Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Change in Migratory Bird Law Up for Public Review

December 9, 2020

One of the most popular activities on Sanibel and Captiva is bird watching. The Southwest Florida region is an important place for a variety of migratory birds. Sanibel plays a key role because the protection of land, water, and wildlife is prioritized by residents, city leaders, and conservation organizations.

One of the most important laws protecting these birds is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), established in 1918. This law prohibits the “taking of” (hunting, killing, capturing, selling, or injuring) of migratory birds without a permit. 

The current federal administration is making a second attempt to exclude accidental or incidental deaths from this rule (though a first attempt was struck down as illegal in federal court). The rule change is open for a 30-day public review period, ending Dec. 28. It appears the administration is rushing to get this change finalized before the end of the current term. Click here to learn more.

Millions of birds are killed annually by human activities. If this proposed rule change goes through, utility companies including electric, oil, and gas will benefit as a large number of birds are killed incidentally as a result of their operations.

Other significant causes of death of migratory birds are collisions with cars and glass buildings or windows, and predation by outdoor cats. The importance of MBTA is highlighted by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. This event resulted in the death of nearly one million birds. 

Without the MBTA, BP would not have been held responsible for these deaths, as they were not an intentional result of the course of their operations. Because of the MBTA, BP paid $100 million to fund wetland restoration as part of the settlement.

“It can seem daunting that there are so many threats out there affecting birds, but there are actions we can all take in our daily lives that can help protect birds,” SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht said. “Together we can try to minimize our negative impacts on our feathered friends.”

Here are some simple tips for being a good neighbor:

  • Keep cats indoors
  • Do not use harmful pesticides
  • Plant native species
  • Minimize use of single-use/disposable plastics
  • Be a respectful bird observer: Never approach birds too closely, chase, or harass birds. 


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