 1,026 species are on the List of Protected Species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Q. How can I get involved in migratory bird conservation?
There are many ways that you can get involved and make a difference for bird conservation! Creating food, water and shelter sources for birds in your backyard is a good first step. You can also volunteer at a local nature center or preserve, Audubon chapter or sanctuary, or  national wildlife refuge. Support bird conservation by buying a Federal Duck Stamp – 98 percent of the stamp purchase price is used to acquire or lease habitat for birds – and many other species of wildlife, as well. Or buy a Junior Duck Stamp and support conservation education for the next generation who will be charged with safeguarding our natural resoruces. You can also donate directly to one of several bird conservation funds, or provide matching funds for bird habitat conservation grants.

 

Hunting & Permits

Through aerial surveys and other monitoring activities, the Migratory Bird Program determines the status of both game and non-game birds. Using this information, we establish regulations to authorize migratory bird hunting and provide opportunities, through the issuance of permits, for organizations and individuals to participate in migratory bird conservation. We support scientific research, rehabilitation of injured birds, education, falconry, taxidermy, and control of overabundant species

Q: Which birds can be hunted and what are the hunting seasons?
Although the Migratory Bird Treaty Act considers some 170 species to be "game birds," less than 60 species are typically hunted each year. The Fish and Wildlife Service annually publishes migratory game bird regulations in the Federal Register.
Q. Do I need a federal license to hunt migratory waterfowl?
Yes. In addition to your  state hunting state license (and any associated stamps or other documents), all waterfowl hunters age 16 and over must purchase and carry a current Federal Duck Stamp each year. There are many ways to buy Duck Stamps, including the Electronic Duck Stamp (E-Stamp). See below for more informati0n abotu buying Duck Stamps and E-Stamps.
Q: How do I a get a permit to keep a migratory bird/part of a bird?
As authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to qualified applicants for the following types of activities: falconry, raptor propagation, scientific collecting, special purposes (rehabilitation, educational, migratory game bird propagation, and salvage), take of depredating birds, taxidermy, and waterfowl sale and disposal. Migratory bird permit policy is developed by the national program, but the permits themselves are issued by the Regional Migratory Bird Permit Offices. The regulations governing migratory bird permits can be found in  50 CFR 13 (General Permit Procedures) and  50 CFR part 21 (Migratory Bird Permits).
Q. How are the waterfowl hunting regulations set?
The  Flyway Councils, consisting of representatives from state and provincial game-management agencies, recommend regulations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for waterfowl and for most migratory, shore and upland game birds.  Flyways.us has a detailed explanation of the process for setting hunting regulations.

 

Injured Birds and Bird Rehabilitation

Q: I found an injured bird. Who do I call or where can I take it?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not have bird/wildlife rehabilitators on staff. Call your local veterinarian,  humane society, or county or municipal wildlife agency to find the nearest qualified wildlife rehabilitator that can take and treat the bird. The  National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association can help put you in touch with a qualified rehabilitator. While you are locating a suitable rehabilitator, keep the bird in a dark box in a warm, quiet spot. Do not disturb it or offer it food. Let it rest.
Q. What do I do if I find a sick bird?
If at all possible, do not attempt to move the bird. Contact a  licensed wildlife rehabilitator or local veterinarian. Call first before visiting to make sure they can take the bird, as some vet clinics don't have the facilities to isolate sick birds. Protect yourself, your family and your pets - don't handle any potentially sick bird without disposable gloves. Make sure you have a box prepared for it, and a place to bring it, before you put a bird through the trauma of capture. If your area is possibly having an outbreak of  West Nile Virus or other disease, you may need to report it to your county health department or department of natural resources. To find out, call a  licensed wildlife rehabilitator or your nearest game warden or conservation office.
Q: Can I keep the bird and nurse it myself?
No. It is against the law to keep a bird - injured, orphaned or otherwise - without proper permits. In most cases, injured birds require specialized professional attention to survive and to be successfully reestablished in the wild. Keeping migratory birds as pets is prohibited.
Q: How can I become a migratory bird rehabilitator?
A  Federal migratory bird rehabilitation permit is required to rehabilitate migratory birds. Most states also require you to have a state-issued permit. To qualify for a Federal permit, you must have facilities that meet minimum standards, a veterinarian who will provide critical care, and the ability and knowledge to identify, manage, and care for animals.
Q: I have witnessed someone killing or injuring a bird. How do I report it?
Please contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tip line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or email fws_tips@fws.gov to report a wildlife crime.

