Migratory Bird Regulations in North Carolina

Federal Protection of Migratory Birds

  • Precedence of Federal Laws: Federal laws safeguarding migratory birds (including songbirds, woodpeckers, raptors, and waterfowl) supersede state laws. This means that any activities involving these birds must comply first and foremost with federal regulations.
  • Permit Requirement: To take or kill any migratory birds during the closed season, a federal permit is mandatory. This permit is issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Penalties for Violations: Non-compliance with these regulations can result in significant legal penalties.
  • Contact Information: For details on obtaining permits and understanding federal laws, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Migratory Bird Permits Section in Atlanta, Georgia at 404-679-7070.

Depredation Permits

  • Issuance Period: From April 1 to August 31, depredation permits can be issued directly from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, particularly when Canada geese are causing damage in commercial agricultural settings.
  • Contact for Permit: Those experiencing depredation issues can contact the Commission at 919-707-0050 for assistance and permit information.

Adoption of Federal Seasons and Bag Limits

  • State Regulations: North Carolina adopts federal seasons and bag limits on migratory game birds as part of its state regulations, ensuring consistency and compliance with federal standards.

Colonial Waterbird Nesting Areas

  • Protected Areas: Coastal islands and beach areas designated as “Colonial Waterbird Nesting” areas are managed to support the nesting populations of various birds like pelicans, terns, gulls, herons, and egrets.
  • Access Restrictions: Access to these areas is prohibited from April 1 to August 31, except under special permit conditions. Dogs are also not allowed in these areas during this period.
  • Off-season Access: From September 1 to March 30, access is permitted as authorized by the landowner.

Migratory Game Birds – Hunting Stamps and Privileges in North Carolina

Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification

  • Requirement for Hunters: All hunters in North Carolina who intend to hunt migratory game birds (including doves, rails, gallinules, moorhens, woodcock, snipe, or waterfowl) must have a certification of participation in the federal Harvest Information Program (HIP).
  • Purpose of HIP: The HIP is designed to help wildlife biologists estimate the number of migratory game birds harvested each season. This information is crucial for the management and conservation of these bird populations.
  • How to Obtain Certification:
    • Online Registration: Hunters can obtain their HIP certification free of charge by registering online at gooutdoorsnorthcarolina.com. This process involves answering a few questions about their previous year's hunting activity.
    • Validation: Once completed, the HIP certification is noted on the hunter's license.

Importance of HIP Participation

Participating in the HIP is not only a legal requirement but also a significant contribution to wildlife conservation efforts. The data collected through HIP helps in setting sustainable hunting seasons and bag limits, ensuring the long-term preservation of migratory game bird populations. Hunters play a direct role in this conservation effort by providing accurate information about their hunting activities.

For those planning to hunt migratory game birds in North Carolina, obtaining HIP certification is an essential step in preparation for the hunting season. This ensures compliance with both state and federal regulations and aids in the responsible management of wildlife resources.

Summary of Federal Regulations

In addition to state regulations, the following federal rules apply to the taking, possession, shipping, transporting and storing of migratory game birds. No persons shall take migratory game birds:

  • With a trap, snare, net, rifle, pistol, swivel gun, shotgun larger than 10 gauge, punt gun, battery gun, machinegun, fish hook, poison, drug, explosive, or stupefying substance;
  • With a shotgun of any description capable of holding more than three shells, unless it is plugged with a one-piece filler, incapable of removal without disassembling the gun, so its total capacity does not exceed three shells. This restriction does not apply during dates states have selected under the Conservation Order for light geese (i.e. snow and Ross’s geese) or those selected for the control of resident Canada geese.
  • From or by means, aid, or use of a sinkbox or any other type of low-floating device, having a depression affording the hunter a means of concealment beneath the surface of the water;
  • From or by means, aid, or use of any motor vehicle, motor-driven land conveyance, or aircraft of any kind, except that paraplegics and persons missing one or both legs may take from any station­ary motor vehicle or stationary motor-driven land conveyance;
  • From or by means of any motorboat or other craft having a motor attached, or any sailboat, unless the motor has been completely shut off and/or the sails furled, and its progress there from has ceased except in pursuit of wounded waterfowl in the designated Sea Duck Area;
  • By the use or aid of live birds as decoys; although not limited to, it shall be a violation of this paragraph for any person to take migratory waterfowl on an area where tame or captive live ducks or geese are present unless such birds are and have been for a period of 10 consecutive days prior to such taking, confined within an enclosure which substantially reduces the audibility of their calls and totally conceals such birds from the sight of wild migratory waterfowl;
  • By the use or aid of recorded or electrically amplified bird calls or sounds, or recorded or electrically amplified imitations of bird calls or sounds. This restriction does not apply during dates states have selected under the Conservation Order for light geese (i.e. snow and Ross’s geese) or those selected for the control of resident Canada geese.
  • By means or aid of any motor-driven land, water, or air conveyance, or any sailboat used for the purpose of or resulting in the con­centrating, driving, rallying, or stirring up of any migratory bird;
  • By the aid of baiting, or on or over any baited area, where a person knows or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited.

