The duck stops here!

Although 25 years ago seems like the blink of an eye in the business of selling artifacts and antiques, that is where this story begins.  Back in 1994, I had just rented a new space in a local antique mall.  To me, this was a new way to sell antiques and collectibles that seemed like a lot of fun.  So, after signing a lease, I gathered up a truck full of furniture, art and small décor items from my inventory and headed to the mall.  I spent the better part of an afternoon setting up the stuff, arranging and rearranging until it all seemed to fit, except for one little corner of my booth with a barren pedestal.  It needed something, but what?  The whole space was done up with a “manly” feel:  old photos of hunters and their bounty; leather-covered chairs; old books; and, fishing equipment.  After looking around for a few minutes, it hit me:  this place needs some “dead ducks”, a few “taxidermy trophies”.  So, I set out to find a few of the feathered friends.  Surely, it would be easy to locate a good looking, cheap taxidermy birds for that corner.  And after perusing the local auction house I found a pair of handsome, glass-eyed, feathery examples.  They were up for grabs at the next auction:  a perfect pintail and one magnificent mallard.

I attended the weekly auction and, low and behold, I won both ducks.  Feeling victorious, I headed back to the antique mall with my prizes.  The ducks were quickly dusted, inventoried, priced and set out for sale.  The corner now looked great and my new booth was complete.  The next day, I returned to the mall to set out more inventory.  Upon arriving at the mall, I was met by a message at the front counter.  It said that a “Mr. Clark” (his name has been changed to protect the innocent) was waiting to speak with me, and I should page him right away.  Figuring a sale was afoot, I obliged and had him paged.  Mr. Clark met me at the front counter.  He smiled and promptly presented me with a ticket for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act!!  What the !X@??  Mr. Clark explained that he was a Game Warden with the Game and Parks Commission.

First of all, what was the “Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” and second, how had I violated it?  Fortunately, the ticket was of the “warning” variety and not meant to cost me an arm and a leg in fines.  But, I was incensed and dumbfounded.  I needed to know what this was all about.  So, I spoke to Mr. Clark.  He described what the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was and why he had ticketed me. The Act, he said was passed back in 1918 in order to protect the livelihood of Canadian guides, hunters and hunting lodges (it also was meant to keep migratory birds from becoming extinct).  It makes the sale of most migratory birds, parts of birds and related items illegal in the United States as a part of a treaty with Canada.  Apparently, back then hunters in the U.S. were hunting certain migratory fowl for profit and selling their plunder.  This put a lot of stress on the hunting trade up north.  

After speaking with Mr. Clark and being reassured I had only received a warning ticket, I set about researching and took a gander at this law.  The important part of the Act actually says this:

Unless and except as permitted by regulations made as hereinafter provided in this subchapter, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof, included in the terms of the conventions between the United States and Great Britain for the protection of migratory birds concluded August 16, 1916 (39 Stat. 1702), the United States and the United Mexican States for the protection of migratory birds and game mammals concluded February 7, 1936, the United States and the Government of Japan for the protection of migratory birds and birds in danger of extinction, and their environment concluded March 4, 1972 [1] and the convention between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the conservation of migratory birds and their environments concluded November 19, 1976.  (U.S.C. §§ 703(a)).

Section 707 of the Act explains that each violation of the Act carries with it significant penalties.  For every infraction, a person could be fined as much as $2,000.00, plus a two-year prison sentence!  While there are some exceptions to the law, none were appropriate to the facts of my case.  Under this scenario, both the auctioneer and me could be found in violation.  (I have since learned of antique dealers who left the business because of convictions under the Act).  Wow, I was lucky!  I wondered though, how many antique dealers out there were aware of this law?  It is common to see taxidermied ducks, geese, and other fowl at auctions, estate sales and antique shops.  Fines or jail time in these amounts could virtually ruin a business, a bank account, or a person’s life.  Worse yet, the list of migratory birds protected by this Act is over 800 species long.  So, almost any migratory bird is restricted from sale.  “Antiquers” need to know about this law.  

Since that ticket, I have not purchased or sold another “Dead Duck.”  It is important that every dealer, auctioneer, or “junker” be aware of this law and its stiff penalties.  I have made it a point to inform every dealer I see with a migratory bird for sale about this law and the potential consequences of conviction.  I encourage each and every one of you to do the same. Only through awareness and education will we be able to safeguard against inadvertent violations of this law and having our “gooses cooked” because of it.

By the way, I gave the unsold dead ducks to my wife who now proudly displays them in her office.

Mark J. Milone is an attorney “Of Counsel” with the firm of Koukol & Johnson, LLC., in Omaha, Nebraska. Mark Milone has been a practicing attorney in Omaha, Nebraska since 1985.  He is presently “Of Counsel” with the law firm Koukol & Johnson, LLC.  He may be reached at markmilone@westomahalaw.com or at (402) 934-9499.