Eagle Feather Law

superior quality imitation eagle plumes and featherwork for powwow dancers
SPECIAL NEWS: I am now employed full-time in a scientific career outside the home.  I have drastically reduced my crafting inventory and will no longer produce new featherwork for sale to powwow dancers.  I no longer take ANY requests or custom orders for featherwork. I am currently selling off my supplies at 50% off; see this.


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Eagle Feather Law

walela49 on eagle feather laws  

10/12/12 Update in progress:  The U.S. Department of Justice has just issued a policy statement which has clarified many gray areas of interpretation of eagle feather law.  In response to the release of the clarified policy, I will be re-writing my popular "Eagle Feather Law" webpage.  Please check back later for updates.


Due to recent and continuing reports of "eagle feather raids" note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE and arrests by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, several individuals have contacted me with questions about eagle feather laws, how they affect my business, and how they affect my customers.  Now, I'm finally publishing my thoughts and opinions on the matter.  My business policy on has always been published on my website but will be explained in greater detail here. Though I do have more knowledge about wildlife law than an average native* or non-native citizen, I am not a legal expert in these matters, and my words should not be used as a substitute for legal advice.

My background:

Primarily, my knowledge and understanding of laws pertaining to eagle feathers comes from my education.  I hold a bachelors degree in biology from Angelo State University in San Angelo, TX.  My emphasis was zoology and natural history, specifically mammals, and I worked in the Angelo State Natural History Collection as a curatorial assistant in the mammal and bird collection. I can identify most North American birds by sight, and I also have extensive knowledge of wild and domestic bird plumage.  Additionally, I have field experience in the collection of mammal specimens and am quite familiar with permit laws.

I also hold a Masters degree in Museum Science from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX.  My emphasis was natural science collection curation.  I proudly maintained a 4.0 in my graduate studies, including the course titled "Museum Law" then taught by Dr. Marilyn Phelan. I've studied artists' rights and wildlife law in great detail and have a thorough understanding of how such laws pertain to works of art, museum specimens, and other collection objects containing parts from endangered or otherwise protected species of animals.  While at Texas Tech, I worked in the Natural Science Research Laboratory as a curatorial assistant in the vertebrate collections, and I also conducted my Master's thesis research during one summer field session of the Biological Survey of Texas.

My Business Practices and Policies:

For the past few years, in order to stay home to raise my two children, I have chosen to work as a home-based, free-lance artist.  My medium of choice is feathers. Though I do not currently work in my field of biological study, I am thankful that I can call upon my background in wildlife law to aid me in managing my business, as it is wholly sales-based.  Simply put, I sell feathers. Allow me to emphasize: I only sell LEGAL feathers.  All of the feathers I use in my work are from domestic commercially raised birds such as turkeys, peacocks, pheasant, and pet macaws.  I maintain extensive business records and receipts for all of my supplies purchases from both commercial and private vendors. 

I do not and never have sold or traded eagle feathers, hawk feathers, or feathers from any other wild bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and Bald Eagle Protection Act.  As a professional featherworker, I am often asked, "Will you work on my real feathers?" My standard business policy and normal response is as follows:

Plumes: If you have an NER permit, yes, I will rework your real eagle plumes.  note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE Prices are the same as listed on my “Legal Plumes Prices” page.   Because I do not typically accept custom orders, preference will be given to customers with whom I have worked previously; and waiting times can extend up to 6 weeks..

Fans: If you have an NER permit, yes, you can provide your own eagle feathers for me to use in making a fan.  note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE Prices are listed on my “Peyote Fan Prices” page.  Because I do not typically accept custom orders, preference will be given to customers with whom I have worked previously; and wait times can extend up to 6 months.

A copy of your permit is required when mailing real eagle feathers. The permit and any unused feathers will be returned.  I do not sell real eagle feathers.  Charges for reworking existing eagle plumes and feathers are for labor and supplies only.

Why do I require a copy of your repository permit?  Mailing your permit with your genuine feathers is for your protection and mine. Your permit was mailed to you when you received your eagle from the National Eagle Repository (NER) in Denver, CO. and is the only document that will prove that you obtained eagle parts legally note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE.  Should the package be opened enroute, the feathers should not be confiscated when accompanied by your permit. 