It is legal to take migratory game birds including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, on or over the following lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas:

  • Standing crops or flooded standing crops (including aquatics);
  • Standing, flooded, or manipulated natural vegetation; flooded harvested croplands; or lands or areas where seeds or grains have been scattered solely as the result of a normal agricultural planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation or normal soil stabilization practice;
  • From a blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with natural vegetation;
  • From a blind or other place of concealment camouflaged with vegetation from agricultural crops, as long as such camouflaging does not result in the exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of grain or other feed; or
  • Standing or flooded standing agricultural crops where grain is inadvertently scattered solely as a result of a hunter entering or exiting a hunting area, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds.

It is legal to take migratory game birds, except waterfowl, coots and cranes, on or over lands or areas that are not otherwise baited areas, and where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered solely as the result of manipulation of an agricul­tural crop or other feed on the land where grown, or solely as the result of a normal agricultural operation.

Regulations on Wanton Waste of Migratory Game Birds

Ethical Hunting and Retrieval Obligations

  • Prohibition of Wanton Waste: Hunters are prohibited from wastefully killing or crippling any migratory game bird. This regulation underscores the ethical responsibility of hunters to respect the wildlife they pursue.
  • Reasonable Effort to Retrieve: If a migratory game bird is killed or crippled, the hunter must make a reasonable effort to retrieve the bird. This means that hunters should actively search for and collect any bird they have shot.
  • Retention of Retrieved Birds: Once retrieved, the hunter must keep the bird in their actual custody. This custody should be maintained:
    • At the place where the bird was taken, or
    • Between the place of taking and the hunter's automobile or principal means of land transportation, or
    • At the hunter's personal abode or temporary place of lodging, or
    • At a migratory bird preservation facility, or
    • At a post office, or
    • At a common carrier facility.

Purpose of the Regulation

  • Conservation: These regulations are designed to prevent the wasteful use of wildlife resources and to promote ethical hunting practices.
  • Respect for Wildlife: By enforcing these rules, regulatory bodies aim to instill a sense of respect and responsibility towards wildlife among hunters.
  • Sustainable Hunting: Ensuring the retrieval and proper use of hunted birds contributes to sustainable hunting practices, which are crucial for maintaining healthy wildlife populations.


Hunters are expected to comply with these regulations as part of their hunting license obligations. Failure to adhere to these rules can result in legal consequences and is considered unethical. The regulation reinforces the principle that hunting should be conducted in a manner that respects wildlife and conserves natural resources for future generations.

Non-toxic Shot Regulations for Hunting Waterfowl

Requirement for Non-toxic Shot

  • Mandatory Use: When hunting ducks, geese (including brant), swans, or coots, hunters are required to use non-toxic shot. This applies to shot used in shotshells or as loose shot for blackpowder firearms.
  • Prohibition of Traditional Lead Shot: The use of traditional lead shot is prohibited for waterfowl hunting due to its harmful environmental and wildlife impacts.

Approved Non-toxic Shot Types

  • List of Approved Shot: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides a list of shot types that are approved as non-toxic. This list is regularly updated as new materials and technologies are evaluated.
  • Where to Find the List: Hunters can access the current list of approved non-toxic shot types at the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Importance of Non-toxic Shot

  • Environmental Protection: Non-toxic shot is required to prevent lead poisoning in both wildlife and the environment. Lead shot can be ingested by waterfowl and other animals, leading to poisoning and death.
  • Conservation Effort: This regulation is part of broader conservation efforts to protect waterfowl populations and their habitats.


