Threats to Migratory Bird Treaty Act

American Kestrel

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is America’s cornerstone bird conservation law. Audubon led the charge to help pass the law in 1918, and it has since saved millions of birds and numerous species from the brink of extinction. Now signs are pointing to growing threats to this law, placing America’s birdlife in danger.

The MBTA protects most of the nation’s native birds by making it unlawful to kill, hunt, sell, or possess more than 1,000 species, along with their nests, eggs, and feathers, without a permit. It is credited with helping turn the tide against the plume trade and market hunting, which devastated bird populations in the early 20th century. Today, threats to birds continue, and the protections afforded by the MBTA are as vital as ever.

In recent years, the law has come under attack. Audubon rallied to oppose the “bird killer amendment” in 2015, which would have prevented any enforcement of the law. Legislation introduced last Congress would have given a free pass to deaths from industrial activities that incidentally kill birds, such as oil waste pits, power lines, and gas flares. Neither effort moved forward in the last Congress.

Audubon also supported a proactive approach to strengthening the MBTA by addressing these industrial activities more directly through a permit process. The process has since been suspended by the Trump administration.

In this current political environment, core laws like the Endangered Species Act and others are under increasing attack. Chatter about undermining the MBTA is growing, from the halls of Washington to the pages of the Wall Street Journal (see our response here), and the threat to the law is expanding. These efforts could limit or end the protections for about 1,000 species of birds, from backyard birds like American Robins, to Red-tailed Hawks, and Common Loons, and declining species across the country like American Kestrels, Cerulean Warblers, and more.

We will be working hard to defend the MBTA. As we approach the law’s one hundredth anniversary, we will be on guard to continue Audubon’s proud legacy and keep the MBTA just as vital and effective in its next century. Please stay tuned for opportunities to take action.