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Guide to legal and illegal feathers in the USA

gyr-falcon-feather-swan

Gyr Falcon wing feathers. Illegal to have unless you have permission to keep them for falconry.

I pay special attention to the legal requirements of possessing feathers since I sell feather art. Many people tell me about their small feather collections so I thought I’d share a rough guide to what feathers you can have in the USA.

You can have:

1. Feathers from most birds that are not native to North America.  European Starlings, House Sparrows, Eurasian Collared Doves, and Ring-neck Pheasants are not native to North America. Also, think feathers of peacocks, most parrots, most of the 55 species of pheasants, and small songbirds like zebra finches that are kept in cages. The biggest exceptions to this are the restrictions on having feathers of any bird in the world that is critically endangered.

2. Feathers from most wild duck and geese you can’t sell, except for mallards. You can sell other kinds of duck feathers if it is for fly tying for fishing.

3. Upland birds that people hunt—like turkey, grouse, and pheasant. Each state can have more restrictive laws, like in Washington State the Sharp-tailed Grouse is threatened so you can’t have those feathers unless you show it came from another state where hunting is permitted.

You can’t have:

1. Feathers from almost all other birds in my country—not eagles of course, but also not seagull feathers, songbird feathers, or crow feathers.

2. Feathers from most birds from other countries that are critically endangered.

Though all birds naturally shed their feathers about once a year, you’re not legally supposed to have most of them. A law called the (U.S.) North American Migratory Bird Act was made a long time ago when people were killing too many birds to use for fashionable hats. It’s a broad-brush law intended to protect birds.  It doesn’t recognize the difference between plucked feathers, shed feathers, or bird skins; you can’t have any of it. If a feather was pulled from a dead bird that you found at the side of the road or the beach, how does someone know that the bird wasn’t killed on purpose just for the feathers? It can sometimes seem silly but it is a matter of reasonable enforcement, like speeding law enforcement on the highway.

I try to be familiar with the laws but I’m not the person to go to for the final word in the USA–the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are the ones for that.

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73 Comments

  1. Posted December 30, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing the info on feathers. You may want to make a correction in he paragraph about feathers you can have. House Finches are a native species so you can’t have those feathers, I think you may have meant to say House Spartows, as they are non-natives.
    Beth

  2. Nichole
    Posted February 16, 2015 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    What if you find seagull bones from an already dead seagull on your property? I’m currently visiting my beach house and there’s feathers around a some bones that appear to be those of a seagull. If I don’t sell the bones and keep them in my personal collection, would that be illegal?

  3. Dennis
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post.. I am a fly fisherman who ties his own flies and have always wondered about what was illegal and what was legal. I would love to try and tie a fly with a flamingo feather..But now I see that this is probably illegal too. I will continue to look and educate myself on this topic. Thanks again for your insights.

    • Diane
      Posted June 18, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      I am under the impression that flamingos are a non-native species and are fine for ties along with parrot feathers. Alert me otherwise.

      • Posted July 21, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        American, lesser and greater flamingo feathers are a no no under USA laws. But Chilean flamingo feathers are ok to use as I understand.

    • Posted July 21, 2015 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Dennis,
      Most species of Flamingo feathers are not ok to use in the USA but as I am informed, Chilean flamingo feathers are.
      Chris

  4. Jessica
    Posted July 4, 2015 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    It’s been difficult for me to understand about crow feathers.. Here in alabama, it’s open season on crow all year long, you can legally kill them but why am i not allowed to posses the feathers? It doesn’t make since to me

    • Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Crows are grouped into the category of migratory birds, all are protected. They sometimes allow killing of birds considered “pests” and crows are, in many states, killed to protect agricultural interests–sometimes under the auspices of sport. It is the same in my state.

  5. Bryana
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the information about feathers it was really important to me because recently I am studying birds and nature at my Indian summer camp and this information will come in handy on tests.

  6. Kim
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Just curious, as I am just starting to read up on feathers and wanting to do some crafts to sell…. Anyway, whay are crow feathers illegal?

    • Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Crows are grouped into the category of migratory birds, all are protected. They sometimes allow killing of birds considered “pests” and crows are, in many states, killed to protect agricultural interests–sometimes under the auspices of sport.

      • Gertie
        Posted February 19, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Hi how about crow feathers that are from another country, like UK?

