In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our April 2016 issue:
If I find a dead bird, should I report it to an agency for disease tracking? Can I keep some of the feathers? — Kathleen Woodson, Seattle, Washington
Unless you have a special permit, it is against federal law to possess the feathers of any native bird, even feathers found on the ground. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act also prohibits the possession of any other bird parts, eggs, live or dead birds, and nests. An exception is made for legally hunted game birds. The law was enacted in 1918 to protect species that were being killed for their feathers — at the time popular on women’s hats. The act was written broadly because it would be too hard to prove whether feathers, eggs, or nests had been obtained from living birds or were just found objects.
Birds die from mundane causes, especially in populated areas. If you find a dead bird, usually the best course of action is simply to leave it or move it out of the way (though not with bare hands) and let nature take over. However, if you discover many dead birds, contact your state wildlife agency for guidance.
In recent years, many agencies tested dead crows, jays, and other birds for West Nile virus. Fewer officials are doing so today, now that the disease is widely established. Check with your county health department or state wildlife office to see if it takes reports. Some states have online forms you can fill out but no longer pick up carcasses for testing.
Finally, if the dead bird is an unusual species, you can contact a local university, museum, or nature center to see if it wants the carcass for educational purposes. If the group has proper permits, it will advise you on next steps.
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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