Postage (for feathers loaned to me) is the responsibility of the customer.  Delivery confirmation and insurance on your feathers is strongly recommended, because I am not responsible for your property until the feathers reach my place of business.  

I cannot emphasize enough that I do not sell feathers from eagles or any other protected bird.  All of my products are 100% legal to buy, sell, mail, trade, import, and export by domestic and foreign customers. In the occasional instance that a customer provides his or her own eagle feathers (accompanied by NER permit) for an order, I am allowed to charge for my skill in adding structure, threadwork, beadwork, etc. to such feathers.  The feathers themselves are not part of the sale as they are on temporary loan to me for use in completing the order.  Additionally, if a customer proposes a trade of goods in lieu of monetary compensation for my work, the only items I will consider accepting are legal feathers and supplies I would normally purchase elsewhere for use in my work.  I have never and will never accept feathers from protected species as payment for my work. I am a professional featherworker who operates completely within the law, and I require the same from my customers because I desire to protect my business and any profit from my business that helps provide for my family.   

NOTE: Because I no longer pre-book custom orders and only sell my work on my Regalia For Sale pages, I no longer complete items using genuine eagle feathers provided by the customer; however, I am choosing to leave the information on this page for reference only.

The laws:

Bald Eagle Protection Act, 1940 (amended in 1962 to include golden eagles)

Endangered Species Act

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Lacey Act

The National Eagle Repository (NER): note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE

In my online career as a featherworker, I often correspond with natives* who do not know that the National Eagle Repository exists.

Established by the US Fish and Wildlife service in the early 1970’s and located near Denver Colorado, this is the ONLY place where natives* can acquire eagles or their parts legally.

Additionally, all local, state, or federal aviaries, zoos, museums, falconers, rehabilitators, and other agencies who may legally possess eagles are encouraged to send dropped feathers, other parts, and any dead birds to the repository for storage and redistribution to approved native* applicants.

Potential applicants should go to the NER website for information on applying for your eagle and permit.  Please also see this for a direct link to the USFWS eagle permit application.

The Repository has a lengthy waiting list, so please keep your contact information on file at the NER updated if you move or change phone numbers.

Always keep your permit in a safe location and make several copies for yourself and family members to carry with your regalia.  Please note that this permit does not allow you to sell, barter, trade, import, or export your eagle, parts from your eagle, or any other eagle or parts.  This permit does not allow you to gift feathers to non-native persons. This permit does allow you to hand down these feathers to family members who maintain a copy of the permit.   

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE

The USFWS is a large governmental agency that works to conserve and protect our nation’s wildlife and habitats for the benefit of the American public.

The USFWS has a law enforcement division with fewer than 400 agents charged with a long list of duties related to wildlife management for the entire United States.  Only a tiny portion of the work of these few agents concerns native* use of eagle feathers. It is my professional opinion and conclusion that grapevine reports of “eagle feather raids and busts” are usually blown wildly out of proportion, oftentimes morphing into semi-factual or non-factual urban legends.  Media reports about arrests of persons (native* or non-native) shooting and selling eagles do tend to spark the “rumor-mill”, but such reports should be viewed as reminders of laws with which we should all familiarize ourselves. Primarily, eagle feather laws exist for the benefit and preservation of these birds and their environment. Additionally, eagle feather laws exist to facilitate the legally protected continuation of Native American religious and cultural practices that require the use of eagles or their feathers and parts during a modern era of species loss and habitat destruction.  Finally, eagle feather laws exist to give law enforcement agents the power to pursue and prosecute offenders.  

