Guide to legal and illegal feathers in the USA


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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  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.

  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.

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