About Us

The Migratory Bird Program works with partners to protect, restore and conserve bird populations and their habitats for the benefit of future generations.

Our Mission

To provide leadership in migratory bird conservation and management through effective partnerships, applied science, and innovative strategies.  Through professional public service, we serve the American public to achieve the following goals:

  1. Provide Leadership in Migratory Bird Conservation.
  2. Conserve and Manage Sustainable Populations of Birds of Management Concern.
  3. Conserve Habitat for Migratory Birds of Management Concern.
  4. Manage Bird Data and Information for Use in Decision Making.
Our History

Important Dates in the Conservation Of Migratory Birds

Bird Conservation History
In the 1800s millions of birds were killed for food, feathers, and science – hats, market hunting, and scientific collecting. Overuse of natural resources was the norm.

1799 Fragments of the Natural History of Pennsylvania
Benjamin Smith Barton publishes first ornithological book in U.S.

1800 Conservation Movement Began to Grow
Unregulated killing of migratory birds put many species at risk. Key species that went extinct in 1800s – Great Auk, Labrador Duck, Heath Hen

1818 First State Law
Massachusetts passes law to protect non-game bird species.

1827 The Birds of America
John James Audubon begins publication of his book series containing illustrations of a wide variety of birds of the United States.

1832 Manual of the Ornithology of the U.S. and Canada
Thomas Nuttall publishes what is believed to be first field guide to birds in North America.

1857 Ohio State Legislature Proposes Bill to Protect the Passenger Pigeon
A Select Committee of the Senate filed a report stating, "The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced."

1873 Nuttall Ornithological Club founded
It is the first ornithological club in U.S.

1880 Feathers become fashionable for use in women's clothing.

1883 American Ornithologists Union (AOU) founded
It is the first professional organization dedicated to the scientific study of birds.

1885 Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy
Created under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was the first federal agency to be given responsibility for birds. The Division studied the positive effects of birds on agricultural pests, and was later expanded and renamed the Division of Biological Survey, the forerunner to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

1886 First national Audubon Society
Founded by George Bird Grinnell but was later disbanded.

1886 AOU Model Law is proposed
It is designed as a template for passing state bird protection legislation.

1887 Boone and Crockett Club founded
They developed fair chase principles for sportsmen. Founding members included Theodore Roosevelt.

1894 Bird Day
Charles Almanzo Babcock organizes first Bird Day in Oil City, Pennsylvania.

1896 Massachusetts Audubon Society founded
This was the first step in the permanent conservation movement for birds in the United States. Mass Audubon’s roots were established in 1896 by Founding Mothers Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna B. Hall, who persuaded ladies of fashion to forgo the cruelly harvested plumage that adorned their hats.

1896 Geer v. Connecticut
Supreme Court ruling recognizes that game animals are collective property of the citizens of a state, held in trust and regulated by state governments. Animals are placed under state rather than federal jurisdiction.

1900 The Lacey Act
The Lacey Act limited market hunting by making it illegal to transport or sell a bird in one state when illegally hunted in another state. When the Lacey Act was passed in 1900, it became the first federal law protecting wildlife. It enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. Today it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive, or non-native, species.

1900 Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt": They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition-a "Christmas Bird Census"-that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. The Christmas Bird Count provides critical data on population trends.

1902 National Association of Audubon Societies is founded

1902 Bird Banding
Paul Bartsch of the Smithsonian Institution begins the first modern bird banding program.

1903 Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
On March 14, 1903, President Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing Pelican Island as the first federal bird reservation. During his presidency, Roosevelt established a network of 55 bird reservations and national game preserves for wildlife - the forerunner to the national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Learn more about national wildlife refuge
system. The establishment of Pelican Island was the first time that the federal government set aside land for the sake of wildlife.

1903 First comprehensive migratory bird law
Introduced in Congress by Rep. George Shiras (it did not come to a vote).

1913 Weeks-McLean Law
Weeks-McLean Law prohibited the spring hunting and marketing of migratory bird and the importation of wild bird feathers for women’s fashion. Also gave the Secretary of Agriculture the power to set hunting seasons nationwide. Replaced by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918.

1913 The Underwood Tariff Act
Act bans all importation of feathers except for purposes of scientific research or education, excluding ostrich and some domestic birds.

