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What Are Migratory Birds MBTA
MBTA and DoD

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918 is the primary legislation in the U.S. established to conserve migratory birds. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a treaty with Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) for the protection of the "many species of birds which in their annual migration traverse certain parts of the United States and Canada". Congress implemented the treaty with Great Britain by enacting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. In later years, the United States signed similar treaties with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972), and the Soviet Union (1976). By amendments, Congress incorporated these treaties into the statute.

Within the U.S., migratory birds are protected by these four bilateral treaties, implemented through Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, as amended. The USFWS, which has trust responsibility for migratory birds, is currently responsible for conservation and management of 1007 species of migratory birds.

Under the MBTA, no one may take, pursue, hunt, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, import, export, or transport any migratory bird, or their parts (including feathers), nests, or eggs except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations. The MBTA covers migratory bird species protected under four international treaties between the U.S. and Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia. All but a few of the bird species naturally occurring in the U.S. are protected under the MBTA.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act (MBTRA), which became effective on December 8, 2004, excludes non-native species from application of certain prohibitions under the MBTA. The MBTRA declares that a migratory bird species that occurs in the U.S. or its territories solely as a result of intentional or unintentional human-assisted introduction shall not be considered native for purposes of the MBTA. While this means that nuisance non-native species, such as Mute Swans, may be taken without an MBTA permit (in fact, the determination means that the Service can no longer issue permits of any kind for this species), these species might still be covered under applicable state regulations.

Executive Order 13186

Executive Order 13186, Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds, was signed by the President on January 10, 2001. It was a crucial first step in creating a more comprehensive strategy for the conservation of migratory birds by the Federal government, thereby fulfilling the government’s duty to lead in the protection of this international resource. The Executive Order provides a specific framework for the Federal government’s compliance with its treaty obligations to Canada, Mexico, Russia and Japan. The Executive Order also serves to enhance coordination and communication among Federal agencies regarding their responsibilities under the four bilateral treaties on the conservation of migratory birds (Canada - 1916, Mexico - 1936, Japan - 1972, Russia - 1978). The Executive Order provides broad guidelines on conservation responsibilities and requires the development of more detailed guidance in Memoranda of Understanding. It built upon the progress that had been made in recent years on conservation of migratory birds. For example, the Executive Order can aid in incorporating national planning for bird conservation into agency programs and provide the formal Presidential guidance necessary for agencies to incorporate migratory bird conservation more fully into their programs.