Proposed changes weaken Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Bald and Golden Eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Act. Endangered species are protected by the Endangered Species Act. But the vast majority of birds in the United States are protected only by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. There is currently a federal proposal to change the definition of ‘take’ under the Act. It sounds boring, right? But preserving the definition as it stands is important to the future of our birds.

To provide feedback on the proposed rule change, go to Audubon’s Action Center at or comment directly on the Federal Register page at You can read the comments of others here: You need to comment by Mar 19, 2020 at 11:59 PM EDT.

Black-bellied plover, Bald eagle whi American pelicans, White egret, Bufflehead duck

About the proposed rule changes…

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed rule changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that change the definition of ‘take’, exempting incidental takes from the law’s prohibitions. If the rule change passes, the law will only be applied to the deliberate act of pursuing, hunting, capturing, or killing birds, including Bald and Golden Eagles.

This seems sensible on its face. Who wants to end up a fine or jail time for accidentally hitting a bald eagle with a vehicle? Not me! But the USFWS is already extremely unlikely to pursue true, small-scale accidents. The proposed rule change will remove an important incentive for companies to adopt practices that protect birds from threats on a large-scale basis, including waste pits, oil spills, communication towers, development (think habitat loss), and windmill construction and operation, just to name a few. We’re not talking about the death of one bird – we’re talking about the death of thousands.

As the American Bird Conservancy points out: “The risk of liability under the MBTA has long provided the oil and gas industry, wind energy development companies, and power transmission line operators with an incentive to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize bird deaths. For example, in an effort to protect migratory birds and bats and avoid potential MBTA liability, the wind energy industry, conservation groups, and the Service worked to develop comprehensive guidelines aimed at ensuring best practices for siting and developing wind projects…Some companies put strong conservation practices in place without needing legal incentives, but having the law in place encourages all companies to do the right thing.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has provided important tools for the recovery, conservation, and protection of birds. This is no time to weaken it. Please leave your comment with Audubon or on the register.

PS: We also encouraged people to comment on the 30-year take proposal back in 2016. If you were upset about that, be sure to comment on this.