For the Birds Radio Program: Legal Protection of Birds

Original Air Date: Aug. 6, 1986

Laura talks about the best approach to solving bird problems.

Duration: 3′41″


Although it is 1986, a full fourteen years since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was amended to increase protection of native American birds, some people still shoot at crows, jays, hawks, eagles, and even small songbirds, flouting both the law of the land and the bounds of human decency.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson signed the original Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada to protect the song- and gamebirds which we share. In 1936, a convention with Mexico extended this treaty, protecting many birds over the entire continent. But back then, most people didn’t recognize the importance of scavengers and birds of prey in the natural world, and so many species were not protected.

It was Richard Nixon’s administration which extended protection to crows and many other species in an amendment to the Migratory Bird Treaty passed in 1972. Now it is illegal to kill, capture, or harass any native bird without a permit—or to collect nests or eggs. Violations are punishable with both a heavy fine and a jail sentence. The only birds not protected at all are the House Sparrow and the European Starling, which were both introduced from Europe.

Sometimes an individual bird or a group of birds becomes a nuisance to people. Downy Woodpeckers occasionally start digging into the wood siding of a house, causing a good deal of damage. Pileated Woodpeckers sometimes destroy telephone and power company poles.

Some people don’t want Cliff Swallows to build mud nests on their houses. The City of Duluth considers these swallows’ adobe houses, plastered all around the arena and the Port Terminal, to be nuisances.

A lot of people object to the huge numbers of gulls around the city all summer—the FAA was so concerned about gulls near the airport at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s landfill that they had to close the dump.

Some people object to wake up calls—when it’s four-thirty a.m., and it’s a crow doing the calling.

(Recording of a Common Crow)

All in all, it’s true that birds can be nuisances sometimes, and the law recognizes this. If you have a problem with a particular bird, call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—they have a Duluth office. If the problem is serious, they may issue a permit to capture or kill the bird. But most bird problems can be solved without destroying the bird, and they will advise you about the best solution to your problem. If the problem is one of noise or aesthetics, perhaps Robert Frost had the best answer, in his poem, “A Minor Bird.”

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

That was Robert Frost, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”

(Recording of a Common Crow)