Summary of Federal Regulations in Regards to Migratory Game Birds
The following is a synopsis of Federal Regulations that
pertain to the hunting of migratory game birds. Persons
requiring more information should go to
where they will find a complete version of 50 CFR Part 20. When
State law is different from the following Federal law the hunter
must comply with the most restrictive law.
What terms do I need to understand?
Migratory Birds are birds protected by federal law as a result of treaties signed with other countries. Protected migratory birds are listed in Title 50 Code of Federal Regulations, Section. 10.13. This list includes almost all birds found in the United States with the exception of the English sparrow, feral pigeon (commonly called rock doves), European starling, Eurasian collard doves, Mute Swan, and upland game birds (which are protected by state laws).
All migratory birds are protected. However, a subset of migratory birds classified as migratory game birds and may be hunted in accordance with State and Federal regulations. The list of migratory game birds includes species of ducks, geese (including brant), swans, doves and pigeons, cranes, rails, coots, gallinules and moorhens, woodcock and snipe, if there is an open season.
Daily bag limit means the maximum number of migratory game birds of a single species or combination (aggregate) of species permitted to be taken by one person in any one day during the open season in any one specified geographic area for which a daily bag limit is prescribed.
Aggregate daily bag limit means the maximum number of migratory game birds permitted to be taken by one person in any one day during the open season when such person hunts in more than one specified geographic area and/or for more than one species for which a combined daily bag limit is prescribed. The aggregate daily bag limit is equal to, but shall not exceed, the largest daily bag limit prescribed for any one species or for any one specified geographic area in which taking occurs.
Possession limit means the maximum number of migratory game birds of a single species or a combination of species permitted to be possessed by any one person when lawfully taken in the United States in any one specified geographic area for which a possession limit is prescribed.
Aggregate possession limit means the maximum number of migratory
game birds of a single species or combination of species taken
in the United States permitted to be possessed by any one person
when taking and possession occurs in more than one specified
geographic area for which a possession limit is prescribed. The
aggregate possession limit is equal to, but shall not exceed,
the largest possession limit prescribed for any one of the
species or specified geographic areas in which taking and
Personal abode means one’s principal or ordinary home or
dwelling place, as distinguished from one’s temporary or
transient place of abode or dwelling such as a hunting club, or
any club house, cabin, tent or trailer house used as a hunting
club, or any hotel, motel or rooming house used during a
hunting, pleasure or business trip.
Migratory bird preservation facility means:
(1) Any person who, at their residence or place of business and for hire or other consideration; or
(2) Any taxidermist, cold-storage facility or locker plant which, for hire or other consideration; or
(3) Any hunting club which, in the normal course of operations; receives, possesses, or has in custody any migratory game birds belonging to another person for purposes of picking, cleaning, freezing, processing, storage or shipment.
Normal agricultural planting, harvesting, or post-harvest
manipulation means a planting or harvesting undertaken for the
purpose of producing and gathering a crop, or manipulation after
such harvest and removal of grain, that is conducted in
accordance with official recommendations of State Extension
Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
Normal agricultural operation means a normal agricultural
planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation, or agricultural
practice that is conducted in accordance with official
recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the
Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of
Normal soil stabilization practice means a planting for agricultural soil erosion control or post-mining land reclamation conducted in accordance with official recommendations of State Extension Specialists of the Cooperative Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for agricultural soil erosion control.
Baited area means any area on which salt, grain, or other feed has been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, if that salt, grain, or other feed could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over areas where hunters are attempting to take them. Any such area will remain a baited area for ten days following the complete removal of all such salt, grain, or other feed.
Baiting means the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering of salt, grain, or other feed that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them.
Manipulation means the alteration of natural vegetation or agricultural crops by activities that include but are not limited to mowing, shredding, discing, rolling, chopping, trampling, flattening, burning, or herbicide treatments. The term manipulation does not include the distributing or scattering of grain, seed, or other feed after removal from or storage on the field where grown.
Natural vegetation means any non-agricultural, native, or naturalized plant species that grows at a site in response to planting or from existing seeds or other propagules. The term natural vegetation does not include planted millet. However, planted millet that grows on its own in subsequent years after the year of planting is considered natural vegetation.
What hunting methods are illegal?
No persons shall take migratory game birds:
- With a trap, snare, net, rifle, pistol, swivel gun, shotgun larger than 10 gauge, punt gun, battery gun, machinegun, fish hook, poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance;
- With a shotgun of any description capable of holding more than three shells, unless it is plugged with a one-piece filler, incapable of removal without disassembling the gun, so its total capacity does not exceed three shells. This restriction does not apply during dates States haves selected under the Conservation Order for light geese (ie: greater and lesser snow and Ross’s geese).
