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The Cat in the Hat Teaches Science in Dr. Seuss Nature Books and PBS Show

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Dr. Seuss Nature Books and TV Show on PBS for Children

Science and Nature in Verse

Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss books of Science and Nature.

Growing up I always loved the Dr. Seuss books, especially the “Cat in the Hat,” which is why I’m excited to say that there is a set of Dr. Seuss books for the next generation of kids. PBS has teamed up with Dr. Seuss artists and writers to create a series called “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That,” which is a science and nature series of books, animated short films (30 minutes), and lesson plans for elementary school students.

In the TV series two children, Nick and Sally, go on journeys with the Cat in the Hat (voiced by Martin Short) to explore topics such as camouflage, nocturnal animals, bees, space, map reading, tree identification, fish, and more. The cartoons are reminiscent of “The Magic School Bus” but in Seuss-style. You can learn more about each episode, and see a schedule of air times, on the PBS website.

Dr. Seuss 4
Dr. Seuss Science and Nature Books

To go along with the TV Series there are books that correspond with each lesson. These books include such topics as, “Miles and Miles of Reptiles,” “Clam-I-Am,” “Fine Feathered Friends,” “I Love the Night Life!,” and “Is a Camel a Mammal?” There are twenty three in all. The books have the characteristic Seuss style drawings and color images with great nature facts and rhymes.

Supplementing all of the books and movies, the PBS website also has an extensive list of lesson plans and online activities to go along with the books and cartoons. These lessons focus on fine math, matching, colors, and senses. These include mapping, exploring how things fit together, measurement, feeding and observing birds, weather, senses, and more.  The lessons tell you exactly what video and book they correspond to.

Seuss activities
PBS website with activities for children based on the Dr. Seuss series, “the Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That.”

As a child I would have loved to have a library of Dr. Seuss nature books. Even now I enjoy picking them up at the book store. They are available through the PBS website store and Amazon. For those looking for a series of books to get kids engaged with science, reading, math, and nature this is a great way to start.


Teaching Home School Groups in Informal Education Settings

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Outdoor Education and Working with Home School Groups

A Guide To Help Other Informal Education Venues work with Home School Students

Thomas Galvez flicker
Photo: Thomas Galvez Flicker

After conducting informal science education programs (outside of the classroom) for over fifteen years I have found that the number of home school groups attending my programs has increased exponentially. With an increase in this audience I’ve also found myself in frequent conversations with other educators trying to forge a way to best meet the needs of the varied ages, rates of learning, and abilities that present themselves with home schoolers. In this post I’ll attempt to share a bit of what I’ve learned that in turn might help others.

Most Home School Families Really Need, and Seek Out, Lab Sciences

It’s difficult for parents that are home schooling to offer comprehensive science lab experiences at home without building a lab in their own house. I’ve seen some parents do this but it’s costly and rare. Because of this many home school parents seek out informal education centers where their students can have hands-on science lessons or labs with everything from chemistry to dissections. This is a growing home school need and a great opportunity for science centers.

The great thing about home schooling kids is that their schedules are flexible and you can do a series of classes and labs that build upon content.  We’ve often offered last minute classes, in spaces where other groups cancelled, and have filled the lost time with home school students eager to learn science.

Home Schoolers are Home Schooled for A Variety of Reasons

I’ve found that parents choose to home school for many reasons, which include student’s developmental needs, religious reasons, quality of schools in the area, to offer more extracurricular opportunities, traveling, and health. The reasons are as varied as the students and why you, as an educator, need to get to know your parents and students.

Are Home Schoolers Really Socially Awkward?

For home school parents that read this blog please forgive me but I must answer this question because it’s one of the first ones asked by other educators and those considering working with home schoolers. My answer would be that home schoolers are very similar to school populations in that they are mixed. Some children are very social, outgoing, and are natural with other people. On the reverse side some do have problems working in groups or with other students. Largely I’ve found that most home schoolers fall in the middle.  They’re kids and they’re learning, and growing and if you can keep them engaged, more than willing to try new things and work with others. The stereotyping of home schoolers is a great frustration to most home schooling parents.

