Bird and Bird Habitat Conservation Legislation

Great Blue Heron with Fish - Photo: Frank Miles, USFWSUntil the late 19th century, there was little or perhaps no legal protection in the United States for birds or their habitats. For instance, birds were hunted and killed by the millions so their feathers could be used as hat decorations and fashion accessories.

Throughout history humans have included birds in spiritual and cultural expression. Birds are admired for their beauty and ability to fly. They provide food. Birds are essential to keeping insect pests in check in forests, on farms, and in backyards. Birds are important indicators of ecosystem health. Birds are residents of planet earth just like us.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
— John Muir

Fortunately, birds had and continue to have many advocates who have pursued and attained legal protection for birds and their habitats.

Bird and Bird Habitat Protection and Conservation Legislation

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service LogoThe U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Congressional and Legislative Affairs website maintains a list of current laws, treaties, interstate compacts, and other agreements.

Listed below are a few bird related legislation items and historical highlights.

1885: Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy is established within the USDA and studies the role of birds in controlling agricultural pests. It is later renamed Bureau of Biological Survey.

1900: Lacey Act is the first federal law to protect game animals and wild birds by prohibiting interstate shipment of illegally taken wildlife.

Red-winged Blackbirds in Flight - Photo: Mike Guyant, USFWS1903: Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge becomes the first federal bird reservation.

1913: Weeks-McLean Law is the first law to regulate hunting of migratory birds and prohibits importing wild bird feathers.

1918: Migratory Bird Treaty Act provides protection for migratory birds, their eggs, nests, and feathers. It replaces the Weeks-McLean Law and implements treaties with Canada, Japan, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.

1929: Migratory Bird Conservation Act creates the U.S. Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to oversee acquisition of refuge lands and states that refuges are to be managed as sanctuaries for migratory birds.

1934: Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act (also known as the Duck Stamp Act) requires waterfowl hunters to purchase a stamp and revenue generated is used to protect waterfowl habitat.

Red-tailed Hawk - Photo: Mark Bohn, USFWS1940: Fish and Wildlife Service is created under the Department of the Interior by combining the Bureaus of Biological Survey and Fisheries. It is later renamed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

1966: National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act formally establishes the National Wildlife Refuge System.

1971: Ramsar Wetlands Convention is adopted to encourage preservation of wetlands of international importance.

1973: Endangered Species Act expands to include endangered or threatened species habitat protection. Endangered Species Day is May 17th.

1975: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) treaty is entered into force to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international trade.

Blue Jay - Photo: Frank Miles, USFWS1989: North American Wetlands Conservation Act is enacted to encourage public-private partnerships to conserve migratory bird habitat, and establishes a council and grant fund.

1992: Wild Bird Conservation Act is enacted to ensure exotic bird species are not harmed by international trade and encourages wild bird conservation programs in countries of origin.

2000: Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act is enacted to promote bird habitat conservation in North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Note about Photos: The bird photos above were taken by members of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Click on a photo to view the original photo on flickr.

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Bird Day – Celebrate All Year

Although there are several Bird Days celebrated around the world, any day is a good day to celebrate birds.

Birds are beautiful, musical, important denizens of nature, fascinating to watch, and eat insect pests (they also eat my wildflower seeds). Oh, and they can fly.

Egret in Marsh - Photo: Author's Son AdamDuring our short wet time, egrets can be seen in the marshy areas. They are tall, bright white birds, elegant in flight and on the ground. There is no hiding for the egret. It seems to stand there and say, “I am proud to be me” or maybe “look at me, look at me”. The egret is my favorite bird. My son Adam took the egret photo for my website header and this one.

The First Bird Day

Professor Charles A. Babcock, Superintendent of Schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania, is credited with initiating the first Bird Day on May 4, 1894. His book, Bird Day: How to Prepare for It, published in 1901, shares the history of the Bird Day movement, value of birds, destruction of birds, and a study plan for school children.

Bird Painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes - Library of CongressAt the time, bird feathers, skins, and sometimes entire bodies were used to ornament hats and other articles of clothing. Millions of birds were being killed for fashion and bird habit was being lost as more land was cleared for development.

In order to build upon student’s interest in learning about birds and sharing their observations, Professor Babcock introduced a study plan that began in January and culminated on Bird Day in May.

The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, the Audubon Society, ornithologists, and other bird lovers supported and advocated for Bird Day.

National Bird Day

January 5, 2013, marked the 11th anniversary of National Bird Day, an initiative of Born Free USA, an animal welfare, and wildlife conservation organization. The purpose of National Bird Day is to inform the public and advocate for wild and pet bird welfare.

International Migratory Bird Day

International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) was created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to educate people about migratory birds, their importance in the environment, hazards they face, and ways to protect them.

Life Cycles of Migratory Birds - Art by Barry Kent MacKay for Environment for the AmericasThe first IMBD was celebrated in 1993 at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversaw the event from 1995 until 2007 when the nonprofit Environment for the Americas assumed responsibility for coordinating International Migratory Bird Day.

Generally, IMBD is celebrated the 2nd Saturday in May in the U.S. and Canada, and the 2nd Saturday in October in Mexico, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean.

IMBD events are hosted by bird clubs, local, state, and national parks, schools, zoos, and community groups. Events range from bird walks to education programs, to festivals. In 2012, there were over 500 registered events.

World Migratory Bird Day

To build on the success of International Migratory Bird Day, mostly observed in the Americas, World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) was created for the rest of the world in 2006 by the Secretariat of the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

World Migratory Bird Day is observed the 2nd weekend in May. In 2012, more than 250 events were registered in 81 countries around the world.

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