  7. Dawn
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Do you know if parakeet feathers are ok to have & sell?

    • Posted August 10, 2015 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      Dawn, the feathers of parakeets that are sold in pet stores are legal to have and sell.

  8. Karla
    Posted August 13, 2015 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    I am Indian only part Indian and I make dream catchers am I not allowed to use native feathers in these native designed dream catchers ? Is there place where I can order “legal” feathers if I am not? Also I do not live on areservation or get paid the big bucks for being native! I am only part Indian.

    • Posted September 1, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      You can use feathers from many birds that are not from this continent — like parrots feathers from pet owners and aviary pheasant feathers.

    • Small chicken dancer
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      If your are Inrolled in a tribe you can have sertant feathers but you can not sell them to someone who is not inrolled or does not have a tribe card

    • Jannette Valdez-Witt
      Posted June 24, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      If you have a tribal card you can use feathers of your choice, I was told this by fish and game while harvesting. I also may use feathers in regalia without penalty whether endangered or not…

      • Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        I’m not so sure…you’d have to talk to a knowledgeable person at US Fish and Wildlife about that.

  9. Neal Spalding
    Posted August 28, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Chris, been trying to find laws keeping woodpecker feathers and hadn’t found it yet. I live in Kentucky.

    • Posted September 1, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Hi Neal,
      No woodpeckers in Kentucky have feathers that are legal to have.

      Chris

      • Meagan
        Posted February 26, 2016 at 12:10 am | Permalink

        While volunteering at a wildlife center in AL, I had to tell someone that fines for injuring or killing woodpeckers can be as high as $2,500. It is probably similar in Kentucky.

  10. Anne Webster
    Posted August 30, 2015 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I just bought this morning a collection of bird feathers for $8. I can’t identify them, but I might like to use them. Will I have to throw them in the garbage?
    Thanks,
    Anne

    • Posted September 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Anne, It completely depends on what kind of feathers they are. I mean, what kind of bird they are from. Chris

  11. David Rivas
    Posted September 3, 2015 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I live in a cabin with 5 acres on a mountain. Can I pick up a feather on my property from the forbidden list, like a condor, and bring it into my house?

    • Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Your cabin sounds nice. Not a good idea to bring condor feathers inside though.

  12. Mike
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    Like…I am trying to figure the legality issue on Flamingo feathers…..Why are Chilean Flamingo feathers ok….what makes them so?

    We have salt pans in close vicinity and there are always reasonable flocks of flamingos present being a mix of greater and lesser types (problably several hundred at any given time throughout the year)Also present are numerous jackals that predate oportunisticaly on them….so you find bodies and bits thereof strewn pretty much all over the place……what would the rule be in picking up left overs?

    Namibia

    • Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      I have friends in Kenya who live on a large lake with a lot of flamingoes. They have offered feathers so I asked the US Fish and Wildlife people. They said the greater and lesser flamingo feathers were not legal tro bring into the country, but I really don’t know why, no did I learn why Chilean flamingo feathers are ok to have in the USA.

  13. Alison
    Posted September 12, 2015 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    What are you supposed to do with the feathers that land on your property?

  14. Noelle
    Posted October 8, 2015 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    How do you know it is ok to have/sell mallard feathers? They are on the protected list.

  15. Dennis Swat
    Posted November 3, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I have purchased a mans tie back in 1970 or so. It was purchased at a nationwide department store as a gift for my father. He has since passed away. It is a beautiful tie made of duck feathers. At least that is what was advertised at the time of purchase. It was purchased legally. How would I know if it BECAME illegal to own? Could it become illegal after I purchased it ? I wish there was a way I could display a picture of it. Confused?? Dennis

    • Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      A lot of ducks are domestic and their feathers are legal to have. Mallards are hard to tell between wild and farm-raised so those are ok to have. Wild duck feathers are in most cases not legal to sell (except to fly tyers) but could be legal to have.

  16. Stefan
    Posted November 4, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Hej there,

    I have a question. I live in The Netherlands and I am coming to the United States in a while and a friend there asked me to bring some swan feathers that I found. Is is illegal for me to bring them to the States?