 

Baby Birds & Bird Nests

Q: I found a baby bird outside the nest. What should I do?
In most cases birds - even baby birds -  don’t need your help. Young chicks that have just left the nest (called fledglings) may spend several days on the ground before they are able to fly. Typically parent birds continue to care for and watch over them. You can help by keeping people and pets away from fledgling birds. If you find eggs on the ground, it is not likely they will hatch even if replaced into the nest. If you think a bird is truly an orphan or is injured, call a  licensed wildlife rehabilitator for guidance.
Q. Why do birds leave the nest before they can fly?
For many birds it's an advantage to leave the nest as soon as possible. Predators can easily find a nest full of loud baby birds. Nests may also be full of parasites. After fledging, or growing their flight feathers, the young birds are more spread out, and the parents can lead them to different spots every night, enhancing each one's chances of survival.
Q. A bird has built its nest very close to my house. What should I do?
American robins, Eastern phoebes, and barn and cliff swallows will often build their mud nests underneath building eaves, porches, bridges, or inside open structures like barns. These insect eating birds are beneficial to have around and their presence is often welcomed. However, their droppings and noise can also cause problems. It is illegal to remove or attempt to move the nests while there are eggs or young in the nest. However, once the young have left the nest you can remove the nest from the area. The next step is to immediately make the area unattractive for future nests. Seal off the area as much as possible to prevent the birds from re-nesting. For smaller areas such as porches, covering the ledge where the birds built their nest with netting or some other obstruction will prevent them from returning.

 

Bird Feeding & Bird-Friendly Habitat

Q: What type of food and shelter should I provide for birds?
As you learn to enjoy the beauty of birdlife around their home, you may wish to improve the habitat in your yard so that more birds will visit. You can attract birds by placing bird feeders, nest boxes, and bird baths in your yard, and by planting a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers. These can provide good nesting sites, winter shelter, places to hide from predators, and natural food supplies that are available year-round. Every bird species has its own unique food requirements, which may change as the bird matures and as the seasons change. Learn the  food habits of the birds you wish to attract. Then plant the appropriate trees, shrubs, or flowers that will provide fruits, berries, grains, seeds, acorns, nuts, or nectar. You can probably double the number of bird species in your yard by providing a source of water. A frog pond, water garden, or bird bath will get lots of bird use, especially if the water is dripping, splashing, or moving. Birds need places where they can hide from predators and escape from severe weather. Trees (including hollow ones), shrubs, tall grass, and bird houses provide excellent shelter. The best landscaping plan is one that includes a wide variety of plants. This helps attract a greater number of bird species. Provide birds with food and shelter during all four seasons of the year by planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that will provide year-round food and shelter.
Q. If I feed the birds in the fall will that mean they won’t migrate south?
No, it is a  myth that you will prevent birds from migrating by feeding them. Several things trigger the urge for birds to migrate. The most significant is day length. As the days grow shorter, birds start to head south, taking advantage of abundant natural food, and feeders where available, to fuel their flight. A few individuals, especially Rufous Hummingbirds and a few other Western species, wander east rather than south. It is a good idea to keep  hummingbird feeders full for several weeks after the last hummer leaves.
Q: Birds keep hitting my windows. What do I do?
Picture windows can be death traps for birds. Be sure to locate feeders and nest boxes far away from windows. Among other measures you can take are to cover window glass with netting or transparent film, or place decals, stickers or other objects on the outside surface of the window. It is important to note that placing just one or two window stickers on a large window is not going to prevent collisions. They must cover most of the glass with the spaces between too narrow for birds to fly through. The  Cornell Lab of Ornithology has more ideas for helping birds avoid window collisions.