  • Legal Obligation: Hunters must comply with these regulations while hunting waterfowl. Possession of lead shot while hunting these species is a violation of federal law and can result in penalties.
  • Responsibility of Hunters: It's the responsibility of hunters to ensure they are using approved non-toxic shot types. Checking the latest regulations and approved shot list is part of responsible hunting practices.

Regulation on Possession Limits on Opening Day of Migratory Game Bird Season

Daily Bag Limit Compliance on Opening Day

  • Restriction on Fresh Kills: On the opening day of any migratory game bird season, hunters are prohibited from possessing freshly killed migratory game birds in numbers exceeding the daily bag limit or aggregate daily bag limit, whichever is applicable.
  • Purpose of the Rule: This regulation is designed to prevent overharvesting of birds on the first day of the season, ensuring that hunting practices remain sustainable and within legal limits.

Importance of the Rule

  • Conservation: Adhering to bag limits is crucial for the conservation of migratory game bird populations. These limits are established based on scientific research to ensure the long-term sustainability of bird populations.
  • Fair Opportunity: The rule ensures that all hunters have a fair opportunity to hunt on the opening day, preventing any individual or group from over-harvesting and thereby depleting the available game.
  • Legal Compliance: Compliance with bag limits is not only an ethical obligation but also a legal one. Violations can lead to legal consequences, including fines and revocation of hunting licenses.

Responsibilities of Hunters

  • Awareness of Limits: Hunters must be aware of the daily bag limits for the species they are hunting. These limits can vary by species and region.
  • Ethical Hunting Practices: Ethical hunting includes respecting bag limits, which contribute to responsible wildlife management and conservation efforts.

Regulations on Field Possession, Tagging, and Custody of Migratory Game Birds

Field Possession Limit

  • Limitation on Possession: Hunters are not allowed to possess, have in custody, or transport more than the daily bag limit or aggregate daily bag limit of migratory game birds. This applies to birds that are tagged or not tagged.
  • Scope of the Rule: The rule applies from the location of hunting (where the birds were taken) to:
    • The hunter's automobile or principal means of land transportation,
    • The hunter's personal abode or a temporary lodging place,
    • A migratory bird preservation facility,
    • A post office,
    • A common carrier facility.

Tagging Requirement

  • Obligation to Tag: When leaving migratory game birds at any location other than the hunter's personal abode, or when giving them to another person for processing, shipping, storage, or taxidermy services, the birds must have a tag attached.
  • Information on the Tag: The tag should be signed by the hunter and include the hunter's address, the total number and species of birds, and the date of the kill.
  • Transportation Exception: Migratory game birds transported as personal baggage in a vehicle are not considered in storage or temporary storage and thus don’t require tagging under these circumstances.

Custody of Birds Belonging to Another

  • Tagging for Transferring Custody: Any person receiving or having in custody migratory game birds belonging to someone else must ensure these birds are properly tagged as per the regulations.

Termination of Possession

  • End of Hunter’s Possession: A hunter's possession of migratory game birds is considered to have ended when:
    • The birds are gifted to another person,
    • The birds are delivered to a post office, common carrier, or migratory bird preservation facility for consignment and transport to someone other than the hunter.

Importance of These Regulations

  • Prevention of Over-Harvesting: These rules help prevent over-harvesting of migratory game birds by enforcing strict possession limits.
  • Tracking and Management: Tagging requirements aid in the tracking and management of harvested birds, ensuring that hunting remains sustainable.
  • Legal Compliance: Adherence to these regulations is crucial for legal compliance and maintaining the integrity of hunting practices.

Regulations on Gifting Migratory Game Birds

Rules for Gifting Migratory Game Birds

  • Restrictions on Giving and Receiving Birds: The transfer of freshly killed migratory game birds as gifts is regulated to ensure compliance with hunting laws and conservation efforts.
  • Location for Gifting: A person may receive, possess, or give migratory game birds as a gift only at the personal residences of either the donor (giver) or the donee (receiver).
  • Tagging Requirements: When gifting migratory game birds outside the personal abode of the donor or donee, the birds must have an attached tag. This tag should be signed by the hunter who took the birds.

Information Required on the Tag

  • Hunter’s Address: The tag must include the address of the hunter who harvested the birds.
  • Total Number and Species of Birds: It should clearly state the number of birds being gifted and their species.
  • Date of Harvest: The date when the birds were taken must be included on the tag.