Learning Disabilities and Home Schoolers

Yes, some home school parents are home schooling because their students have learning disabilities.  As an informal educator you have to be prepared for the open enrollment nature of programs and the likelihood that you will have these students in class. I have found that home school parents were often unaware that they needed to make me, as the instructor, aware of any learning difficulties or disabilities that their students may have when registering for a class. Many times I’ve gone into a class to find that one or more of the students has autism or can’t read or write at level for various reasons. Prepare for this and make sure that you let parents know that that they should talk to you before registering.

I’m also preparing to implement on my registration forms new blocks that will allow parents to give information about special considerations for their students as well as asking for a general grade level at which the students are working.

Students Learning, Wiki

Working with Home Schoolers Requires Splitting Up the Age Groups

When you create home school programs for an informal education setting it’s important to consider the age ranges that will be registering and how to break them out. The most popular audience age ranges for my science programs are 5-12 yrs. though there are requests for some 13-16 yr. olds. To accommodate this range I’ve broken programs down into 5-7 yr. olds, 8-12 yr. olds,  and 13-16 yr. olds. I am very strict about the starting age, because I require some writing in my programs and students must be potty trained and able to sit for at least 30 minutes. When parents suggest that their 6 year old is working at a 12 yr. old level I ask that they first have the child meet with me so that I can evaluate if the child is really OK to move into an older class. Most of the time I find that it’s better for the student to be a “big fish in a little pond”  with students their own age or younger rather than a “little fish in a big pond” of older students. On average I keep the 5-7 yr. old programs to 1 hour, the 8-12 yr. old programs to 1.5 hours, and the 13-16 yr. old programs to 2-3 hours depending on the topic.

Siblings in the Classroom

Unlike other groups you should prepare to have the question arise about siblings in class. Because many parents are home schooling several children at the same time (we had one parent with 6 kids at once!) you should realize that you will either need to allow siblings to sit in the back of the classroom, with their parents, or in a space that you provide for them somewhere else. The issue of siblings also means that you may have parents coming in and out of the classroom several times to check on their student that is in class and outside of class. A good solution is to provide a homework/play area outside the classroom where younger and older siblings can hang-out and wait. Because parents may want to have children that are siblings attend your classes (and they are in different age groups) then it also makes sense to have your younger and older classes back to back. This way parents don’t have to drive all the way to your site for two separate classes (which often they won’t).

Parents Are a Good Addition to the Classroom (Up To A Point)

Working with home school students is a bit different than the standard field trip because, not only do the students come with siblings but their parents often want to attend the programs as well. You’ll have to decide if this is something you will allow with your classes. I find that parents are quite useful for a variety of reasons including behavior control, helping students that are struggling, lending a hand passing things out, etc. However, the upshot to this is that some parents can be over-bearing to their own kids and even other children. If you do allow parents in you may need to state some rules about sitting with students, or in the back of the room, and what their roles should be if they are allowed in. I allow parents in the classes for the age groups up to 12 yr. but not for the 13-16 yr. old kids. By this time the kids don’t want the parents there anyway and they’re pretty independent. I do make exceptions for certain classes like final presentations or if there are behavioral problems.

Home School Students May Need To Be Oriented To Some Basic Skills

One thing I learned in home school classes was that home schoolers aren’t familiar with some of things that many school children learn in school so you’ll have to be prepared for this. In one case a class of students didn’t know what to do when a fire alarm went off. They were unsure if they should run or line up. You may need to do some background work if these types of issues may arise in your setting. I’ve found some basics about classroom (indoor/outdoor) etiquette are useful. Such things may include asking to go to the restroom, raising hands, and especially writing names on papers or work.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention writing and math skills in this “basics” section. I’ve found that in the different age groups that there is a spectrum of abilities for writing and math. In a class of 5-7 year old there’s a big gap between how well a 7 year old writes and a young 5 year old (entering Kindergarten). I especially have had difficulty with some 9 year olds not being able to write at grade level. Some could barely write their names! The same is true for math. There is a wide spectrum of abilities. I found that some children in the 8-12 year old groups were very math-literate and they could do fractions, ratios, and math in their head. However, some students in this same age group could barely add and they didn’t know what division was. If you do activities involving math or writing be prepared for this spectrum and maybe have some extra volunteers on hand to help those students that are moving a bit more slowly. Oh, and don’t expect that kids in the 8-12 range know what the symbols on a calculator are, or even how to use a calculator!