 

Hummingbirds

Q. Hummingbird food mixtures I see in stores are red, but I have heard that food coloring is dangerous. What should I do?
There is no reason to add any red dyes or other coloring to  hummingbird sugar water. After all, natural flower nectar is clear, and hummingbird feeders have colorful parts that attract hummingbird regardless of the color of the sugar water. Anecdotal information from experienced, licensed bird rehabilitators says that hummers who have been fed dyed food have higher mortality and suffer tumors of the bill and liver. According to Sheri Williamson, author of  A Field Guide to Hummingbirds and Attracting and Feeding Hummingbirds, "The bottom line is that 'instant nectar' products containing artificial coloring are at best a waste of your hard-earned money and at worst a source of disease, suffering, and premature death in hummingbirds."
Q. How do we keep ants and other insects out of our hummingbird feeder?
Among the ways that you can  keep ants, bees and other insect pests away from your hummingbird or other backyard feeder are to keep your feeder clean, choose a feeder designed to discourage pests and to avoid feeders with yellow parts (or paint yellow accents red) as these will attract wasps and bees.

 

Nuisance Birds

Q. Starlings seem to be everywhere and they bother other birds – how can I get rid of them?
 European starlings, which unlike some other starling species are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act - are not just annoying; they have a harmful ecological impact. They steal nest cavities from bluebirds and woodpeckers, often killing nestlings and even adult birds. It is not a good idea to feed them at feeders; however, as laws vary across the country, it's also generally not a good idea - and may be illegal - to kill European starlings or any other nuisance birds.
Q. Are Canada Geese migratory?
Yes and no. Some migratory Canada goose populations are not going as far south in the winter as they used to. This northward range shift has been attributed to changes in farm practices that makes waste grain more available in fall and winter, as well as changes in hunting pressure and changes in weather.  Resident Canada geese have increased in urban and suburban areas in recent years; just a decade or two after people intentionally introduced or reintroduced “giant” Canada geese to various areas, they are often considered pests. All species of Canada geese are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; however, if you are a landowner, homeowner’s association, public land manager, or local government in the lower 48 states or the District of Columbia, you may be able to  register for federal authorization to destroy resident Canada Goose nests and eggs on property under your jurisdiction.
Q. A hawk comes to our yard regularly and sometimes kills birds at my feeders. What can I do to stop this?
Nothing. All species of hawks are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and it is illegal to harm, harass or kill them or their eggs or nests.

 

Bird Watching

Q. How can I find good spots to watch birds?
You can start in your own backyard – especially if you have bird feeders or habitat that attracts birds. We have many other suggestions for places to watch birds on our Finding Birds page, as well as help identifying birds and advice on which tools and gear to use. We also have information and links for annual bird and wildlife festivals and other bird-related events.  BirdCast is a good tool for determining which birds are likely migrating in which regions of North America.
Q. I want to do more than backyard bird watching. Isn’t birding expensive?
Birding doesn’t have to be expensive. You can purchase expensive optics and equipment and embark on world travel. But it can be equally satisfying to bird while spending very little money. All you really need to get started bird watching is sharp eyes and ears and perhaps a journal to record sightings in. Should you want to invest in gear, we have advice on buying binoculars, scopes, bird guides and other equipment. You don’t have to travel far to glimpse birds in their natural habitat. Many great birding sites are within a short distance of where you live or work, and annual bird festivals offer opportunities for bird watching and education year-round.
Q. Where and when can I go to watch hawks during their migration?
Fall is a great time to watch migrating hawks. Great spots to see them include  Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania and  Hawk Hill in San Francisco. But there may be spots closer to your home. The  Hawk Migration Association of North America has a map of hawkwatch sites in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Q. I want to upgrade my binoculars. What should I do with my old ones?
Donate your old optics to a local nature center or birding club, or to the American Birding Association’s Birder’s Exchange or Optics for the Tropics. Binoculars are donated to researchers and educators in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have tips on what to look for when buying new binoculars or other birdwatching gear.

