Now Starring: No American Birds

When we birders watch films and TV shows made in America, we often say, "Wha-?" We notice that the birds onscreen in a show supposed to take place here are actually foreign birds. No, it's not because of Hollywood sloppiness. It's because of the law. 

The Washington Post explains: The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918 prohibits the possession of migratory birds for commercial purposes. This means it's illegal to keep domestic bird species as animal actors. Why? Steve Holmer, a senior policy advisor at the American Bird Conservancy, says that, before the MBTA, populations of some birds were severely harmed because they were used so often commercially. Snowy egrets, for example were decimated in the early 1900s because their plumes were used to decorate hats.

Are you surprised that native birds can't be used as actors? So were we, and so are many producers. Benay Karp, owner of Benay’s Bird and Animal Rentals in Woodland Hills, California, says producers often come to her looking to rent a native bird and leave with one that looks similar but actually isn't the genuine article. 

The good news is that egret numbers have rebounded, along with those of many other species. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been a success, and Hollywood is still abiding by it. 

The bad news is that birds are being used in film and television that aren't native to the United States. Not only is it expensive to import a non-native bird, but it also can't be pleasant for the bird. We here at Talkin' Birds are rather conservation-minded; we don't want birds from anywhere to be harmed. 

Now, how about when we hear the wrong bird in a film or TV show? Is that also because of the MBTA?

No. That really is because of Hollywood sloppiness.