In the United States, the term 'nongame birds' applies to all bird species that are neither hunted nor legalIy endangered or threatened. Although ultimate responsibility for protection of migratory nongame birds lies with the federal government, research and management efforts by the key federal landholding agencies have historically emphasized species of economic importance, game birds and endangered species. In response to various legislative actions between the late 1960s and early 1980s, however, there has been a gradual escalation of research directed towards conservation of migratory nongame birds in these agencies. These studies have focused on two broad objectives (a) development of population sampling and census methods, and (b) identifying habitat requirements of species and species groups and the impacts of habitat changes on populations. The bulk of this research has been conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. In this paper, the missions and research structures of these agencies are described briefly, and selected research highlights are discussed at length. Specific examples are development of the Breeding Bird Survey and teasing apart the relative contributions of forest fragmentation on breeding and wintering grounds to declines in populations of Neotropical migrants. Nongame bird research activities in other agencies are also summarized. The cumulative research conducted to date is evaluated in the context of developing a national management strategy to meet future migratory nongame bird conservation needs. Important shortcomings in present federal programmes continue to be insufficient folIow-through from research results to direct management action and lack of coordination among agencies with a vested interest in nongame bird conservation. Pending legislation and recent maturation of a comprehensive migratory nongame bird policy in the Fish and Wildlife Service are indications that significant improvements in these areas can be expected.