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The U.S. government recognizes the need for American Indians - who have used eagle feathers and parts for hundreds of years in religious and cultural ceremonies - to possess these items.

The government has exempted enrolled members of federally recognized tribes from laws that otherwise prohibit possession of bald and golden eagle feathers.

To provide these feathers, the National Eagle Repository in Denver collects dead eagles and distributes their parts to eligible applicants.

Most of the eagles are salvaged by state and federal wildlife personnel. Many die of natural causes, from electrocution when they hit a power line or from collisions with vehicles. Birds that were unlawfully trapped or shot are held as evidence in criminal cases.

Other sources of eagle parts include bird sanctuaries, such as Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City. Personnel collect the feathers of the five eagles there when they molt and send them to the registry. Aviary spokeswoman Marjie Noble said workers frequently stop visitors unaware of the protected status of the feathers who try to walk out with ones they find on the ground.

"We are required to harvest them," she said. "We have to turn them in."