Is It Illegal To Have An Eagle Feather? Everything You Need To Know

With their impressive size and striking patterns, eagle feathers understandably intrigue nature lovers and collectors. However, the legalities surrounding eagle feather possession in the U.S. are complex due to the protected status of bald and golden eagles.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, in most cases it is illegal for a private citizen to possess any part of a bald or golden eagle, including feathers, without proper permits.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain the laws around eagle feathers and parts, exceptions for certain groups, legal ways to acquire them, and penalties for illegal possession.

Background on Bald and Golden Eagle Protection

The majestic bald and golden eagles are iconic symbols of strength, freedom, and the natural beauty of the United States. However, due to their historical decline in population, several laws have been put in place to protect these magnificent birds and their feathers.

Understanding the background and significance of these laws is crucial for anyone who wants to possess or handle eagle feathers.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) was enacted in 1940 to protect these birds from hunting, poaching, and disturbance. Under this act, it is illegal to possess, sell, or transport eagle feathers or any other part of the bird, unless you have a valid permit issued by the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Violators of this act can face hefty fines and even imprisonment.

This legislation was put in place because the bald and golden eagles were facing a significant decline in their populations due to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and pesticide poisoning. The BGEPA has played a vital role in the recovery of these species, and their populations have seen a remarkable increase over the years.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

In addition to the BGEPA, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) also provides protection for bald and golden eagles. This act, passed in 1918, prohibits the possession, capture, or killing of migratory birds, including eagles, without proper permits.

The MBTA aims to protect all migratory birds and their feathers, nests, and eggs.

It’s important to note that the MBTA covers not only bald and golden eagles but also a wide range of other bird species that migrate across international borders. This act was implemented to ensure the conservation and sustainable management of migratory bird populations.

Conservation Success but Still Threatened

Thanks to the efforts made through the BGEPA and the MBTA, the populations of bald and golden eagles have shown remarkable recoveries. However, these magnificent birds still face threats such as habitat loss, electrocution from power lines, and illegal activities.

Conservation organizations continue their work to protect and preserve these iconic birds. Through research, habitat restoration, and public education, they strive to ensure a thriving future for bald and golden eagles.

If you’re interested in learning more about these efforts and how you can contribute, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

Remember, it is important to respect and protect the bald and golden eagles and their feathers. Admiring these majestic creatures in their natural habitats and learning about their conservation efforts can be a rewarding experience for everyone.

Illegal Possession for Most Citizens

When it comes to the possession of eagle feathers, it is important to note that there are strict laws in place to protect these majestic birds. In the United States, the possession of eagle feathers is regulated by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

This act makes it illegal for most citizens to possess eagle feathers or any other parts of these birds without the proper permits or exemptions.


One of the most common questions people have is whether it is illegal to possess eagle feathers. The answer is yes, for the most part. Eagle feathers are considered to be highly sacred and culturally significant to Native American tribes.

As a result, the possession of eagle feathers is restricted to enrolled members of federally recognized Native American tribes. They are allowed to possess and use eagle feathers for religious and cultural purposes.

For non-Native Americans, possessing eagle feathers is generally illegal. However, there are some exceptions that allow non-Native Americans to possess eagle feathers under certain circumstances. For example, if you find an eagle feather in the wild and report it to the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service, you may be able to obtain a permit that allows you to keep the feather.


In addition to feathers, it is also illegal for most citizens to possess other parts of eagles, such as talons, beaks, or bones. These parts are also protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Again, there are exceptions for enrolled members of federally recognized Native American tribes who may be allowed to possess and use these parts for cultural and religious purposes.


The protection of eagle nests is also a crucial part of eagle conservation efforts. It is illegal to disturb or destroy an active eagle nest without a permit. This includes removing feathers or other parts from the nest.

If you come across an eagle nest, it is important to admire it from a distance and not disturb the birds or their habitat.

It is worth noting that the penalties for violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act can be severe. Offenders can face fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.

It is important to respect and abide by these laws to ensure the continued protection of these magnificent birds.

For more information on eagle feather possession and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

Legal Exceptions for Native Americans

When it comes to possessing eagle feathers, there are legal exceptions that apply to Native Americans. These exceptions recognize the religious and cultural significance that eagle feathers hold for many tribes across the United States.

Religious and Cultural Significance

Eagle feathers have deep spiritual and cultural significance within Native American communities. They are often used in sacred ceremonies and rituals, symbolizing strength, wisdom, and connection to the divine.