Notebooks, Handouts, and Pre-Class Materials

I’ve found that home school parents need materials and hand-outs as supplemental proof of the classes that they are using for their curriculum (expect picture taking too). It’s a good idea to use hand-outs that students can take home or to make the worksheets available online. I use a blog to communicate with the home school students, and on that blog I post pre and post class materials for the students. This allows parents to prepare students for the classes before they come to class. I found mixed results with how many parents actually do the pre-class work but overall it’s worth the effort and the parents appreciate the supplementary materials.

Expect Home School Groups to Request Programs

If you have open enrollment programs for home schoolers you will probably get requests for programs for co-ops or other organized home school groups. Be prepared to answer the questions about, “Can you do a program for my group of 15 kids ages 5-16?” Consider if you would do two programs or if it’s even feasible to teach to such a spectrum at your site. From experience it’s best to appoint one person in the group the “leader” and spokes person that you talk to. That person can register all the individuals in the group for the program and vouch for the deposit and balance of the program. It’s a nightmare if you allow a group to register for a program and try to manage the money collection and registration for everyone in the group yourself. Don’t get caught up in that entanglement.

Home School Networks are Extensive so Use Them To Recruit

One really nice thing about home school students is that they have extensive networks online and socially. Get to know your parents and the social media that is out there, because these are great ways to spread the messages about your classes. Almost every state and county has a home school network page. There are Yelp groups, bulletin boards, websites, Facebook pages, Yahoo Groups, and blogs.

Home School Parents, Want to Chime In? Leave Comments in the Comment Section Below. Thanks!

Animal Skull Identification Resources

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Look, I Found This Skull In The Woods! What is it?

North American Animal Skull Identification Resources to Help You Identify Found Skulls

Deer Skulls. Photo: Chris Moody Flicker Common Use.
Deer and Animal Skulls. Photo: Chris Moody Flicker Common Use.

As a naturalist I always thought it would be a fun idea to have a nature based version of Antiques Road Show. For the most part it’s what happens almost every day with visitors that come to nature centers and outdoor education places. If you’re a parent you’ve probably had more than one “What is this?” or “I found this, what is it?” questions when walking in nature. One of the most common questions that arises comes from students finding bones and skulls in the woods and wanting to know what they’ve found and how to clean them up.  I’ll cover cleaning and preserving skulls in another post, but for this one I wanted to provide you with some identification guides and tools to use to identify the bones and skulls you find.

Raccoon Skull: Photo Scott Flemming Flicker Common Use.
Raccoon Skull: Photo Scott Flemming Flicker Common Use.

First, when you find a skull or bone and you want to know if it’s OK to keep you need to be aware of the Federal and state regulations regarding animals. A good resource that covers these regulations, and a state by state break down of laws, can be found at the Green Wolf website. You can also find information at the Animal Legal and Historical Center from the Michigan State University College of Law. In general it’s OK to keep non-endangered mammal skulls from animals that died by natural means. NOTE: this does not mean road kill.  Most game species and their skulls are legal to possess as well but check your state regulations, especially regarding moose, big horn sheep, etc. Bird skulls are illegal to collect for the most part, unless they are non-migratory native game birds or poultry. See my previous post for more information on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

First some terminology, osteology is the study of bones (and skulls), so when you find a bone you are embarking on an oteological study. There are many great guides out there to help you identify the skulls and bones you find, so it really depends on your ability level (novice to expert), interest, and the information that you want to know about the skull(s) that will dictate which you choose. Here are some of my favorite:

