Which Birds are protected by law and what protection do they have?


“Barn Owl” Picture by Tom Harris

Which Birds are protected by law and what protection do they have?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the primary legislation which protects animals, plants, and certain habitats in the UK.

Information on the legal protection afforded to wild birds in England, Wales and Scotland in Part 1 of the Act is given on this page. Please be aware however, that it’s impossible to answer all specialist queries or problems on this webpage. For further detailed information, it is advisable to consult the Act itself, which is available from HMSO.

Please also note that because of devolution there are now some significant differences in the law between the constituent countries of the UK.

Basic protection

All birds, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is thus an offence, with certain exceptions (see Exceptions), to:

Intentionally kill, injure or take any wild bird

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

Have in one’s possession or control any wild bird, dead or alive, or any part of a wild bird, which has been taken in contravention of the Act or the Protection of Birds Act 1954

Have in one’s possession or control any egg or part of an egg which has been taken in contravention of the Act or the Protection of Birds Act 1954

Use traps or similar items to kill, injure or take wild birds

Have in one’s possession or control any bird of a species occurring on Schedule 4 of the Act unless registered, and in most cases ringed, in accordance with the Secretary of State’s regulations (see Schedules)

Definition of a wild bird

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 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.

Game birds however are not included in this definition (except for limited parts of the Act). They are covered by the Game Acts, which fully protect them during the close season.


The maximum penalty that can be imposed for an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act – in respect of a single bird, nest or egg – is a fine of up to £5,000, and/or six months’ imprisonment.

**Additional Schedule 1 Protection**

(Birds Protected By Special Penalties AT ALL TIMES)

The birds listed below are protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as part of Schedule 1 – Birds Which Are protected By Special Penalties At All Times;

Birds listed on this schedule enjoy all of the normal protection afforded to all British birds i.e. it is an offence to kill or injure our native birds, or damage or destroy their nest or eggs.

Schedule One birds are further protected from disturbance whilst building their nest, incubating their eggs and rearing their young. For example many local planning authorities list a survey for barn owls as a standard requirement where existing buildings will be affected by development.


Common Name Scientific Name
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Bee-eater Merops bullockoides
Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Bittern, little Ixobrychus minutus
Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Bunting, cirl Emberiza cirlus
Bunting, Lapland Calcarius lapponicus
Bunting, snow Plectrophenax nivalis
Buzzard, honey Pernis apivorus
Capercaillie (Scotland only) Tetrao urogallus
Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Corncrake Crex crex
Crake, spotted Porzana porzana
Crossbills (all species) Loxia curvirostra
Divers (all species) Gavia
Dotterel Charadrius morinellus
Duck, long-tailed Clangula hyemalis
Eagle, golden Aquila chrysaetos
Eagle, white-tailed Haliaeetus albicilla
Falcon, gyr Falco rusticolus
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Firecrest Regulus ignicapillus
Garganey Anas querquedula
Godwit, black-tailed Limosa limosa
Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Grebe, black-necked Podiceps nigricollis
Grebe, Slavonian Podiceps auritus
Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Gull, little Larus minutus
Gull, Mediterranean Larus melanocephalus
Harriers (all species) Circus
Heron, purple Ardea purpurea
Hobby Falco subbuteo
Hoopoe Upupa epops
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Kite, red Milvus milvus
Merlin Falco columbarius
Oriole, golden Oriolus oriolus
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Owl, barn Tyto alba
Owl, snowy Nyctea scandiaca
Peregrine Falco peregrinus
Petrel, Leach’s Oceanodroma leucorhoa
Phalarope, red-necked Phalaropus lobatus
Plover, Kentish Charadrius alexandrinus
Plover, little ringed Charadrius dubius
Quail, common Coturnix coturnix
Redstart, black Phoenicurus ochruros
Redwing Turdus iliacus
Rosefinch, scarlet Carpodacus erythrinus
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Sandpiper, green Tringa ochropus
Sandpiper, purple Calidris maritima
Sandpiper, wood Tringa glareola
Scaup Aythya marila
Scoter, common Melanitta nigra
Scoter, velvet Melanitta fusca
Serin Serinus serinus
Shorelark Serinus serinus
Shrike, red-backed Lanius collurio
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
Stilt, black-winged Himantopus himantopus
Stint, Temminck’s Calidris temminckii
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus
Swan, Bewick’s Cygnus columbianus
Swan, whooper Cygnus cygnus
Tern, black Chlidonias niger
Tern, little Sterna albifrons
Tern, roseate Sterna dougallii
Tit, bearded Panurus biarmicus
Tit, crested Lophophanes cristatus
Treecreeper, short-toed Certhia brachydactyla
Warbler, Cetti’s Cettia cetti
Warbler, Dartford Sylvia undata
Warbler, marsh Acrocephalus palustris
Warbler, Savi’s Locustella luscinioides
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Woodlark Lullula arborea
Wryneck Jynx torquilla


“Little Bittern” Picture by Stuart Fisher

Licences are available for the following

Disturbance in relation to science, education or conservation

Disturbance in relation to photography

Click for License information  

Other Protections

Some birds are protected by special penalties during the close season which is 1 February to 31 August (21 February to 31August below high water mark) but which may be killed or taken outside this period. They are:

Goldeneye – Bucephala clangula

Greylag goose – Anser anser(in Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland, and Wester Ross only)

Pintail – Anas acuta

Full Act Details

Read the Full Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (with amendments) CLICK HERE

Information Resources


Natural England

Green Willows ecological services

RSPB Policy

Join our WildlifeCrimeAware Campaign 


Wildlife Crime is everywhere, but so are we!

For far too long, Wildlife Criminals have gotten away with illegally killing or illegally disturbing our wildlife in plain sight, without any real fear of being caught.

WildlifeCrimeAware is here to change this.

We would everyone to be the extra ‘eyes and ears’, protecting our local wildlife, by making wildlife criminals feel like they’re standing out or being watched, forcing them to be constantly looking over their shoulder for someone who might be “Wildlife Crime Aware!”

Click HERE to find out more and to join our campaign free


**Image Supplied by Raptor Persecution Scotland

Wildlife Crime, How you can help

Do you think you’ve seen a Wildlife Crime against a wild bird or animal?

If it is urgent, such as an incident involving firearms or immediate danger telephone the police using 999 (Emergency Only) or  Dial 101 ( Police Non Emergency )

Sick or injured birds or animals, such as pigeons trapped in netting or injured swans should be reported to RSPCA in England and Wales (0300 1234 999), SSPCA in Scotland (03000 999 999) or USPCA in Northern Ireland (0845 6008000).

The Investigations team works with UK police forces and other agencies to help catch wildlife criminals, particularly involving bird of prey persecution, the illegal trapping and taking of birds, illegal trade and egg collecting.