 

Federal and Junior Duck Stamps & E-Stamps

Q. What is a Federal Duck Stamp and why should I buy one?
Federal Duck Stamps are revenue stamps that have been around since 1934. They are not postage stamps but they are unique and special. If you care about our environment and want to contribute to preserving habitat for birds and other wildlife, and for people, you should buy a Duck Stamp. If you are a waterfowl hunter 16 years of age or older, you are required to buy a Duck Stamp each year. If you enjoy outdoor recreation, you will want to own a current Duck Stamp, which gains you free entry into any  national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee. If you are a stamp collector or you enjoy wildlife art, a Duck Stamp is a perfect addition to your collection, or gift for someone else.
Q. Who needs to have a Federal Duck Stamp?
Any waterfowl hunter age 16 or older must possess a current, signed Federal Duck Stamp or E-Stamp, in addition to the appropriate state hunting licenses and stamps.
Q: Where can I purchase a Federal Duck Stamp or E-Stamp?
Federal Duck Stamps are available online, and at some post offices, national wildlife refuges, and sporting goods and discount stores. Our Buy Duck Stamps page provides much more information. We also have links to states that sell E-Stamps.
Q. What are the valid dates for the Federal Duck Stamp?
Federal Duck Stamps are valid July 1 through June 30.
Q. It’s midnight and I need a Federal Duck Stamp for hunting tomorrow – help!
You may purchase an E-Stamp 24/7 from any participating state (regardless of which state(s) you plan to hunt in). All it takes is an Internet connection and a printer.
Q. It has been more than 45 days since I bought my E-Stamp and my physical Duck Stamp has not arrived. What should I do?
Contact Amplex, our Duck Stamp distributor, at duckstamps@amplex.com or 800/852-4897. Do not contact the Federal Duck Stamp office as we are unable to assist with missing E-Stamps. You must contact Amplex.
Q. I misplaced/threw out/washed/accidentally fed my dog my Duck Stamp. Can I get a replacement?
Unfortunately, we cannot replace lost or destroyed Duck Stamps. They are non-refundable. You must buy a new one. You may be able to re-print a lost or damaged E-Stamp receipt if it is within the 45-day valid period. Check with the state that issued yoru E-Stamp if you have questions.
Q. How much habitat has been acquired with Duck Stamp dollars? How can I find out how much is in my state?
More than 5.3 million acres of habitat on national wildlife refuges has been acquired with Duck Stamp dollars. The Service issues  an annual report (102.5KB) listing which refuges are acquired with Duck Stamp dollars.
Q: Where can I purchase a Junior Duck Stamp?
You can buy Junior Duck Stamps online through Amplex or the U.S. Postal Service. Some national wildlife refuges and other nature centers sell Junior Duck Stamps (call before visiting to ensure they sell the stamp).
Q. Do duck hunters under the age of 16 need to buy a Junior Duck Stamp?
No. Waterfowl hunters age 16 or over are only required to purchase and carry a current Federal Duck Stamp (or valid E-Stamp receipt), in addition to any state required hunting licenses and stamps.
Q. Why should I buy Junior Duck Stamps?
The entire $5 purchase price supports conservation education for youth, including teaching them about wetlands and waterfowl and encouraging them to participate in community conservation projects. Buying Junior Duck Stamps means supporting efforts to connect our younger generations - the future stewards of our Earth - with their natural world and help them develop an appreciation for conserving our wild creatures and places.
Q. How do you choose the Federal Duck Stamp?
The design for the Federal Duck Stamp is chosen at an annual art contest that is open to anyone who wants to enter. The contest is held each fall.
Q. I entered the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. When will my artwork be returned?
Artwork will be returned within 60 days of the contest. The exception is artwork from the second and third rounds of judging, which tour the country for one year following the contest, after which time it will be returned. If your art is on the tour and you would like to request it be returned, contact the Federal Duck Stamp office at duckstamps@fws.gov.
Q. My art from the Junior Duck Stamp state contest has not been returned. Where is it?
Please contact your Junior Duck Stamp state coordinator. If your art was named Best of Show and judged at the national contest, it will tour for one year following the contest, after which it will be returned.
Q. Where can I see original Duck Stamp art?
The top art from each year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest tours the country and is exhibited at refuges, nature centers, museums and other venues. The Junior Duck Stamp “Best of Show” art from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories also tours. Check the  art tour calendar (125.1KB) to find a location near you or to  request to host the exhibit(s) (107.6KB). If you cannot make it to see the original art tour, you can view our online galleries of Federal and Junior Duck Stamps
Q. I have an old stamp collection - what is it worth?
We do not appraise collections and cannot supply names of those who do; however, you can do a website search using key words “duck stamp collect” and find a reputable dealer or stamp collector in your area, or contact the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society.