For Beginners and Kids:

  • Animal Skulls & Bones: A Waterproof Pocket Guide to The Bones of Common North American Mammals (Duraguide), J.M. Kavanaugh ($6). This is a pamphlet style guide, about 10 pages, with information and pictures of common skulls from birds, mammals, fish, and reptiles. It’s waterproof and easy to carry into the field. It’s also something fun to give kids on the trail. It is not comprehensive and is pretty basic, how much can you really cram into 10 pages? However, it’s a great place to start and an small enough size to be portable.
  • Animal Skulls: A Guide to North American Species, Mark Elbroch ($31): I would typically recommend this book for intermediate to advanced readers but it could also be used by beginners as well. It is the most comprehensive book out there and has great photos, and  a wonderful introduction to skull topography, comparative anatomy of skulls, and diagrams for birds, mammals, and reptiles. The photos are super sharp and the illustrations are very helpful. I also like their full page picture spreads of jaws so you can compare different species from across all of North America. It’s a heavy book because of all the photos, but worth having at home and using. (The Missouri guide and this one are my best recommendations)
skull book 1
Animal Skulls: A Guide to North American Species: Mark Elbroch. This one is my personal favorite.
  • The Wild Mammals of Missouri: Second Edition, Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz ($39). If you live in the Mid-West to Eastern US this book is one of my all time favorites. It doesn’t focus specifically on skulls alone, but it has magnificent hand draw illustrations of animals, their skulls, tracks, and behaviors. I like that they also teach you how to read a skull dental formula and provide detailed descriptions of each animal.
The Wild Mammals of Missouri
The Wild Mammals of Missouri
  • For Kids: Skull Alphabet Book, Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello ($7). This children’s book is wonderfully illustrated alphabet book and has animal skulls from around the world. How else do you get “Z” without a zebra? It’s great for all ages and fun to study the drawings and illustrations.
skull alphabet book
The Skull Alphabet Book

For More Advanced Studies:

  • Skulls and Bones: A Guide Skeletal Structures and Behaviors of North American Mammals, Glenn Searfoss ($13 Used). I like the comprehensive nature of this book and the side by side drawings of different skeletal body parts, such as feet or jaws, but overall this book is very verbose and a heavy read. It’s a better resource for those that want a lot of textual description of comparisons to go along with drawings. I do like that this book uses skeletons to infer animal behavior and movement.
  • Comparative Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Guide of Common North American Mammals, Bradley Adams and Pam Crabtree ($55). I don’t actually own this book but I’ve seen it on shelves. It’s more geared toward those studying veterinary medicine or otseology (bone study). The book compares all the major bones of the bodies of pigs, chickens, goats, raccoon, opossums, human, cat, deer, bear, and cow. So, it’s not really suited as a comprehensive guide to help you find out what skull you’ve stumbled upon in the woods. However, if you’re interested in learning comparative anatomy this would be a good lab manual and text to look into.
  • Key-A Guide to Mammal Skulls and Lower Jaws, Aryan Roest ($7). If you are not comfortable with skull topography terms, and you don’t know the difference between a zygomatic arch and the supraorbital process then you should consider this dichotomous key only for experts. The pictures are OK for a quick reference but they’re black and white and can be grainy and the black and white drawings are minimalist.
Mike Fitzpatrick Flicker skull 2
Raccoon Skull: Photo by Mike Fitzpatrick, Flicker common use.

Teaching Materials for Animal Skulls and Bones

Animal Skulls: A Guide For Teachers, Naturalists, and Interpreters, Richard White. You’ll find some great lesson plans and ideas for teaching about animal skulls with these units (around the middle school level). You will need some skulls in the classroom to work with but this guide can help you plan out your activities. See the links below for places to purchase skulls.

Places to Purchase Animal Skulls

Skulls Unlimited Catalog of skulls and skeletons to purchase online.