- From or by means, aid, or use of a sinkbox or any other type of low floating device, having a depression affording the hunter a means of concealment beneath the surface of the water;
- From or by means, aid, or use of any motor vehicle, motor-driven land conveyance, or aircraft of any kind, except that paraplegics and persons missing one or both legs may take from any stationary motor vehicle or stationary motor-driven land conveyance;
- From or by means of any motorboat or other craft having a motor attached, or any sailboat, unless the motor has been completely shut off and/or the sails furled, and its progress there from has ceased:
- By the use or aid of live birds as decoys; although not limited to, it shall be a violation of this paragraph for any person to take migratory waterfowl on an area where tame or captive live ducks or geese are present unless such birds are and have been for a period of 10 consecutive days prior to such taking, confined within an enclosure which substantially reduces the audibility of their calls and totally conceals such birds from the sight of wild migratory waterfowl;
- By the use or aid of recorded or electrically amplified bird calls or sounds, or recorded or electrically amplified imitations of bird calls or sounds. This restriction does not apply during dates States haves selected under the Conservation Order for light geese (ie: greater and lesser snow and Ross’s geese).
- By means or aid of any motor driven land, water, or air conveyance, or any sailboat used for the purpose of or resulting in the concentrating, driving, rallying, or stirring up of any migratory bird;
- By the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, where a person knows or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.
It is legal to take migratory game birds including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, on or over the following lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas:
- Standing crops or flooded standing crops (including aquatics);
- Standing, flooded, or manipulated natural vegetation; flooded harvested croplands; or lands or areas where seeds or grains have been scattered solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation or normal soil stabilization practice;
- From a blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with natural vegetation;
- From a blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with vegetation from agricultural crops, as long as such camouflaging does not result in the exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of grain or other feed; or
- Standing or flooded standing agricultural crops where grain is inadvertently scattered solely as a result of a hunter entering or exiting a hunting area, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds.
It is legal to take migratory game birds, except waterfowl, coots and cranes, on or over lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas, and where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered solely as the result of manipulation of an agricultural crop or other feed on the land where grown, or solely as the result of a normal agricultural operation.
Wanton waste of migratory game birds No person shall kill or
cripple any migratory game bird without making a reasonable
effort to retrieve the bird, and retain it in his actual
custody, at the place where taken or between that place and
either (a) his automobile or principal means of land
transportation; or (b) his personal abode or temporary or
transient place of lodging; or (c) a migratory bird preservation
facility; or (d) a post office; or (e) a common carrier
Non-toxic Shot No person may take ducks, geese (including brant), and coots while possessing shot (either in shotshells or as loose shot for muzzleloading) other than approved non-toxic shot. For a list of approved non-toxic shot, see (http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/currentbirdissues/nontoxic.htm)
Opening Day of a Season No person on the opening day of the season shall possess any freshly killed migratory game birds in excess of the daily bag limit, or aggregate daily bag limit, whichever applies.
Field Possession Limit No person shall possess, have in custody, or transport more than the daily bag limit or aggregate daily bag limit, whichever applies, of migratory game birds, tagged or not tagged, at or between the place where taken and either (a) his automobile or principal means of land transportation; or (b) his personal abode or temporary or transient place of lodging; or (c) a migratory bird preservation facility; or (d) a post office; or (e) a common carrier facility.
Tagging requirement No person shall put or leave any migratory game birds at any place (other than at his personal abode), or in the custody of another person for picking, cleaning, processing, shipping, transportation, or storage (including temporary storage), or for the purpose of having taxidermy services performed, unless such birds have a tag attached, signed by the hunter, stating his address, the total number and species of birds, and the date such birds were killed. Migratory game birds being transported in any vehicle as the personal baggage of the possessor shall not be considered as being in storage or temporary storage.
Custody of birds of another No person shall receive or have in custody any migratory game birds belonging to another person unless such birds are properly tagged.
Termination of possession Subject to all other requirements of this part, the possession of birds taken by any hunter shall be deemed to have ceased when such birds have been delivered by him to another person as a gift; or have been delivered by him to a post office, a common carrier, or a migratory bird preservation facility and consigned for transport by the Postal Service or a common carrier to some person other than the hunter.
Gift of migratory game birds No person may receive, possess, or give to another, any freshly killed migratory game birds as a gift, except at the personal abodes of the donor or donee, unless such birds have a tag attached, signed by the hunter who took the birds, stating such hunter's address, the total number and species of birds and the date such birds were taken.
Transportation of birds of another No person shall transport migratory game birds belonging to another person unless such birds are properly tagged.
Species identification requirement No person shall transport within the United States any migratory game birds, except doves and band-tailed pigeons, unless the head or one fully feathered wing remains attached to each such bird at all times while being transported from the place where taken until they have arrived at the personal abode of the possessor or a migratory bird preservation facility.
Marking package or container No person shall transport by the Postal Service or a common carrier migratory game birds unless the package or container in which such birds are transported has the name and address of the shipper and the consignee and an accurate statement of the numbers of each species of birds therein contained clearly and conspicuously marked on the outside thereof.
Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp The law requires that each waterfowl hunter 16 years of age and older must carry on his person a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Federal Duck Stamp) that is validated by the hunter signing the stamp in ink across the face of the stamp.
More restrictive regulations may apply to National Wildlife Refuges opened to public hunting. For additional information on refuge specific regulations see http://www.fws.gov/refuges/