kestrelhoveringRecognising wildlife crimes against birds is more difficult than it might otherwise be because there are so many exceptions to the law, generally for reasons connected with hunting/gamekeeping and agriculture. We’ve covered these exceptions on other pages of the website (links below).

In theory, though, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, all wild birds are protected and a wild bird is defined as any bird of a species that is resident in or is a visitor to the European Territory of any member state in a wild state. The Act therefore covers migrants and non-breeding wintering species.

There are some differences in the law between the constituent countries of the UK, but in general terms it is an offence to:
  • intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird
  • use traps or similar items (eg limesticks – illegal in the EU since 1979) to kill, injure or take wild birds (Pole Traps are always illegal, Cage Traps are legal in some cases but their use is strictly controlled)
  • use a live bird that is tethered, blind, or maimed as a decoy
  • use any mechanically propelled vehicle – including boats – in immediate pursuit of a wild bird to kill or take it
  • kill or take huntable birds during the closed season for that species
  • organise or participate in any event where captive birds of any sort are liberated to be shot immediately after liberation, or for a landowner or occupier to permit use of land for such an event (so for example this from the US would be illegal in the UK)
  • intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird whilst it is in use or being built
  • intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird, or trade any wild bird egg no matter when it was collected


The General Licence

It is legal to shoot some species of bird all year round under the General Licence including Wood Pigeons, Carrion Crows, Rooks, Magpies, Jackdaws, but there are closed seasons for Gamebirds (when it is illegal to shoot them), and it is illegal to shoot almost all other birds at any time of the year.

The trapping, possession and sale of wild birds is a crime.

Finch and bunting trapping using nets and cages is on the increase. Licenced ringers and other licence holders may use mist nets to temporarily catch wild birds in appropriate locations, but a licenced user will always be on site and will be checking the nets regularly.

redmorearrowIn any incident where eg a net is placed in a ‘suspicious’ site and is being used to trap wild birds, a limestick is being used, or a finch or bunting (or similar small passerine) is used as a caged decoy it is very likely that a crime is being committed and it should be Recorded and Reported immediately. Please note that it takes skill and training to remove a bird from a net or a limestick – please do not attempt to do so unless you are qualified: more damage could inadvertently be done to the bird.

Birds of Prey

All birds of prey are fully protected, and many are listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. No bird of prey can be shot, poisoned, or trapped at any time or for any reason. There are currently no exceptions.

redmorearrowAny incident involving a bird of prey should be Recorded and Reported immediately.

When is a crime NOT being committed?

red crossIt is not an offence under the Act for a person to take a sick or injured bird in order to tend to it and ensure its release back to the wild as soon as possible.

red crossNeither is it an offence to humanely kill a sick or injured bird that has no hope of recovery, or to kill or take a wild bird if it can be shown it was the incidental result of a lawful act, for example a road accident.

Other pages on this website relevant to birds and wildlife crime

Gamebirds Cage Traps Nests and Eggs
Gamebirds Cage Traps Nests and Eggs
poletrap limestick
Wildfowling Pole Traps Limesticks




Seen or know of a wildlife crime? Record and Report it as soon as possible.



Page updated September 2014.

Any comments, corrections, additions? Please let us know.

Leave a Comment

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonYouTube IconTwitter Icontwitter follow buttonVisit Our Flickr SiteVisit Our Flickr Site