You can also find skulls for purchase, decorated and not on E-Bay and Use common sense when purchasing, and ask questions about the skulls, how they were obtained, hunted, or collected. Be sure that what you purchase from one state isn’t illegal to own in your state!

skulls unlimited
Skulls Unlimited Website for Purchasing Animal Skulls, Skeletons, Tracks, and Teeth.

Other Animal Skeleton and Skull Resources

Project Noah Mission: Identifying Animals Through Osteology.  If you’d like to join a world wide hunt for skulls and bones you can visit the photo based citizen science program called Project Noah. Here you can join different missions to collect photos and information about different animals and plants around the world. The Osteology project focuses on bones and skulls. If you find something you don’t recognize then the Project’s participants can help you.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History exhibit: Osteology: Hall of Bones

Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Christmas Bird Count in Your Region

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Join The National Audubon Society‘s 114th Christmas Bird Count

Flicker Dana Orlorsky(Photo: Flicker Common Use Dana Orlosky)

Each year brave and intrepid birders go out into the cold and snow to count birds for the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) with the National Audubon Society. Starting December 14th and going through December 1st people choose to join local birders from their region to help on one day during this rage. Participation is free and you can search for local clubs doing the count on this web page:

Do I Have to Be An Expert Bird Watcher?

No, you only have to have the desire to help, and you must coordinate with a regional coordinator. Many birders love having an extra set of eyes out in the field, even if you’re a new birder, and you’ll always be paired with at least one expert. If your home is within the boundaries of a search area you can even stay at home and report your sightings!


What is Involved in a Christmas Bird Count?

Here’s a printable program overview:

Each count area includes a 15 mile wide circle or zone in which to search. Zone leaders will break up groups to take smaller pieces of these areas. You might be assigned to help with shoreline surveys, forest surveys, field surveys, or along road sides and fields. Bird feeders are also a birder’s best friend too!

Depending on your time availability these surveys can run from 4 am-midnight, but you certainly don’t have to stay the entire time, it’s up to you. Many die-hard birders like to get up early to find the owls or work in 1/2 day chunks with other teams. Usually there is a meet-up, soup-circle, or tally-rally at the end where everyone reports in with their data sheets and they share their sightings and often a warm meal. Even if you’re not an expert birder you could help provide a warm dinner for those working to do the survey!

How Does This Data Help Scientists?

Data collected through these surveys allows researchers to find long term population trends for birds of North America, by crowd sourcing a large collection of data using citizen scientists. Information from these counts has been used when creating climate change reports and reports for fish and wildlife management organizations. It has also helped create a “Watch List” of birds that are threatened, declining, or endangered. If you’d like to learn more about how the data is used, and how to access the data visit the Audubon website

If you’re a birder and you’d be interested in helping compile your own bird count here is a link you can check out to learn more about becoming a Data Compiler for your region:

Reusable Sandwich Wrappers

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Consider Reusable Sandwich Wrappers as Stocking Stuffers This Year

Often when I’m teaching, the groups that I work with stay over for lunch between programs. I like to join them to continue getting to know the visitors and also to talk to them about reducing the amount of waste in their lunches.  I like to discuss the idea of “Zero Waste” lunches. A zero waste lunch is when you have no waste left over after you eat because you eat all the food, compost what isn’t eaten, recycle plastics, and re-use containers. It’s fun to challenge a class to do this for a whole year and also to have competitions between classes by weighing the food and waste produced or left over in the trash after the end of a meal.

I find that most of the students and teachers know a little bit about bringing lunch boxes or reusable bags, and sometimes recycling, but they haven’t heard of alternatives to plastic bags for chips or sandwiches (though some may suggest Tupperware, which can be bulky).

wrap n 'mat

I like to share with them one of my favorite products, called the Wrap-N-Mat, and show them an example in my lunch bag. The Wrap-N-Map is a pretty simple concept, it’s essentially a cloth covered square (in a neat pattern), with a plastic lined interior for easy cleaning, and  a Velcro closure. They come in a variety of sizes from jumbo to mini-bags.

wrap n mat 1

Kids love these bags because they come in neat patterns. I personally like skulls and dinosaurs. their compact design means that they fit well in small lunch boxes, purses, or backpacks. Because of the plastic lining they are easy to clean with a damp cloth at home. They run about $9 each but you can also buy packs too. Of course, you can make these fairly easy too if you’re handy. You can visit the Instructables website to learn how to make your own.

