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For information on the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial, contact:
Meredith Penthorn
Communications specialist

Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial

Wisconsin is excited to commemorate a century of bird conservation both within and across state borders. We hope you will join us in celebrating, whether by attending a bird conservation event [PDF], volunteering, helping birds [PDF] in your area or spending some time birding on Wisconsin's scenic public lands.

Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial Day

Happy Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial Day! One hundred years ago on August 16, 1916, the United States and Canada signed the Migratory Bird Treaty to protect birds across international borders. View the Governor's Proclamation commemorating Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial Day.

Celebrate a century of bird conservation! Whether by hunting, watching or otherwise enjoying birds in their natural habitat, your engagement and support help keep birds a conservation priority.


December's Bird of the Month is the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Learn more about these raptors [PDF] and others that benefit from Migratory Bird Treaty protection in the Bird of the Month section below.

Why protect birds?

People love birds! Whether it's hunters pursuing woodcock, ducks, or turkeys in the fall, birders eager for a glimpse of colorful warblers in the spring, or a child fascinated by chickadees and cardinals at a feeder right outside the window, birds provide rich and varied recreational opportunities for millions of people. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 2.6 million hunters pursued migratory birds and 46.7 million people observed birds in the United States. However, birds are also invaluable to the environment and human society.

Birds add value to our world.

Bohemian waxwing seed dispersalEcosystem services such as pollination, insect and rodent control, nutrient cycling (especially through scavenging) and seed dispersal keep the environment healthy.

Birds are bio-sentinels.

Yellow-crowned night heronBecause birds are highly ecologically diverse, visible and easy to study, they serve as excellent indicators of the overall health of the environment.

Birds are economically important.

Bird huntingHunting and watching birds contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, and the ecosystem services birds provide are worth billions of dollars in savings.

Birds are deeply engrained in human culture.

Bald eagleThey are culturally and spiritually significant, and serve as symbols in art, music, sports, literature, politics, religion and folklore.

Birds connect us with nature.

Northern parulaWith a flash of color, a graceful flight and a chorus of song at dawn, birds are with us wherever we go, no matter the season.

We need birds, and birds need our help.

Canada geeseA variety of threats, including habitat loss, invasive species, collisions and pollution, have caused steep population declines for many species of birds.

Most of our Wisconsin birds are migratory: they arrive in the spring and stay for the summer breeding season, then leave in the fall to spend the winter in other states or countries to the south. These migratory birds face unique challenges. Habitat loss affects them not only on the breeding grounds but also on wintering sites and along the migration route where birds stop to rest and feed. Loss of these habitats can directly impact a bird's chances of survival; this has caused a decline in a number of bird populations. Fortunately, habitat conservation has positive impacts on birds while also enhancing the quality of the environment for people.

History of the Migratory Bird Treaty

During the 19th century, unregulated hunting for the market and women's fashion, combined with rapid habitat conversion to accommodate expanding human settlements, decimated wild bird populations. In 1881 alone, over one million birds were killed in Wisconsin to supply the hat trade (Gjestson 2013). In response, fledgling conservation groups began to push for legislation to protect birds.

Source: David L. Gjestson, The Gamekeepers: Wisconsin Wildlife Conservation from WCD to CWD, 2013).
Some rare birds of Wisconsin, 1912 Early state protections
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Upland Plover
  • American White Pelican
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Bald Eagle
  • Common Tern
  • Northern Hairy Woodpecker
  • Wood Duck
  • Snowy Heron
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Grebe

By 1900, these birds were extinct in Wisconsin:

  • Carolina Parakeet
  • Wild Turkey*
  • Whooping Crane*
  • Trumpeter Swan*
  • Passenger Pigeon


  • 1851: Wisconsin passes its first game management laws, establishing a closed season for certain migratory game birds.
  • 1867: Law protects most game bird nests and eggs from human disturbance.
  • 1877: "Insect-eating" non-game birds and their eggs protected statewide.
  • 1887: Illegal to shoot harmless birds for the hat trade.
  • 1898: Three laws passed to protect game and non-game migratory birds statewide.
  • 1909: Spring waterfowl season is closed statewide for the first time.

A watershed moment in American bird conservation arrived with the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty [exit DNR] (formally known as the Convention Between the United States and Great Britain for the Protection of Migratory Birds) between the United States and Canada on August 16, 1916. The treaty formally recognized that migratory bird conservation requires cooperation across international borders, outlining conditions for a unified conservation strategy between the two countries. This set the stage for the United States' Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which implemented the Migratory Bird Treaty to further the protection of native birds in the United States.

Today, the United States holds migratory bird treaties with Canada, Mexico, Russia and Japan. Despite the differing environmental politics, legislation and conservation initiatives of each country, these agreements promote international cooperation between governments and partner organizations so that bird conservation can occur along entire migratory routes.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act [exit DNR], passed in 1918 to implement the Migratory Bird Treaty agreement between the U.S. and Canada, is one of the most well-known bird protection laws in the United States. It regulates the ability to "[...] pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export [...]" most birds in the United States. In an age of dramatic population declines across multiple bird species, such protections were quite comprehensive, aiming to address all human activities that negatively impact birds.

Today, as during the early 1900s, people cannot "take" any bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or any nests, eggs or parts (including feathers) without an appropriate permit. While these rules may seem strict, they help ensure that healthy populations of migratory birds remain well into the future.

Goals of the Centennial

The Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebrates 100 years of migratory bird conservation and looks ahead to the next 100 years. Centennial goals include:

  • Creating awareness about the importance of migratory bird conservation;
  • Promoting key actions to help birds;
  • Increasing support for migratory bird conservation programs and initiatives; and
  • Expanding opportunities for engagement in birdwatching, hunting and conservation.

Learn more: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial [exit DNR]

The Centennial in Wisconsin

In 2016, the department and bird conservation partners will offer birding, bird conservation and Centennial programming around the state.

View the 2016 list of events [PDF]. Please check back frequently for updates.

Read the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial [PDF] article in the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine

Bird conservation in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has the second highest birding participation rate by state residents in the country (33%), behind only Vermont (39%).

Wisconsin has implemented a variety of bird conservation strategies [PDF] over the years.

These are just a few of Wisconsin's ongoing bird conservation activities.

  • 2015 marked the first of five years of data collection for Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II [exit DNR], the most comprehensive bird survey in state history. WBBA II provides critical information on breeding distribution, abundance and population change in more than 225 bird species.
  • The DNR's wildlife health program monitors migratory birds for numerous environmental stressors to help keep birds healthy.
  • The department conducts short- and long-term research on game and non-game birds and waterfowl.
  • The Glacial Habitat Restoration Area is a landscape-level approach to habitat conservation. Focusing on providing grassland and wetland habitats for game and non-game birds and other wildlife, mainly in southern Wisconsin, this program also allows hunting and birding on enrolled properties.
  • State Wildlife Areas are managed to sustain wildlife habitat while providing recreational opportunities for the public. Wildlife areas help protect valuable nesting and foraging habitat that may harbor uncommon species such as the cerulean warbler and yellow-crowned night heron.
Get involved

Whether you want to help improve bird habitat, assist with citizen science efforts or simply learn more about bird-related recreation, it's easy to get involved in bird conservation.

Bird of the Month

To celebrate 100 years of bird conservation, each month will feature a native Wisconsin bird species that has benefitted from the protection and cooperative conservation provided by the Migratory Bird Treaty.

Last revised: Monday December 05 2016