The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide ornithologists with comprehensive guides to the many permits needed for ornithological research. 

Best practices for all permits

1. Apply as early as possible. It can take up to 90 days to obtain an MBTA permit – longer if the permit examiner has questions or concerns or if you are planning to work in more than one region, because the regional office handling your application will consult with the regional offices that cover the other places where you plan to work, and that consultation will take time.

If you are applying to work on an endangered species, allow six months because the law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on all permits to “take” all species listed as endangered (but not threatened); that notice-and-comment process can take in excess of six months.

So, apply no later than early March for a summer field season, and earlier if possible. The permit offices are short-staffed and facing an ever-increasing workload. Remember, yours is not the only permit application they will handle. Besides all the other ornithologists who are submitting applications, they also have to handle applications for rehabilitation, falconry, raptor propagation, taxidermy, and a number of special purpose permits.

And, of course, because workflow varies, your permit application might be one of an unusually large number of applications that arrive over a short period of time. The absence of an examiner, planned or otherwise, can cause a back-up. If your permit is delayed for any reason, you and the permit examiner will both be in the frustrating position of having to rush to get the permit in time. If you apply early, these problems are less likely to result in your not having your permit when you need it.

2. Always READ your permits as soon as you receive them! Be sure the permit is correct, i.e., allows you to do what you need to do. Be sure you understand any restrictions and if the restrictions are problematic, ask to have the permit revised before you start your field work.

3. Be sure you know the expiration date and apply for renewal as early as possible.

4. Don’t assume that you know if a species is protected. The MBTA list includes over 1,000 bird species. In the United States, 80 bird species are listed as endangered and 21 are listed as threatened. Another 214 foreign species are listed as endangered and 17 are listed as threatened. Status changes and some species are listed in only some places. ALWAYS CHECK THE MBTA,  ESA, and CITES LISTS.

5. Make your requests clear and simple. State exactly what you are seeking permission to do before you go into more detail about the project. Do not include unnecessary attachments. Example:

I plan to conduct a study of the impact of rodenticides on Barn Owl reproduction. To do this, I will:

  • locate the nest holes of up to 100 Barn Owls and place cameras inside the nest holes;
  • use the camera to monitor the number of eggs laid and the number hatched;
  • take blood samples from not more than 150 hatchlings until the last bird fledges or dies;
  • use the camera to determine the number and frequency of feedings;
  • periodically check the nest hole to obtain pellets

I will compare the results from 50 nests in an area known to be free of rodenticides to those of 50 nests in an area where rodenticide use is known and documented.

If you have more than one project planned, it will help to include a table that lists the species, number of birds, type of activity, and location. If your permit will cover more than one project, describe the projects in a numbered list and key each line in the table to the project description.