Federal Regulations for Migratory Game Birds


In addition to state regulations, federal rules govern the taking, possession, shipping, transporting, and storing of migratory game birds. These regulations are summarized below, and hunters are advised to consult Title 50, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 20, for the complete federal regulations, available at Federal Regulations.

Illegal Hunting Methods

The following methods of taking migratory game birds are strictly prohibited:

  1. Prohibited Weapons and Substances:

    • Traps, snares, nets, rifles, pistols, swivel guns, shotguns larger than 10 gauge, punt guns, battery guns, machine guns, fish hooks, poisons, drugs, explosives, or stupefying substances.
  2. Shotgun Capacity:

    • Shotguns capable of holding more than three shells are prohibited unless plugged with a one-piece filler, making it incapable of holding more than three shells.
  3. Use of Sinkbox or Low Floating Device:

    • Hunting from or using a sinkbox or any low floating device that provides concealment beneath the water's surface is prohibited.
  4. Motor Vehicles and Aircraft:

    • Use of motor vehicles, motor-driven land conveyances, or aircraft for hunting, except for paraplegics and persons missing one or both legs who may hunt from stationary vehicles.
  5. Motorboats and Watercraft:

    • Hunting from a motorboat or craft with a motor attached is prohibited unless the motor is completely shut off and/or sails are furled, and the craft has come to a complete stop.
  6. Use of Live Birds as Decoys:

    • It is prohibited to use live birds as decoys for hunting migratory waterfowl, except when tame or captive live ducks or geese have been confined within an enclosure that conceals them from wild migratory waterfowl for at least 10 consecutive days before hunting.
  7. Recorded or Amplified Bird Calls:

    • The use of recorded or electrically amplified bird calls or sounds, or their imitations, is prohibited.
  8. Motorized Conveyances and Sailboats:

    • Using motor-driven land, water, or air conveyances, or sailboats to concentrate, drive, rally, or disturb migratory birds is prohibited.
  9. Baiting:

    • Hunting over or on a baited area where it is known or reasonably should be known that the area has been baited is prohibited.

Key Terms for Understanding Game Bird Regulations

To navigate and comply with game bird regulations, it's essential to understand the following key terms:

Daily Bag Limit

  • Definition: The maximum number of gamebirds of a single species or a combination of species you can legally possess in the field or while en route to your destination in one day.
  • Usage: Determines how many gamebirds you can take on a given day.

Aggregate Daily Bag Limit

  • Definition: The maximum number of migratory game birds one person can take in a day when hunting in multiple geographic areas or for multiple species with combined daily bag limits.
  • Usage: Helps hunters understand the overall limit when hunting in different locations or for various species.

Possession Limit

  • Definition: The maximum number of migratory game birds of a single species or a combination of species that one person can possess.
  • Usage: Ensures hunters do not exceed the allowed possession limit.

Aggregate Possession Limit

  • Definition: The maximum number of migratory game birds of a single species or a combination of species that one person can possess when hunting in multiple geographic areas with possession limits.
  • Usage: Helps hunters understand the overall possession limit when hunting in different regions.


  • Definition: The requirement to tag migratory game birds with your signature, address, number of birds by species, and the date of harvest before leaving them at any location or with another person.
  • Usage: Ensures proper identification of harvested birds.

Wanton Waste

  • Definition: The responsibility to make a reasonable effort to retrieve and keep in your possession all killed or wounded migratory game birds.
  • Usage: Encourages responsible hunting practices and discourages waste of game.


  • Definition: The prohibition of hunting migratory game birds that have been concentrated, driven, rallied, or stirred up with a motorized vehicle or sailboat.
  • Usage: Prevents the use of unfair hunting methods.


  • Definition: The requirement to leave the head or one fully-feathered wing attached to migratory game birds while transporting them.
  • Usage: Ensures identification and compliance during transportation.

Dual Violation

  • Definition: Any violation of state migratory game bird hunting regulations is also considered a violation of federal regulations.
  • Usage: Emphasizes the need to adhere to both state and federal regulations.

Personal Abode

  • Definition: One's primary or ordinary home or dwelling place, distinguishing it from temporary or transient places like hunting clubs or accommodations during trips.
  • Usage: Clarifies where certain regulations apply, such as transporting game to your personal abode.

