I'm spending the summer in London and recently took a trip to Kew to visit the botanical gardens. While there I found a beautiful peacock feather that a friend of mine back in the US would love. However, I'm concerned that it would cause an issue at Gatwick when I return home. Are bird feathers prohibited?

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    In hand luggage or checked luggage? And is this a question about getting it through security, or more about import/export rules on feathers (and the like)? – Gagravarr Jul 23 '12 at 16:53
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    Either, really. I assume there are questions of mites and bird flu or other things. Typically I have nothing to declare when I travel, but I wouldn't want to get fined when I get back to the US and there's no reason to go through the trouble of keeping it safe if the border agents take it and destroy it when I get there. So if I can put it in checked luggage and not have to worry about border issues then that would be great. – user2824 Jul 23 '12 at 17:04
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    You will have to declare the feather (box 11b). I have no idea whether they'd allow the feather in. If you say nothing, it's unlikely that they'd detect one feather. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jul 23 '12 at 19:03
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    @Gilles: I think that's an overly-strict interpretation of box 11b, as I'm sure they don't expect you to declare a leather wallet, silk shirt, or sea-shell necklace you've bought. – Flimzy Jul 23 '12 at 22:23
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    @Flimzy: If processed properly, the wallet, shirt, or necklace should not pose a problem for the local wildlife and agriculture. US farmers save a lot of money on diseases and pests that have not yet been imported from Europe. – Jonas Jan 30 '13 at 4:56

It's like any animal product - you'd have to declare it - better safe than sorry.

However, if they're anything like New Zealand - who are VERY strict, they can fumigate / sterilise / wash any suspect item. For example, a friend brought an Ostrich egg back from South Africa. They took it for a couple of weeks, processed it, and mailed it back to him, all customs-approved.

Similarly, bugs that are dead and pinned can be fumigated to kill any eggs, and wood carvings can be dipped/sprayed as well.

Gatwick won't care - you're exiting with it, but you'll need to declare it at the US point. Odds are they'll wave you through, or possibly just inspect it.

As long as you declare it, you won't get fined. It's if you're caught trying to sneak something through without telling them that you'll get into trouble.

EDIT - Update for US

I've come across the US Customs regulations on Prohibited and Restricted Items - Fish and Wildlife - and indeed, you need to declare feathers.

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    Interestingly I've heard of a recent case (friend of a friend, so take with a grain of salt) where they were fined on entering NZ because they declared honey as a food stuff but not as an animal by-product. So it's not necessarily "as long as you declare it", you may also have to declare it in the right category. – dlanod Jul 24 '12 at 7:08
  • I just follow the 'if I'm not sure, tick the box' rule. Oddly it often means I'm in the shorter customs line and get through faster than people who declare nothing at all. So I'm totally fine with declaring everything :) – Mark Mayo Jul 24 '12 at 16:41
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    dlanod: Although I find it a little hard to believe someone was fined for it, the NZ passenger card specifically lists both "honey" and "bee products" under that sections, so anyone not ticking that box obviously wasn't paying much attention. The full text of the entry is - "Animals or animal products: including meat, dairy products, fish, honey, bee products, eggs, feathers, shells, raw wool, skins, bones or insects?" – Doc Aug 12 '12 at 18:56
  • NZ is crazy strict when it comes to these things :/ – Mark Mayo Aug 12 '12 at 21:16
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    Just because you need to declare something doesn't mean you're not allowed to bring it in. But if you have it and don't declare it you can be in trouble. So if you intend to bring it, declare it, and discuss it with the agent. Then you will not worry that you are infecting local livestock or otherwise harming the environment. – Kate Gregory Dec 13 '13 at 21:15

As it turns out, no one said anything to me. I packed my clothes and then put 2 notebooks on top of them, placed the feather on the notebooks, and then closed the whole thing down with the compression straps. I'm not sure if it didn't show up in the Xray or what, but it went through checked baggage with no issues. Not sure if that's the norm for US flights.

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    You could still have come into trouble if they'd opened it for a spot check and it turned out to be prohibited :/ Really safer to declare things. – Mark Mayo Jan 30 '13 at 1:58

I just walked right by two customs agents in Newark International with a hand fan made from Peacock feathers in my hand that I purchased at a floating market in Bangkok. It's a big fan (approximately 12" by 24") and it was right in front of them, I didn't need to declare it, just as I thought. It was too delicate to pack so I had to carry it by hand, well worth the money.

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    Just because you walked past them doesn't mean you don't need to declare it. They could have been on a break, about to leave, lazy, or any number of reasons. And because a customs officer doesn't ask isn't the reason you declare stuff - it's because your feather or wood product or whatever could contain seeds, animal products or other problematic things. I don't know about the US, but tiny introductions of moths, bugs, or even algae in NZ have caused huge damage and problems. Declare it, always. – Mark Mayo Jan 30 '13 at 1:53
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    Indeed - as per the US Customs regulations - you need to declare feathers. – Mark Mayo Jan 30 '13 at 1:59