Purpose of the Regulation

  • Accountability and Traceability: Tagging provides a method of accountability and traceability for migratory game birds that are gifted, helping to ensure that hunting limits are respected and that the birds were legally harvested.
  • Conservation: These regulations help in the conservation of migratory game bird populations by preventing illegal hunting and overharvesting.
  • Legal Compliance: Complying with these rules is crucial for legal hunting practices and avoiding penalties for violations.

Compliance and Responsibility

Hunters and individuals participating in the gifting of migratory game birds must adhere to these regulations to ensure ethical and legal compliance with wildlife conservation laws. The responsibility lies with both the donor and the donee to ensure that all gifted migratory game birds are tagged appropriately and that all relevant information is correctly documented. This practice upholds the principles of responsible wildlife management and conservation.

Regulations on Transporting Migratory Game Birds Belonging to Another Person

Requirement for Tagging During Transportation

  • Mandatory Tagging: When transporting migratory game birds that belong to someone else, it is essential that these birds are properly tagged. This regulation applies regardless of the relationship between the person transporting the birds and the original hunter.

Information on the Tag

  • Details Required: The tag should include the hunter's name and address, the total number and species of birds, and the date the birds were harvested.
  • Purpose of the Tag: This requirement ensures that the birds being transported are legally harvested and are within the legal bag limits.

Importance of Compliance

  • Legal Obligation: Following this regulation is a legal obligation for anyone transporting migratory game birds belonging to another individual. Non-compliance can lead to legal consequences.
  • Conservation Efforts: Proper tagging and transportation regulations are crucial for wildlife conservation efforts, particularly for tracking and managing the harvest of migratory game birds.

Role of Transporters

  • Verification: Individuals transporting migratory game birds for others should verify that all birds are tagged in accordance with the legal requirements.
  • Awareness: Transporters should be aware of the hunting regulations and ensure that the quantity and species of birds being transported are legally permissible.

Species Identification Requirement for Transporting Migratory Game Birds

Requirement for Keeping Head or Wing Attached

  • Mandatory Identification: When transporting migratory game birds within the United States, with the exception of doves and band-tailed pigeons, it is required to keep the head or one fully feathered wing attached to each bird.
  • Duration of the Requirement: This identification feature must remain attached from the location where the birds were taken until they reach either the personal abode of the possessor or a migratory bird preservation facility.

Purpose of the Requirement

  • Species Identification: Keeping the head or wing attached enables law enforcement and wildlife officials to identify the species of each bird. This is crucial for enforcing bag limits and ensuring that only legally hunted species are transported.
  • Legal Compliance: This regulation helps in complying with legal hunting standards and ensures that the birds were harvested within the set hunting regulations.

Exceptions to the Rule

  • Doves and Band-tailed Pigeons: These species are exempt from this requirement, possibly due to their distinct and easily recognizable features.

Responsibility of Hunters and Transporters

  • Ensuring Compliance: Hunters and individuals transporting migratory game birds must ensure that they comply with this requirement to avoid violations.
  • Awareness of Regulations: It’s important for anyone involved in hunting or transporting migratory game birds to be aware of and understand these regulations.

Regulation on Marking Packages or Containers for Transporting Migratory Game Birds

Requirements for Marking Packages or Containers

  • Identification Information: When transporting migratory game birds via the Postal Service or a common carrier, the package or container must be clearly and conspicuously marked with specific information. This includes:
    • The name and address of the person shipping the birds (shipper).
    • The name and address of the person to whom the birds are being sent (consignee).
  • Accurate Statement of Contents: The package or container must also have an accurate statement detailing the number of each species of bird contained within.

Purpose of the Regulation

  • Tracking and Compliance: These marking requirements are essential for tracking the transport of migratory game birds and ensuring compliance with hunting and transportation laws.
  • Species and Quantity Monitoring: The detailed statement of the numbers and species of birds in each package helps in monitoring and regulating the hunting and transportation of these birds, ensuring that they were legally obtained and are within the legal limits.

Legal Implications

  • Mandatory Compliance: Adherence to this regulation is mandatory for anyone transporting migratory game birds via postal or carrier services. Failure to comply can result in legal consequences.
  • Conservation Efforts: These regulations are part of broader conservation efforts aimed at sustainable hunting and the protection of migratory game bird populations.

