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 Finches, 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.

Written by Chris Maynard

Chris Maynard

Chris Maynard is passionate about feathers and has worked with them since he was 12 years old. His work is apreciated around the world

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21 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. 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.

  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.

  9. 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

  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

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