The Great Egret’s beautiful shower of white feathers and plume hunter’s greed nearly caused this most elegant of creatures to become exterminated in North America. Because of the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 1918, slowly but steadily, the Great Egret is recovering. An increasing number of pairs are breeding today in Massachusetts.
A chance encounter and a joy to observe this Great Egret, floofing, poofing, and preening after a day hunting in the marsh.
The MBTA states that it is unlawful to kill, hunt, sell, or possess most native species of birds in the United States without a permit and it is one of our nation’s most foundational conservation laws.
Birds Protected Under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act
USFWS: Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements four international conservation treaties that the U.S. entered into with Canada in 1916, Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and Russia in 1976. It is intended to ensure the sustainability of populations of all protected migratory bird species.
The law has been amended with the signing of each treaty, as well as when any of the treaties were amended, such as with Mexico in 1976 and Canada in 1995.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) prohibits the take (including killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport) of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The List of Migratory Bird Species Protected by the MBTA
The list of migratory bird species protected by the law is primarily based on bird families and species included in the four international treaties. In the Code of Federal Regulations one can locate this list under Title 50 Part 10.13 (10.13 list). The 10.13 list was updated in 2020, incorporating the most current scientific information on taxonomy and natural distribution. The list is also available in a downloadable Microsoft Excel file.
A migratory bird species is included on the list if it meets one or more of the following criteria:
- It occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes and is currently, or was previously listed as, a species or part of a family protected by one of the four international treaties or their amendments.
- Revised taxonomy results in it being newly split from a species that was previously on the list, and the new species occurs in the United States or U.S. territories as the result of natural biological or ecological processes.
- New evidence exists for its natural occurrence in the United States or U.S. territories resulting from natural distributional changes and the species occurs in a protected family.