Christmas can be a time to inspire eco-friendly habits, and this is a good place to start. For other ideas on reducing lunch waste visit Waste Free

Master Naturalist Programs Across the US

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Where Can You Learn to Be a Master Naturalist?

States with Master Naturalist Programs and Classes

After a successful nature walk, talk, or program I’m often asked about where I received my education, what it takes to be a naturalist or nature educator, and where to get trained. I came to being a naturalist through an indirect route of loving nature and studying it on my own very early on, we’re talking playground days. I started out in college studying Environmental Science and later picked up a Masters in Biology. However, along the way most of my naturalist skills have been through trial and error. These include reading books, using field guides, looking up neat things that I found on hikes, birding, looking for reptiles etc. If this all interests you then I’d suggest that you take some naturalist classes.

Frog tadpole found on citizen science collection trip (Photo: Karen McDonald)

There are three types of naturalists:

1. You’re just a casual observer that is interested in nature, you like nature, occasionally look up a bird or two and you’re happy with that.  You also get outside but the overwhelming abundance of plants, animals, etc. baffles and amazes you at times.

2. You love nature, getting outside, and learning all about what you see. You have many field guides that you use, you occasionally attend nature programs and talks, and you thirst for more knowledge of the natural world.

3. You’re a science or nature educator that is kept on their toes by having to learn and teach about nature, which means keeping one step ahead of your next science program. You also have a passion for science and nature and are always ready to learn more.

Regardless of which category you fall on this spectrum, there are many ways to “up” your game as a naturalist. One of the easiest ways is to just start teaching yourself using books, apps, and online resources. The next easiest way is to attend short classes, one or two hour walks or talks at a local science/nature education center. The most efficient way to become a naturalist is immersion, on your own or through classes. One form of immersion is something called the Master Naturalist Program. These programs are geared towards adults, but there are some for kids too.

What is A Master Naturalist?

There are many different variations of the “Master Naturalist” courses offered by different state, wildlife, and park organizations. Most include a series of classes designed to provide some form of certification. This certification says that you have mastered a variety of skills relating to nature and specifically the flora and fauna of a given region.

For example, a typical master naturalist class may include a series of one hour classes, or weekend all day classes, on ecosystems, watersheds, plant identification, bird identification, reptile and amphibian identification, aquatic invertebrates, soils, geology, or stars. The goal of these classes would be to give you a rudimentary working knowledge of these topics so that you could either use these skills personally or volunteer with outdoor or education organizations. Check out the Virginia Master Naturalist check list of things they cover in their classes.

Dragonfly caught during pond survey (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Some Master Naturalist programs require a certain number of community hours devoted to using the skills you learn in their classes (much like Master Gardeners). This could be anything, ranging from volunteering with a wetland restoration or teaching outdoor education classes.

How Much Do Master Naturalist Classes Cost?

The cost depends on the state and institution. Some classes are subsidized by grants or colleges and universities. The block of classes may range from $250-500 dollars. There may also be extra costs associated with the class for books, binoculars, or other supplies. Each organization lists their prices on their websites.

Milkweed moth (Photo: Karen McDonald)

What States Offer Master Naturalist Programs?

This is by no means a complete list. To see a complete listing visit the Wildlife Gardeners website. During cold weather it’s a great time to start planning for Spring and the classes you might get involved in.