Migratory Bird Preservation Facility

  • Definition: Facilities that receive, possess, or process migratory game birds for hire or other consideration, including residences, taxidermists, cold-storage facilities, locker plants, and hunting clubs.
  • Usage: Identifies locations where birds may be processed and stored.

Protected Birds

  • Definition: Non-game migratory birds protected by federal law, including songbirds, eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, herons, egrets, and woodpeckers.
  • Usage: Highlights the importance of not harming protected bird species while hunting.

Reporting Banded Migratory Birds

If you come across or harvest a banded migratory bird, follow these steps:

  1. Report the Band: Visit www.reportband.gov to report the banded bird.
  2. Provide Band Details: You'll need the band number(s) of the bird, and if there are multiple bands, include all the numbers.
  3. Provide Recovery Information: You'll be asked to provide details about where, when, and how you found or harvested the bird.
  4. Contact Information: Your contact information will be requested in case of any follow-up questions.

As a token of appreciation, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Bird Banding Lab will send you a certificate containing information about the bird's sex, age, species, as well as details about when and where it was banded. You are allowed to keep the band.

Important Note: If you find a banded bird with a 1-800 telephone number inscribed on the band, as of July 2, 2017, reporting can only be done at www.reportband.gov.

Wanton Waste and Trespass

  • Responsibility: Retrieving downed migratory birds is a requirement, but it does not grant you permission to trespass onto another person's land.
  • Risk: Hunting near property lines puts you at risk of committing wanton waste or trespassing violations.

Migratory Bird Baiting Laws: What You Need to Know

Understanding the regulations surrounding baiting for migratory game birds is crucial for hunters, guides, and landowners. Here are the key points you need to be aware of:

Prohibition on Baiting

  • Federal Prohibition: Federal rules strictly prohibit the taking of migratory game birds by the aid of baiting or on or over any baited area.
  • Knowledge Requirement: It is essential to know or reasonably should know that an area is or has been baited before hunting there.


Hunting migratory game birds, including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, is allowed in certain areas that are not considered baited areas:

  • Standing Crops: You can hunt over standing crops or flooded standing crops, including aquatics.
  • Natural Vegetation: Hunting is permitted in standing, flooded, or manipulated natural vegetation, flooded harvested croplands, or areas where seeds or grains have been scattered due to normal agricultural practices.
  • Camouflaged Blinds: You can hunt from a blind or place of concealment camouflaged with natural vegetation or vegetation from agricultural crops.
  • Minimal Grain Scattering: Inadvertent grain scattering while entering or exiting a hunting area, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds is allowed.


  • Hunters, Guides, and Landowners: It is the responsibility of hunters, guides, and landowners to understand and adhere to baiting regulations and to be aware of the conditions of the hunting area.
  • Definition of Baiting: Baiting includes placing, exposing, depositing, distributing, or scattering salt, grain, or other feed that could attract migratory game birds.

Baited Area Duration

  • Ten-Day Period: An area is considered baited for ten days following the complete removal of all salt, grain, or other feed.

Normal Agricultural Operations

  • Definition: Normal agricultural operation refers to planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation, or agricultural practices following official recommendations.
  • Soil Stabilization Practice: This includes practices like planting for agricultural soil erosion control or land reclamation.
  • Erosion Control: Erosion control practices involve seeding, mowing, shredding, or seeding prior to harvest as recommended by State Extension Specialists.

Natural Vegetation

  • Definition: Natural vegetation refers to non-agricultural, native, or naturalized plant species that grow in response to planting or existing seeds.
  • Exclusion: Planted millet is excluded, but if millet grows naturally in subsequent years after planting, it is considered natural vegetation.

Hunting Over Agricultural Land

  • No Prohibition: Nothing in the baiting regulation prohibits hunting migratory game birds over standing crops, flooded standing crops, natural vegetation, flooded harvested croplands, or areas with scattered seeds or grains due to normal agricultural practices.

Hunting Over Manipulated Agricultural Land

  • Exceptions: The baiting regulation does not prohibit hunting migratory game birds, except waterfowl, coots, and cranes, on lands or areas that are not considered baited.
  • Conditions: Hunting is allowed where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered due to manipulation of an agricultural crop or other feed on the land where grown or as a result of a normal agricultural operation.

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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.