So, I will get right to the matters that worry most powwow dancers:  

Your concerns: note to self: REWRITE NEEDED HERE

 “How does this affect me?”  
If you are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, AND you keep a copy of your NER permit with your dance clothes, you have little or nothing to fear.  Please be aware that simply providing your tribal identification IS NOT enough legal documentation to claim right to possess eagle feathers. A tribal ID only provides legal proof that you are enrolled in a tribe.  A tribal ID does not provide legal proof that you obtained your eagle feathers from the NER. If a wildlife official has no legal proof that you obtained your eagle parts in accordance with the law (in other words, from the NER with an associated permit), that wildlife official may confiscate your feathers.  If someone claiming to be a “game warden” or agent of the USFWS ever approaches you, please remember to politely ask for identification and proof of employment by the FWS before complying with his or her requests.

“Who is an offender?”  
Generally, eagle feather laws are broad and sweeping legislation that could result in countless possible infractions by common citizens everyday in all parts of the country. Technically according to the law, no one, including natives*, is allowed to pick up and possess a feather of ANY protected bird even if found on the street.  In my opinion, full and technical enforcement of these laws is nearly impossible because I believe that wildlife agents do not have the time or resources to do so. I feel confident in stating my opinion that wildlife officials are far more concerned with persons who show blatant disregard for the laws and the wildlife those laws are meant to protect.   

Here’s my top list of actions that show blatant disregard for the law and, when reported or otherwise discovered, will result in USFWS investigation and probable prosecution:


Shooting eagles in the US;


Shooting eagles in Canada and carrying them into the US;


Selling eagles or their feathers;


Intentionally destroying eagle nests, eggs, or known habitats (typically this is more a of a concern for farmers, ranchers, commercial real estate developers, etc)

"What about my old feathers?"
The repository does allow natives* to obtain permits for feathers handed down through family generations.  Please contact the NER for further details.

"What about my hawk feathers?"
Though this discussion primarily deals with eagle feathers, hawks are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Whereas the Bald Eagle Protection Act makes allowances for the NER to provide permits for native* use of eagle feathers, I know of NO PERMITS for use of feathers from hawks, flickers, anhingas, herons, or any other migratory bird, so I cannot work on those feathers for you.

> 5/1/11 UPDATE: As of the summer of 2010, the Comanche Nation has created the first Native American feather repository for culturally significant feathers other than eagle.  See this.  Members of ANY federally recognized tribe can now submit permit applications for protected migratory birds like the above mentioned hawks, flickers, anhingas, etc.  Special thanks to Nick Tahchawwickah for bringing this ground-breaking facility to my attention.  I am truly excited to share the word that these permits now exist!

Update in progress; please check back later 
>10/12/12 UPDATE
See this. The US Department of Justice has just issued a clarified policy that addresses many natives'* fears about prosecution stemming from use of eagle feathers.  It is important to note that this is a policy, not a law.  The policy addresses the Department of Justice employees who are tasked with enforcing Federal Wildlife Laws concerning the use of eagle parts (and parts of other protected wildlife species).  

This policy clarifies many natives'* concerns about the possibility of prosecution from:

    not having a permit

    gifting of feathers

    picking up fallen feathers

    loaning feathers to a craftspersons


In my career as a featherworker, I have been surprised by the number of natives* who do not fully understand eagle feather laws.  Unfortunately, ignorance of these laws is no excuse for violating them.  Educate yourself about eagle feather laws, and do not hesitate to ask questions of tribal leaders and agents at the NER or USFWS. They are here to help you and look forward to sharing their knowledge.  Secondly, educate others.  Share what you learn because we will all benefit from increased awareness of the preservation of our natural surroundings.  Additionally, please take advantage of the repository to obtain your eagle legally.  Doing so will help preserve and protect free ranging eagle populations in North America as they struggle to survive our rapid urbanization and destruction of habitats.  Finally, know your tribal, religious, cultural, and legal rights and enjoy celebrating your native culture.

Thanks for reading and see you on the powwow trail! -- walela49

*  “native” refers to US citizens who are enrolled in a federally recognized Native American tribe.
  “non-native” refers to any US citizen or foreign person not enrolled in a federally recognized Native American tribe.
   "eagle feather law" includes, but may not be limited to the Bald Eagle Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Lacey Act.


A note from the artist:
I am not an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, therefore I sell my work as Native American style.  I always disclose this information to comply with the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

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Revised: 1 September 2014  1:22 PM 

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