Role of Hunters and Shippers

  • Ensuring Accurate Information: Hunters and shippers are responsible for ensuring that all packages or containers transporting migratory game birds are accurately and clearly marked with the required information.
  • Awareness and Diligence: Individuals involved in the shipping process must be aware of and diligently follow these regulations to ensure legal and responsible transportation of migratory game birds.

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Requirement

Federal Duck Stamp Requirement

  • Age Requirement: Every waterfowl hunter who is 16 years of age or older is required to possess a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly known as the Federal Duck Stamp.
  • Carrying the Stamp: The stamp must be carried on the person of the hunter while hunting.
  • Validation of the Stamp: To validate the stamp, the hunter must sign it in ink across the face of the stamp. This personalization makes the stamp officially valid for use.

Purpose of the Federal Duck Stamp

  • Conservation Funding: The sale of Federal Duck Stamps is a critical source of funding for migratory bird conservation. The funds are used to purchase and maintain wetlands, which are vital habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife.
  • Legal Compliance: Carrying a validated Federal Duck Stamp is a legal requirement for waterfowl hunting, and it supports national conservation efforts.

Regulations on National Wildlife Refuges

  • More Restrictive Regulations: National Wildlife Refuges that are open to public hunting may have additional or more restrictive regulations.
  • Seeking Information: Hunters planning to hunt in these refuges should seek out specific regulations that apply to each refuge. This information can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at fws.gov/refuges/.

Importance for Hunters

  • Awareness and Compliance: Hunters must be aware of and comply with the requirement to purchase, sign, and carry the Federal Duck Stamp. This is a crucial part of legal and responsible waterfowl hunting.
  • Contribution to Wildlife Conservation: By purchasing the stamp, hunters contribute directly to wildlife and habitat conservation, playing a vital role in preserving the nation's natural resources.

Definitions Related to Migratory Bird Hunting

Migratory Birds

  • Federal Protection: Migratory birds are protected under federal law due to international treaties. Most birds in the U.S. are covered except for certain species like house sparrows, feral pigeons (rock doves), European starlings, Eurasian collared-doves, mute swans, and upland game birds (protected by state laws).
  • Migratory Game Birds: A subset of migratory birds, classified as migratory game birds, can be hunted in compliance with state and federal regulations. This includes ducks, geese, swans, doves, pigeons, cranes, rails, coots, gallinules, moorhens, woodcock, and snipe, provided there is an open season.

Hunting Limits

  • Daily Bag Limit: The maximum number of migratory game birds of a single species or a combination that can be taken by one person in one day during the open season in a specific area.
  • Aggregate Daily Bag: The total limit when hunting in more than one area and/or for more than one species, not to exceed the largest daily bag limit for any one species or area.
  • Possession Limit: The maximum number of birds one can legally possess when taken in any one specified area.
  • Aggregate Possession Limit: The total limit when birds are taken in more than one area, not exceeding the largest limit for any one species or area.

Other Definitions

  • Personal Abode: The main home or dwelling of a person, distinct from temporary lodgings like hotels or hunting clubs.
  • Migratory Bird Preservation Facility: An establishment for hire or other consideration (including taxidermists and cold-storage facilities) where migratory game birds are received for cleaning, freezing, processing, storage, or shipment.
  • Normal Agricultural Activities: These include standard planting, harvesting, or post-harvest manipulations conducted as per the recommendations of State Extension Specialists.
  • Soil Stabilization Practices: Plantings for controlling agricultural soil erosion or post-mining land reclamation, following official guidelines.
  • Baited Area: An area where salt, grain, or feed has been placed that could lure migratory game birds, remaining a baited area for 10 days after complete removal of the bait.
  • Baiting: The act of placing, exposing, or scattering substances that could attract migratory game birds to areas where they are hunted.
  • Manipulation: Altering natural vegetation or agricultural crops by methods like mowing or burning but not including the scattering of grain or seed after harvest.
  • Natural Vegetation: Native or naturalized plant species growing without planting, excluding planted millet (except for naturally regrown millet in subsequent years).

Sign Up for Huntlink!

Huntlink is a free program that will allow us to send you state regulations to your email for the states you hunt in. The benefits of this are:

1. PDF Format - Downloadable

2. Able to be read with or without reception

3. Delivered right to your email with no ads

And much more!


The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.