1916 Convention Treaty with Canada
Treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds that adopted a uniform system of protection with the goal – “assure the preservation of species either harmless or beneficial to man”; establishes species to be covered by the treaty; makes the first distinction between game birds, insectivorous birds, and non-game birds; set closed dates for hunting game birds, closed the season entirely on insectivorous & other nongame birds; established the take of birds for scientific or propagating purposes for insectivorous and other nongame birds; prohibits export of birds and eggs except for scientific and propagating purposes; and establishes permits to control birds that become agricultural pests.

1917 Canada passes Migratory Bird Convention Act

1918 The Migratory Bird Treaty Act
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Woodrow Wilson on July 3, 1918.

1920 Missouri v. Holland
U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholds constitutionality of Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

1929 Migratory Bird Conservation Act
Established the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to approve areas recommended for acquisition with migratory bird conservation funds.

1934 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act
Under the act, all waterfowl hunters 16 years of age and over must annually buy and carry a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp - better known today as a Federal Duck Stamp. Ninety-eight cents of every duck stamp dollar goes directly into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase or lease wetlands and wildlife habitat for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, some $800 million dollars has gone into that fund to protect more than 6.5 million acres of habitat.

1936 Convention Treaty with Mexico
Treaty between the United States and Mexico for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals that established closed hunting seasons; established refuge zones; prohibits killing of insectivorous birds – except by permit when harmful to agriculture; provided regulations for transport of game mammals; listed families covered by treaty. The treaty was amended in 1972 to add 32 additional families: Eagles, Hawks, Owls, and Corvids.

1938 Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey
The Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey is a nationwide effort to survey waterfowl in areas of major concentration on their wintering grounds and provide winter distribution and habitat affiliations. This survey also serves as a primary source of data on population trends for some species that breed in remote Arctic locations and are difficult to survey using traditional methods. Therefore abundance indices for some of these species are obtained from surveys on wintering areas. For species not covered in other population surveys these indices provide direct inputs into management programs such as harvest management plans.

1940 Bald Eagle Protection Act
Congress passes the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the first federal legislation to ban hunting or otherwise disturbing America’s national emblem (it was later amended to include Golden Eagles.)

1940 Western Hemisphere Convention
U.S. signs Convention for Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, which includes protections for migratory bird species. It is the first multilateral treaty to call for protections of migratory species on a hemispheric level. Eventually 19 countries would ratify the Convention.

1941 Western Hemisphere Convention Ratified in U.S.

1948 Waterfowl Administrative Flyways Established
One of the first things waterfowl managers learned from their early waterfowl banding efforts was that waterfowl follow distinct, traditional migration corridors or flyways in their annual travels between breeding and wintering areas. Since 1948, waterfowl have been managed by four administrative Flyways that are based on those migration paths: the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways.

1952 Flyway Councils Established
Each Flyway has a Flyway Council, which is a formal organization composed of one member from each State and Province in that Flyway. Recently, Mexico has also provided representation at Pacific and Central Flyway meetings and discussions.

1966 The North American Breeding Bird Survey
The BBS is a long-term, large-scale, international avian monitoring program. A cooperative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service.

1972 Convention Treaty with Japan
Treaty between the United States and Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Birds in Danger of Extinction and Their Environments that states that in order to protect birds each nation should: enhance habitat; exchange research data; regulate hunting. This is the first mention of habitat protection and lists protected birds by species.

1976 Convention Treaty with Russia
Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union [now Russia] Concerning the Conservation of Migratory Birds and Their Environment that specifically states protects birds that “…have common flyways, breeding, wintering, feeding or moulting areas”. This treaty highlights annual-cycle conservation; encourages the signatories to “…undertake measures necessary to protect and enhance the environment of migratory birds and to prevent and abate the pollution or detrimental
alteration of that environment”; and identified species covered by the Treaty and extended to families of these species.

1980 Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act
Provided funding to state agencies to develop and implement plans for nongame fish and wildlife conservation. 1988 amendment required the USFWS to monitor and assess migratory nongame birds, determine the effects of environmental changes and human activities, identify candidates for Endangered Species Act listing, and identify appropriate actions for conservation.

