Every year, millions of birds in the United States are killed by human-caused accidents. Raptors might fly into communication towers, wind, turbines, or buildings. They might get stuck in an oil spill or electrocuted on a power line.

Originally enacted in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) outlaws the take of any protected migratory bird species without approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Under this law, the killing, capturing, selling, trading, or transporting of protected species was made illegal without prior authorization.


At the end of his second term in office, former President Obama and his administration released a legal opinion that stated that the “take” prohibited in the MBTA includes protection for birds that were killed by corporations accidentally. However, when President Trump took office, his team suspended the opinion and released a memo saying that they would not criminally prosecute these incidental killings.


On August 12, federal District Judge Valerie Caproni of New York struck down the Trump administration’s changes to the MBTA.


"There is nothing in the text of the [Migratory Bird Treaty Act] that suggests that in order to fall within its prohibition, activity must be directed specifically at birds," Caproni said. "Nor does the statute prohibit only intentionally killing migratory birds. And it certainly does not say that only 'some' kills are prohibited."

This means that violators of the MBTA can be criminally punished – fines up to $15,000 and imprisonment for up to six months.

Regardless of interpretation of the treaty and the definition of “kill,” birds that nest on transmission line poles are a risk to both the birds and electrical system reliability due to collision and/or electrocution hazards. Additionally, the nests themselves can cause outages to the transmission and distribution of electricity when nesting material becomes entangled or otherwise in contact with energized equipment.

McCormick Taylor’s wildlife experts help our electrical utility clients with a high density of protected raptors nesting on their electrical structures and poles stay compliant with system reliability mandates and with the recently re-established interpretation of the MBTA through surveying, permitting, monitoring, and nest removal/relocation. Our clients work to identify mitigation measures that are safe to the avian species that nest on their lines and limit outages to their customers.


Learn more about our avian services here and our avian monitoring app here.


Click here to see the list protected birds from the USFWS.

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