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Is it really illegal to collect an eagle feather?

Whether you're a long-time resident or just passing through, most people can't help but fall in love with the beauty that many parts of Missouri has to offer. According to stateparks.com, our state boasts 54 state forests and 72 state wildlife areas, which offer tourists and residents alike a chance to take in nature's beauty.

Now, some of our more frequent readers in the Columbia area might be asking at this very moment: what does this have to do with criminal law? The answer lies in the scenario we are about to present to you today.

Have you ever been on a hike through a forest or state park and saw a bird's feather lying on the ground? If you're a nature lover, you may have even been tempted to pick it up and keep it. If you did, and that feather was from a bald eagle, you will want to pay attention to today's post because possessing a bald eagle feather is considered a federal crime that can lead to hefty fines and even time in prison. If the offense is considered severe enough, a person may even face felony charges.

Why, you may ask? This is because of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which was passed in 1940 and made it illegal to possess or take any part of a bald eagle, even if it's a feather lying on the ground. The penalties facing a first-time offender are steep and may include a maximum fine of $5,000 or a year in jail. A second offense is even more serious because a person may be fined $10,000 or more or may be sentenced to imprisonment for two years.

It's important to point out to our Missouri readers that there is a presumption that every individual is supposed to know the law, which means a person facing a criminal charge for possession of a bald eagle feather might not be able to shake the charges just by saying "I didn't know." A person may instead need the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney who will more effectively be able to show you're your collection of the feather was and was not done with malicious intent.

Sources: USA Today, "Reynolds: You are probably breaking the law right now," Glenn Harlan Reynolds, March 29, 2015

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "Federal Laws that Protect Bald Eagles," Accessed April 22, 2015

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