Rollback of Migratory Bird Protections Delayed by New Administration

The decision to delay implementation of this rule change offers an opportunity to reinstate and strengthen the 100-year-old law.

WASHINGTON - “Delaying the implementation of the Trump administration’s illegal rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is the right thing to do,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer, National Audubon Society. “This delay will allow a full reassessment of the rule change and we are hopeful that these critical bird protections will be reinstated.”

Today, the Biden administration announced it would delay the implementation of a rollback of MBTA protections finalized just weeks before the inauguration. The policy change by the Trump administration ignored the intent and language of the law to protect and conserve birds.

“It’s clear the new administration heeding the courts and hearing the countless Americans, and state, tribal, and international officials, and other leaders who said this rollback was bad policy,” said Greenberger.

New science has revealed the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970 and that two-thirds of those birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change. In light of these alarming reports, the National Audubon Society is advocating for a multi-front approach to reinstate the longstanding and common sense interpretation this foundational law.

“This is an important opportunity to not just reinstate the original policies, but strengthen the MBTA by pursuing a reasonable permitting process to manage incidental take,” said Greenberger. "We look forward to working with the Biden administration to make it happen.”

Just last month, Audubon and several other conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the final rule. The case is now slated to be heard by Judge Valerie Caproni, who overturned the legal basis for the rollback in August of 2020. The Trump administration proceeded with finalizing the rollback, despite Judge Caproni’s ruling.

The change by the Trump administration centered on the enforcement of “incidental take.” It attempted to limit the MBTA’s protection only to activities that purposefully kill birds, exempting all industrial hazards from enforcement. Any “incidental” death—no matter how inevitable, avoidable or devastating to birds—became immune from enforcement under the law. If this change had been in place in 2010, BP would have faced no consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“We also hope to see Congress pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act to clarify these longstanding protections and authorize this common-sense approach,” said Greenberger.

The Migratory Bird Protection Act was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in the 116th Congress and had a bipartisan group of 90+ co-sponsors. The bill would secure protections for birds and direct the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a permitting process for “incidental take” through which relevant businesses would implement best management practices and document compliance, further driving innovation in how to best prevent bird deaths. It would need to be reintroduced in this Congress in order to be considered again.


The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

Media Contact: Matt Smelser