Illegal Feathers and the Feather Atlas

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Picking a Feather off the Ground May Get You Jail Time

Migratory Bird Treaty Act Makes Collecting Bird Feathers Illegal, the Feather Atlas from USFWS Can Help

Often times when leading hikes I see visitors in my programs pick up bird feathers and want to know if they can take them home. I have to answer that by law it’s illegal. Most people are shocked to find out that picking up bird feathers, moving bird nests, or taking carcasses for stuffing is illegal. This is because of something called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Feather Types Commonly Found (USFWS)

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted to protect birds that migrated between Canada and the US (with Great Britain as the intermediary). The act was modified in 1996 but is pretty much the same, only now it includes the countries of the US, Mexico, Japan, and Russia.

This act made it illegal to pursue, hunt, take, kill, possess offer for sale, ship, purchase, capture, or deliver NATIVE migratory birds without a proper permit from the USFWS. Notably this act does not differentiate between live and dead birds, which means that eggs, nests, feathers, carcasses, and all bird parts are covered. The only exception to this act is the Eagle Feather Law which allows the collection of golden and bald eagle feathers, nests, and eggs for scientific purposes or for religious purposes, as in the case of Native Americans. However, organizations must be enrolled and Native Americans must be a member of a federally recognized tribe.  There have also been some exceptions granted to federal agencies and private groups for the killing of nuisance birds such as Canada geese and sparrows.

The birds protected in The Migratory Bird Treaty Act are listed in 50 CFR 10.13. You can find the complete list in PDF form on the US Fish and Wildlife Service page. An additional announcement in 2005 listed all of the non-native species of birds, introduced into the US which do receive protection under this act. For full list of invasives not covered visit the USFWS website. You’ll see such birds as the Mandrin Duck, Oriental Darter, Red-legged Cormorant, Oriental Magpie-Robin, the Cuban Bullfinch, and the European Goldfinch.

Are There Any Native Bird Species It’s Ok to Have Feathers From?

Yes, there are quite a few native bird species (that don’t migrate) whose feathers you can have legally. Some of the more common are:

  • Pheasants
  • Most Pigeons
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Turkeys
  • Quail
  • Chickens
  • Bobwhite
  • Eurasian Collared-dove
  • House sparrow
  • Mute Swan
  • Greater Prairie-chicken
  • House Crow

The feathers that you purchase at a craft store are most often one of these types of birds listed above, and they’re perfectly legal to possess. For a more comprehensive list visit the Cultural Policy Research Institute’s Page.

How Can I (or  The Fish and Wildlife Officers) Know if My Feather is Illegal?

US FWS feather atlas

Even some of the most experience birders can’t tell you specifically what bird single feather comes from, so the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensics Laboratory has created an online tool for their officers and the general public to use. This website is called the Feather Atlas. It provides high resolution scans of the primary flight feathers of the migratory birds of North America.

You start on their home page by identifying the patterns and color of your feathers:

feather id tool
USFWS Feather ID Tool Start Page Asks for Feather Patterns and Color (USFWS)

Next they will narrow down your selection to a variety of birds, and you scroll through to find the feathers that most closely match what you have:

feahters 3
Great Horned Owl Feathers (USFWS)

They will give you a variety of images to choose from, including primary, secondary, and tail feathers (the most commonly found feathers).

Next you click on the type of feather you think you have and they’ll give you the full specs (measurements) of the feathers and you can use the zoom tool to look at high resolution images of the feathers to help you confirm the id. You’ll also find pictures of the specific bird whose feathers you’re looking at, on this page, to help you look at the “larger picture” of where the feathers might have come from.

gho feathers
Great Horned Owl Feathers Up Close (USFWS)
gho specs
Great Horned Owl Feather Measurement Specs. (USFWS)

This tool is particularly useful if you’re a curious birder, naturalist, or teacher. It can be used in classrooms or in the field. Remember, don’t just pick up feathers off the ground. Know what is and is not legal to take home. As a rule, it’s best to just leave them on the ground!

If You Do Find Legal Feathers

If find legal feathers (such as turkey or quail) be sure to freeze them when you get home to kill any parasites that they may have. It’s good to keep them in cedar lined boxes or closets too.