1986 North American Waterfowl Management Plan
Following record-low waterfowl populations in 1985, the U.S. and Canadian governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement. Mexico became a signatory in 1994. This strategy became the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

1989 North American Wetlands Conservation Act
Provides matching grants to partners to carry out wetland conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetland-associated migratory birds and other wildlife. Since 1991, more than 6,938 partners have received more than $2.15 billion in grants for more than 3,381 projects. Those partners have contributed another $4.3 billion in matching funds to improve more than 32 million acres of habitat, totaling more than $6.45 billion for wetland conservation that also benefits people, birds and other wildlife.

1990 Partners in Flight
Partners in Flight / Compañeros en Vuelo / Partenaires d’Envol was launched in 1990 in response to growing concerns about declines in the populations of many land bird species. The initial focus was on neotropical migrants, species that breed in the Nearctic (North America) and winter in the Neotropics (Central and South America), but the focus has spread to include all landbirds. The central premise of Partners in Flight (PIF) has been that the resources of public and private organizations in the Western Hemisphere must be combined, coordinated, and increased in order to achieve success in conserving bird populations in this hemisphere.

1993 International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD)
IMBD provides an international call to action to conserve birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. It focused on migration, one of the most important and spectacular events in the Americas.

1995 Canada Amends Migratory Bird Convention Act
This amendment accommodates the traditional harvest of migratory birds by Aboriginal peoples in northern regions.

1997 U.S. Amends the Migratory Bird Treaty
The United States Senate ratified protocols between Canada-U.S. and Mexico- U.S. that amends the Migratory Bird Treaties between these countries to allow for legal spring/summer harvest of migratory birds by Alaska Natives.

1999 U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative
NABCI is a forum of government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives helping partners across the continent to meet their common bird conservation objectives for more than 1,150 species of birds. Fosters coordination and collaboration on key issues of concern, including bird monitoring, conservation design, private lands, international collaboration, and state and federal agency support for integrated bird conservation.

2000 Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act
Provides matching grants to partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the United States and Canada, for the conservation of Neotropical migratory birds that winter south of the border and summer in North America. Since 2002, the NMBCA has provided more than $94.2 million in grants to support 747 projects in 43 countries. These projects have positively affected more than 6 million acres of bird habitat and spurred partnerships on multiple levels contributing an additional $363 million. The networks that have developed as a result of NMBCA funding have evolved into powerful conservation alliances. 

2000 Alaska Migratory Bird Co-management Council (AMBCC)
This co-management body consists of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska native representatives. The AMBCC is responsible for establishing procedures for managing the spring/summer subsistence harvest and subsequent regulations.

2000 U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan
Provides a scientific framework to determine species, sites, and habitats that most urgently need conservation action. Main goals of the plan are to ensure that adequate quantity and quality of shorebird habitat is maintained at the local level and to maintain or restore shorebird populations at the continental and hemispheric levels.

2001 Executive Order 13186, Responsibilities of Federal Agencies
Encourages Migratory Bird conservation across the federal family by: integrating bird conservation into agency activities and planning; promoting programs and recommendations from bird conservation plans; evaluating agency impacts on migratory birds (especially “species of concern”); minimizing take of all species of concern; and promoting education, international efforts, population monitoring ,and more.

2002 North American Waterbird Conservation Plan
Provides an overarching continental framework and guide for conserving waterbirds in all habitats from the Canadian Arctic to Panama, from Bermuda through the U.S. Pacific Islands. Advocates continent-wide monitoring; provides an impetus for regional conservation planning; proposes national, state, provincial and other local conservation planning and action; and gives a larger context for local habitat protection.

2003 Harvest Season Opens for Alaska Natives
First Legal Spring Migratory Bird Harvest Season Opens for Alaska Natives since 1916

2009 State of the Birds Report
An unprecedented partnership effort resulted in the first comprehensive analysis of the state of our nation’s birds and a call to action for cooperative conservation actions. This State of the Birds report reveals troubling declines of bird populations during the past 40 years—a warning signal of the failing health of our ecosystems. At the same time, we see heartening evidence that strategic land management and conservation action can reverse declines of birds.

2016 Centennial of the Convention
The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds, officially called the "Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds."