With the exception of european starlings, No, no across the board. To see what a starling looks like, check the end of this article, where there is a photograph of one of the little bastards.
All the smaller songbirds are protected. Hummingbirds, sparrows, finches- all of them, protected.
Wild Ducks, Swans, Turkeys.
wild turkey skull, human molar, domestic duck feathers, snail shells, nuts, squirrel bone, driftwood.
Wild turkey feathers and parts are legal, if they were legally hunted to obtain them. In other words you, or someone you purchased them from, must have a hunting license for turkey. That’s it. You can sell these feathers, trade them, keep them. As long as someone along the line has the license to hunt them, it’s fine. In fact, since they are game birds, you can actually keep their feathers if you find them! ISN’T THAT AMAZING. Their feathers are wonderful, too. Square tips and strong ferrules mean that they’re really resilient. You can dye them and paint them very easily, and trim them into any shape.
They’re also delicious birds.
Swans, on the other hand, are usually not legal to collect feathers from. The trumpeter swan is a big native bird that is almost gone, because it looks a little like some geese that are legal, so people shoot them by mistake. Mute swans, on the other hand, aren’t native. They’re considered domestic birds here in the Northwest, and their feathers aren’t illegal. Just be really, really careful about identifying them, because trumpeters are endangered, and their feathers really shouldn’t be kept.
Ducks are an insanely complicated subject. Some are game birds, and a free-for-all. Others are endangered to the point that only few dozen exist in the world. Some are domestic, or gone feral after escaping the farms. And even more are simply protected by the MBTA. If you’re not sure, leave the feather alone. If you have the chance, you can use the feather atlas to look up the feather- but don’t rely on it completely. Even if you think it’s legal, you can still be fined if it’s not.
Pigeons, Doves, Quail, Pheasants, Grouse.
The pigeons you normally see in cities are likely to be legal feathers to collect. Most of these birds are feral non-native animals, which were brought here then escaped. Mourning doves, rock pigeons, and the like are all fair game for feather collecting, and their feathers are strong and supple so you can dye and paint them, or trim them to mimic other species’ patterns.
Quail, like wild turkey, are a game bird here. You can eat them, hunt them with a license, collect feathers and sell them. Same with ringneck pheasants! Grouse, however, are a special class of game bird. There are a few species of grouse here in Cascadia that are protected. Some are endangered or rare, and therefore they’re covered by local game laws. The rule with grouse is if you can get a hunting license for the species, you can have a feather. If you aren’t allowed to hunt that species, you can’t have their feathers. You can check here for the list of species which are ok to hunt/collect feathers from.
Hawks and Falcons and non-eagle predators.
This is an osprey, a fish eagle. They’re really cool.
Hawks and falcons are just a tiny step below eagles, in their illegality. You can get a permit to collect or possess some hawk feathers- if you’re an educational institution. Unlike with eagles, there’s no exemption for Native American ritual use at all. Now, there are a few bizarre exceptions for falcons and hawks for use in falconry- but you will have to actually be a falconry participant and fill out a ream of permit applications. If you don’t have all those forms and permits, you can NOT have a feather from one of these animals. That means that even if you DO have those papers, you still can’t sell or trade them to anyone else.
hawks, owls, vultures, eagles, seagulls, ravens, small songbirds, NO NO NO.
crows, grouse, quail, wild turkey, MAYBE. Get a permit or hunting license.
city pigeons, your neighbor’s chickens and geese, peacocks, and african grey parrots? HELL YES.
canada goose? PLEASE GET A PERMIT BECAUSE THE ANSWER IS THEN YES
THIS BASTARD RIGHT HERE.
Starlings are exempt from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, which was passed for the protection of migratory birds. Their nests, eggs, young, and/or adults may be removed or destroyed at any time. No permit is required.
Exceptions to the rules.
you can freely take anything this guy drops on the ground.
If you’re a teacher, or you run a nature conservation educational facility, or a museum, you can get permits to display most of these birds and their feathers and parts. You can call up Fish and Game and explain what you want to do, and get the papers to fill out. You can’t sell or trade the feathers, but you can display them or use them to teach. There are permits for this, so if you teach third grade and you want to show the class a seagull’s feather, or a hawk foot, or a bluebird skull, you can get that form filled out and get permission to use one in class.
Some schools can get permission to keep these parts as well, so that all the instructors have access to them.
If you belong to specific Native tribes whose worship requires the use of certain plumage, you can sign on with the department of Fish and Game to obtain and own some of these birds and their feathers.
If you’re not Native, suck it the fuck up. Really, just suck it up. We don’t even belong here, like starlings or sedentary Canada geese, so quit shitting on the locals. If you’re the wrong tribe…suck it up. People who need that shit are already waiting years for it.
If you’re a museum curator, please stop reading my stupid fucking article and go take a thousand photographs, in good light, of every bird feather and skeleton and pelt you’ve got in your collection for me and other artists and researchers to use as reference. PLEASE. Shit, if you need help, email me. I will bring lights and a camera to you and take a thousand pictures for your institution to use and share. Not even joking.
If you’re a licensed taxidermist and merely working with the birds, you can get a permit to do just that, too. It won’t let you sell or keep the end result, though.
If you have a salvage and roadkill collection permit it doesn’t allow you to collect or keep MBTA protected birdstuffs. Sorry.
Now that we’ve talked about the letter of the law, let’s get a taste of the spirit of it.
I looked at a real dead owl to draw this guy. Then I buried the thing. This is totally ok to do, just don’t bring it home with you.
I want to link to an article about the passenger pigeon, to begin with. There are thought to be two main causes for this extinction- the death of vast forests full of the American Chestnut tree, and human depredation. Basically, they were hunted and eaten faster than they could reproduce, and the lack of a major food source meant they reproduced less. These two things combined completely destroyed the species (the last one died four years before the MBTA was first proposed.)While passenger pigeons are the most well-known birds we’ve wrecked, other birds were also affected by the total lack of regulations at that time. Fashion designers and hatmakers fed a craze for feathered embellishments, making vast sums of money by decorating things with heron and egret feathers (among others). These birds very nearly disappeared simply because of a trend in fashion.
heron at ballard locks in seattle. these guys were almost gone completely because HATS.
Some birds seem common to us, living in Cascadia. Seagulls (herring gulls) are a particularly common sight here. Even in towns pretty far from the coast, there seem to be so many that you might wonder why the hell they’re protected at all. The answer is that we’re not the only place on earth those birds belong, and over their entire range their population has been cut in half in the last ten years or so. In other words- we are the lucky ones who have gotten to keep most of our gulls. They need protecting because in another ten or twenty years, the gulls here might be the only ones left.
sea birds around a nesting area. it looks like a lot, but it might be ALL THERE ARE IN THE WORLD.
Now, if it were only a few of us collecting random shed feathers or picking up roadkill, most of these protected birds would be fine, and recover, and reproduce. People picking up a few feathers is only one small threat in a larger host of them, though. Most migratory birds have lost almost all of their territory to human settlement or development. The pressure on these animals is horrible. Take this problem, and now add poaching ON TOP, and you’ve got species destined to die out fast and thick. I mean, hell, there are critical species that haven’t even been seen for a hundred years– they’re not quite certainly extinct, but it’s pretty damn sure they are. A lot of those birds had lovely feathers, and a lot of them were poached to within an inch of extinction before the developers built over their nesting sites. Not keeping their feathers makes these edgy birds safer in general, and gives them a chance to win out despite their nesting sites and rest sites being destroyed.
Now add on top of ALL THAT, the fact that our climate is changing. Many birds have no place to go, or are now endangered simply by landing in the place they’ve landed for thousands of years. This is shitty for the birds, as is fracking and other careless mining and refining. All the birds that are native to our region are in big trouble. About half of them are at least threatened by climate changes, human development of the land, and pollution- the last thing these birds need is additional pressure from poachers. And when you pick up and keep a feather, you’re poaching. Your feathered cap gives poachers the idea that they can get away with keeping bird parts, because “it’s not for sale”.If you find a dead bird, by all means photograph the feathers and parts. Draw and sketch them. But don’t keep them or take them home to collect. Don’t give the people who will kill for feathers that feeling of safety in numbers. Good luck, and if you find an eagle down, hand it to the Natives. Some folks have been on that list, waiting, for years, and I am sure that only bad juju can accrue from making them continue to wait.
Additional resources and information, and an irrelevant beaver.
this beaver has no place in an article about birds. you can have hunks of beaver fur on your hat all day long. Fuck, you can make a hat OUT OF AN ENTIRE BEAVER, legally.
Giant, more inclusive list of state and federal laws regarding animal parts.
Another artist who uses legal feathers in their work weighs in on the subject.
Awesome site about birds that live here in the Northwest.
The redlist of seriously endangered birds.
!IF YOU HAVE FOUND A FEATHER OR A DEAD BIRD!
FEATHER ATLAS to identify found feathers and find out if they’re legal, OR to use as reference for patterns to paint replica feathers with.
Relatively FULL LIST of species you can legally possess feathers and parts from (may vary by state).
“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”
—Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” 1947
requisite soundtrack for this post. And happy Valentine’s day!
If you see one of these don’t try to pluck it. Trust me. It’d be legal, but unpleasant.