PIERRE, S.D. — A two-year undercover operation that led to indictments against 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds offers a rare window into the black market for eagle carcasses, feathers, parts and handicrafts, including one alleged dealer who called himself the “best feather man in the Midwest.”

The indictments announced this week in Rapid City, South Dakota, portray an illicit trade carried out through face-to-face meetings, emails, texts and personal introductions. Eagle heads or wings can fetch hundreds of dollars, though sellers sometimes trade goods such as bear claws, buffalo horn caps or animal hides. The eagle parts are often used in Native American-style handicrafts.

“This was the illegal black market trafficking of eagles and eagle parts for profit,” South Dakota U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler said. “It basically was a chop shop for eagles.”

Eagles are the national symbol of the United States and they’re widely considered sacred by American Indians. Federal law limits possession of eagle feathers and other parts to enrolled members of federally recognized tribes who use them in religious practices. Bald eagles once nearly disappeared from most of the U.S. but flourished under federal protections and came off the endangered list in 2007. Hunting them generally remains illegal.

The defendants include people from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

One case accuses a Rapid City family, Troy Fairbanks and his two adult sons, who are enrolled members of the Standing Rock and Lower Brule Sioux tribes. The father ran a Native American dance troupe called Buffalo Dreamers that performed at venues such as the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park in the Black Hills. But they also did a large trade in eagle parts and feathers, according to their indictment.

Fairbanks bragged to an unnamed “cooperating individual” that he was the “best feather man in the Midwest,” boasting that 19 people in the Los Angeles area wanted to buy from him.