    Kind regards,

    Stefan Tim

    • Posted November 6, 2015 at 12:37 am | Permalink

      Hi Stefan,
      Feathers from mute swans are ok to have in the USA. Feathers from swans that live in north America, like tundra swans are not usually ok to have–even though they are hunted in some states. There may be other laws about bringing in feathers but that is what I know about having swan feathers in the USA.
      Chris

  17. Tom
    Posted November 7, 2015 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Hi Chris,
    If I find crow feathers lying on the ground in an area where lots of them hang out, is it illegal for me to pick them up?

    Thanks,
    Tom

    • Posted December 29, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Is it illegal to drive a tiny fraction over the speed limit? The question of just picking up a feather that is not legal to possess, like a crow feather, makes me think of busy traffic enforcement police who would only stop you if you were going very slightly of the speed limit if they wanted to stop you for another reason but could use that as an excuse.

  18. Daniel
    Posted November 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The list on this “guide is not complete, and the “I think” just turns me off. It is much simpler to go to USFW website where they have COMPLETE lists of species that are illegal and illegal to own.

    Legal: http://www.fws.gov/policy/library/2005/05-5127.html

    • Posted November 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I agree, it is not complete. just a start. I am not the go to final expert, just wrote about it once. Thank you for the reference, mentioned in the original blog.

  19. Alexis B
    Posted November 18, 2015 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    We live in Southern California in the eastern part of San Diego. We have California Quails all over our 4.5 acres of property. I love watching and listening to them. They’re very entertaining. Unfortunately we have a lot of coyotes out here, and from time to time I find piles of feathers where it appears the coyotes got one. There’s never any bones or other parts left behind. Is it legal for me to pick up their feathers that I find on our property?

    • Posted November 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Since California quail is hunted legally, it is ok to also have their lovely feathers.

  20. K.C
    Posted November 27, 2015 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Chris,
    A friend has asked that I send over Australian owl feathers that I found in Australia from Australia to the U.S. Is this illegal? The specific owl species is not endangered or protected in Australia.

    Thanks,
    K.C

    • Posted November 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      You would need to first find out if is ok to send out of Australia. When it comes into the U.S., besides any U.S. law having to do with the specific owl species, there are always health laws (you know, avian flu type of thing) that might cause an inspector to hold up the import.

  21. Posted January 18, 2016 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    I like your speeding analogy.
    Your artwork is really wonderful.

  22. Kat
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    If I happen to find feathers on the ground from a falcon, would that be illegal to collect them? I would not be harming the falcon, but there are a lot here where I am.

    • Posted February 26, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Most feathers you find on the ground, you aren’t supposed to have–falcon, robin, crow, eagle…

  23. Peter
    Posted February 25, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Can i have Parrot Bird Feathers?

  24. Sonia
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Do you know what the rules are in Canada regarding feathers from birds such as cardinals and blue jays?

    • Posted May 2, 2016 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      I am not familiar enough with laws outside my country to give good advice. You can check with Environment Canada’s laws on migratory birds. The country’s CITES laws may also be of help.

    • Posted May 2, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      There are laws that protect those birds. I believe that Environment Canada administers them.

  25. Cedar
    Posted March 6, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Hi there, in California the wild turkey is said to be an invasive species. Do you know if one is allowed to work with these feathers?

  26. justin
    Posted March 19, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Hello. It says you can not possess feathers from ravens. What if it is for religious purposes? I have 2 ravens feet that i dried with salt and i also have some feathers . They both came from a raven i found while walking. On the way to my destination i walked by a buildning and there was nothing, but on the way home there was a freshly dead raven under a big window on their lawn. I assume it hit the window and died i didnt want this bird to just die for nothing and seeing as how the birds remains could be usefull to me for religious reasons i decided to take what i could from the animal and use it. I wont be selling any of it and it will stay in my home. Is this legal or can i still get into trouble? Also, if illegal how illegal is it? Felony or….?

    • Posted May 2, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      That must have been a surprise to find that raven there when you returned. Having raven parts is not allowed in the USA under the Migratory Bird Act.

  27. lisa tso
    Posted March 20, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Nice to run into this site, thank you for sharing your discoveries & giving opportunity for discussions.
    Some of the comments compelled me to comment. it’s a shame folks cant keep whats found, but the reason for this is because where i live people will kill whole birds to get their feathers for art & trade , everyone would say, “i just found them”. You see? Most folks who honestly come by feathers keep them discreetly. If kept in a private, sacred manner, you shouldn’t be in fear of the wildlife division banging down your door. However blatently displaying it or profiting from it in any manner, may incurr karmic consequences. My husband is a Navajo Medicineman, so I have some experience on the topic.
    By the way I was checking it out because of some duck feathers I have. It was good to see info on mallards , because we make dreamcatchers & didn’t want to use chicken feathers like the ones made in china!