 

Bird Population Management

Q: How do I get data/information about bird populations?
Our Surveys & Data section houses current and historical data from population and harvest surveys.  Flyways.us is also a great source for information about our waterfowl population surveys, which we undertake in conjunction with government and nongovernment partners.
Q: I saw a bird with a plastic/metal band around its foot. What is that?
That bird was sporting abird band. Banding allows scientists to track movements of individual birds to study dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. Analysis of banding information from game birds is completed annually and is essential for developing hunting regulations and for detecting changes in waterfowl populations.
Q. What do I do if I find a banded bird?
If you find a banded bird, or if you harvest one while hunting, please report the band number. It’s easy to do and it is just one more way that you can contribute to migratory bird conservation. Call 1-800-327-BAND or go online to  www.reportband.gov to report a bird band.

 

Grants & Funding Sources

Q. How can I get funding for a bird habitat conservation project?
Depending on the nature of the project, you may be eligible to apply for a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program provides matching funds to partnerships that come together to conserve, restore, enhance or protect wetlands and associated habitats for migratory birds in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) grant program provides matching funds to bird habitat conservation projects throughout the Western Hemisphere, with at least 75 percent of the funding going to projects outside the United States. The Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds Program works with cities and partners to conserve migratory birds through education, hazard reductions, citizen science, conservation actions, and conservation and habitat improvement strategies in urban/suburban areas. Information about other federal grant funding for conservation projects is on  Grants.gov.
Q: I have questions about submitting a grant proposal. Who do I contact?
Before contacting the Migratory Bird Program with questions about grant proposals, please check the “How to Apply” pages for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act programs to see whether your question is answered. If you do not find these information you are looking for, contact the Grants Program at dbhc@fws.gov for NAWCA or neotropical@fws.gov for NMBCA.

 

Bird Trivia

What is the largest North American bird (both weight and wingspan)?
Trumpeter Swan (weighs up to 28 pounds/12.7 kg) with a 9-foot wingspan
Which North American bird has a heightened olfactory sense to aid in locating food?
Turkey Vulture
Which bird has the longest annual migration?
The Artic Tern (22,000-mile annual trip from Artic to Antarctic)
Which birds were named after Lewis and Clark expedition?
Lewis Woodpecker and Clark’s Nutcracker
What is the fastest bird?
The Peregrine Falcon, with a top documented speed of 117 mph (188 km/hr) in a dive
Which bird can rotate its head up to 280 degrees?
Owls
What is the only North American stork?
Wood Stork
Which is the tallest American bird?
Whooping Crane at 5 feet (1.5 m)
Which two birds are known as “camp robbers” for their fearlessness around humans and their proclivity for stealing food from campers and picnickers?
Gray Jay and Clark’s Nutcracker
Which bird sings loudly during courtship just before dawn?
Mockingbird
Which is the smallest North American Woodpecker?
Downy Woodpecker
Which is the smallest North American bird of prey?
Sharp-shinned Hawk

Last Updated: January 9, 2017