Recognizing the importance of these feathers, the federal government has made legal exceptions to allow Native Americans to possess and use them.

For Native Americans, being able to possess eagle feathers is not just a matter of personal preference, but an integral part of their identity and heritage. It is a way for them to honor their ancestors, connect with their traditions, and maintain their cultural practices.

Tribal Enrollment Required

In order to legally possess eagle feathers, Native Americans must be enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe. This requirement ensures that the exceptions are limited to those who have a legitimate connection to Native American culture and traditions.

Tribal enrollment serves as proof of Native American identity and affiliation, and it is necessary to provide this documentation when applying for permits or participating in activities that involve eagle feathers.

Permit Process

In addition to tribal enrollment, Native Americans must also go through a permit process to obtain eagle feathers legally. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to individuals who can demonstrate a genuine need for eagle feathers for religious or cultural purposes.

The permit process includes providing documentation of tribal affiliation, explaining the specific religious or cultural use for the feathers, and demonstrating that there are no feasible alternatives available.

This process helps ensure that the exceptions are granted to those who truly need them and are committed to respecting the sacred nature of eagle feathers.

It is important to note that the possession and use of eagle feathers by non-Native Americans without the necessary permits is illegal under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

These laws aim to protect these majestic birds and their feathers from illegal trade and exploitation.

For more information on the legal exceptions for Native Americans regarding eagle feathers, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

Acquiring Eagle Feathers Legally

If you are interested in owning an eagle feather, it is important to understand the legalities surrounding their possession. In the United States, it is generally illegal to possess or sell eagle feathers or parts without proper authorization.

However, there are a few exceptions that allow individuals to acquire eagle feathers legally.

Biological Supply Companies

One way to legally obtain an eagle feather is through biological supply companies. These companies work with licensed wildlife rehabilitators and Native American tribes to provide feathers and other wildlife specimens for educational and scientific purposes.

By purchasing from these companies, you can ensure that the feathers you acquire are obtained legally and ethically.

Collections of Natural History Museums

Natural history museums often have extensive collections of feathers, including those of eagles. These feathers are obtained through various legal methods such as confiscations from illegal activities or donations from individuals who have acquired them legally.

Visiting a natural history museum can provide you with the opportunity to see and learn about eagle feathers without violating any laws.

Inherited or Received as Gifts

In some cases, individuals may come into possession of eagle feathers through inheritance or as gifts. If the feathers were legally obtained by the person who passed them down or gifted them to you, then you can possess them without breaking any laws.

It is important to keep documentation or proof of the legality of their acquisition in case you are ever questioned about their origin.

Note: It is essential to be aware of the specific laws and regulations regarding eagle feather possession in your country or region. This information can be obtained from government websites or wildlife conservation organizations.

Penalties and Enforcement for Illegal Possession


Illegal possession of an eagle feather can result in significant fines. The specific amount varies depending on the country and the circumstances of the offense. In the United States, for example, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act imposes fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.

These fines are intended to deter people from unlawfully possessing eagle feathers and to protect these majestic creatures.

Jail Time

In addition to fines, individuals caught illegally possessing eagle feathers may also face jail time. Again, the length of the sentence depends on the jurisdiction and the severity of the offense. In the United States, violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act can result in imprisonment for up to one year for a first offense, with subsequent offenses carrying stiffer penalties.

These penalties serve as a reminder of the seriousness of this crime and the importance of protecting endangered species.


When eagle feathers are illegally possessed, authorities have the power to confiscate them. These feathers are then typically used for educational or cultural purposes, such as being displayed in museums or used for ceremonial activities.

Confiscation serves as both a punishment for the offender and a means of preserving the feathers and respecting their cultural significance. It also acts as a deterrent, as potential offenders know that their illegal possessions may be taken away from them.

It is essential to note that the penalties and enforcement measures discussed here apply to the illegal possession of eagle feathers in certain countries and under specific laws. It is always best to consult with local authorities and familiarize oneself with the relevant regulations to ensure compliance and respect for the protection of these magnificent birds.


In summary, the possession of eagle feathers and parts by private citizens is prohibited by federal law in most cases, with exceptions made for enrolled Native Americans using them for religious practices. Those who wish to legally obtain eagle feathers can acquire them from certain suppliers.

The restrictions aim to protect now-thriving eagle populations. With heavy penalties possible, it is imperative that anyone considering owning an eagle feather understands the complex regulations surrounding them.

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