  28. Joe
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    *I think*I’ll just pick up whatever feathers I find on my land and tie my trout flies with them. To catch trout that are legal to eat. Feathers repurposed.

    Thanks for the article.

  29. jane Duke
    Posted April 11, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Chris,
    Your knowledge of birds and their feathers with regard to regualtory law and sharing of such is very informative. Thank you for your posts! I am going to Mexico to procure Chilean Flamingo Feathers. How will the airport know not to confiscate these feathers? Will they be able to determine them as Phoenicopterus chilensis?

    I am going for breeding season to acquire the feathers that lay on the beach.

    • Posted May 2, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I’m not so up on import-export requirements. USFWS officers are on call at major airports. But only a few would know how to identify or separate flamingo species’ feathers though they do have guidebooks. My suggestion: find out a bit more about feather import laws and document your feathers.

  30. Reid N.
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    I ah e a pair of red tail Hawks living I my backyard. Yesterday, I found a feather from one of them. I suppose I should get rid of it ?

  31. DJ
    Posted May 5, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Hi,
    Very nice information on your site . . . I have a question on cormorants. Moot question at this point, but I saw an unfotunate bird on a lake Erie beach that had apparently expired while swallowing a fish. Poor thing still had the tail sticking out of its gullet, made me so very sad. Anyway, as I am aware that many, many water bird’s ‘bits’ are illegal to own, I curbed my desire to obtain a few of the gorgeous black feathers. Please tell me that was correct? Thanks for your help!

    • Posted May 11, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      You are correct. No matter how a migratory bird died in North America, or even if it didn’t and just shed its feather in a yearly molt, the Migratory Bird Act says you can’t have any of these birds nor their parts, which means feathers.

  32. Aly Keyes
    Posted May 8, 2016 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Hello I live in Northern California and went to see a bird exhibit and I love owls! I saw one of the owls pick a father and throw it! I asked the owl keeper of I could have it and he said “yes actually because it is not native to North America.” I don’t remember the type of owl but my Father in Law told me hands down you can not keep a Raptor feather in California. I made a really pretty piece out of a silver arrow head and a turquoise piece with leather wrap and hung it in my car. He says if I get stopped they will take it? Is this true? Because I love it so much !! Thanks in advanced!! 🙂

    • Posted May 11, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Usually zoo keepers are pretty aware of the laws they need to abide by concerning feathers.

  33. Doug
    Posted June 20, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Found a roseate spoonbill wing on the golf course the other day. Apparently died a violent death by aligator. I’m guessing these these feathers aren’t legal to possess. Correct?

  34. Judy Ashton
    Posted June 25, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I used to have a cat that brought in feathers. LOL. Not much you can do about that.

  35. Chuck
    Posted June 26, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    So a barn owl feather is illegal, according to the migratory act of 1981. Yet, owls don’t migrate. I found one yesterday on the median of a highway. I grabbed it and bagged it. Called the local reservation, and left a message, i thought an elder may want the feathers/skin for ceremonies. I also pulled over a police officer, he gave me the number for dispatch for fish and wildlife. They haven’t returned my call. I dont want this beautiful animal to go to waste, yet i am unsure what the next step is.

  36. morgan
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    What about feathers from eagles/hawk/ravens not native to the us such as those in asian countries whose feathers you can find on alibaba? Are those legal to buy and possess and sell in items and goods un the usa?

    • Posted July 13, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      They at least probably wouldn’t fall under the auspices of the Migratory Bird Act.

  37. Donna
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a very helpful post.

2 Trackbacks

  • By Feathers and Felonies:The Impact of U.S. Bird Laws on Modern Spirituality | International News on June 29, 2015 at 7:55 am

    […] learn more about feathers and how to work with them legally, Chris Maynard has summed feather legalities well. NaturalFeathers.com also shares a good summary of the laws.  Lupa maintains a page dedicated […]

  • […] to our friends up north but most 'exotic bird' feathers are illegal to possess … Take a look at Guide to legal and illegal feathers in the USA – Featherfolio Hope this helps. __________________ We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready […]

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