A Huge Win for Birds: Migratory Bird Treaty Act

On August 11 the Federal Court in New York struck down the Trump Administration’s attempt to reverse a century of bird protection by eliminating “incidental take” provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. These provisions are critical, and allow the federal government to hold industry accountable when they kill protected bird species.

Great Horned Owl fledglings perched on a branch.
Great Horned Owl fledglings, photo by Scott Carpenter

“This is a huge win for our wild birds,” said Bird Alliance of Oregon Conservation Director Bob Sallinger. “The Trump Administration, at the behest of giant corporate interests, attempted to gut our nation’s most important bird protection law. The court has now made it clear that the MBTA does in fact protect wild birds from both direct and incidental take and the Trump Administration’s attempt to give bird killing industries a free pass was illegal and will not stand. At a time when a third of North American bird species are facing serious declines, these protections are more important than ever.”  

In ruling the opinion illegal, the court found that the language of the MBTA was clear and includes incidental take. 

The law states: “It shall be unlawful to hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill … by any means whatever … at any time or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of the convention between the United States and Great Britain for the protection of migratory birds.” 

The prohibition on incidental take allows the government to hold industries accountable, including oil companies that kill birds in oil spills, utilities that electrocute birds on power lines, pesticide companies whose products poison birds, and wind developers that build wind farms in irresponsible locations. Tha MBTA protections apply to over 1,000 North American Bird Species.

“The incidental take provisions have been critically important for addressing some of the biggest threats to wild birds,” says Sallinger. “This is a very good day for our wild birds.”  

The lawsuit was brought by National Bird Alliance of Oregon, American Bird Conservancy, several other conservation groups and several states, including Oregon. 

Red-tailed Hawk, photo by Mick Thompson