Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, perched on hotel roof, Manchester city centre

Shooting and destruction

Wild birds of prey are, sadly, continually at risk from being illegally shot, trapped or destroyed.

Shooting and destruction

Unfortunately, wild birds of prey are continually in danger of illegal shooting, trapping and poisoning.

As well as birds of prey, other species are also deliberately targeted for persecution. The illegal killing of fish-eating birds - particularly cormorants, grey herons, red-breasted mergansers and goosanders - continues to be a problem, particularly in areas where commercial fisheries are situated. These are all species protected by wild bird legislation.


It is illegal to shoot the majority of wild birds. Exceptions to this are:

  • Birds listed on Schedule 2 Part 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. These species, which include various ducks and geese, coot, moorhen, golden plover, snipe and woodcock, can be killed or taken outside the closed season (usually 1 February to 31 August), but are protected during the closed season.
  • General Licences allow the control of certain species (eg certain gull species, pigeon species and crow species) under certain conditions, eg to preserve public health, for the purposes of public and air safety, preventing the spread of disease, or preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or fisheries.
  • Game birds (eg. pheasants, partridges and grouse) are not wild birds as defined by the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They are covered by the Game Act and have their own open season.

Spring-traps and cage traps

It is illegal to use a spring-trap in any location except a covered run, targeted at small ground vermin. It is illegal to use traps in other situations such as in the open on the ground or on a pole, where they are indiscriminate.

The original circular pole-trap was designed specifically to catch birds of prey. More frequently used now is a steel spring-trap set on top of a post or sawn-off tree trunk. Pole-traps have been illegal since 1904. They are usually placed in or near to release pens containing pheasant poults. Birds of prey, which habitually use posts as vantage points or plucking posts, are particularly susceptible to this form of persecution.

The Larsen trap is a type of cage-trap which can be used in accordance with the terms of a Government General Licence to take certain crow species. A bird of one of these approved species is placed in one section of the trap during the breeding season as a ‘call bird’. This attracts birds of the same species in whose territory the Larsen trap has been placed.

Unfortunately, these traps can be used illegally by using an alternative decoy bird such as a pigeon to attract birds of prey, for example sparrowhawks and goshawks.

During 2015, we received 16 confirmed trapping incidents involving birds of prey (36 reports received). In particular, a buzzard was intentionally trapped and injured, and despite veterinary treatment for a severe leg injury had to be euthanised.

 Peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus, perched on hotel roof, Manchester city centre

Nest destruction

It is unlawful to destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. The eggs, nestlings and dependant young are also protected.

Nest destruction takes two main forms: the deliberate destruction of the nest due to a perceived threat by the species concerned, or the incidental destruction during, for example, hedgerow cutting or habitat destruction for development.

There is a defence if it can be shown that the act was an incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.

During 2008 there were a 249 reports of the intentional destruction of the nests of wild birds other than birds of prey – of which 34 reports were confirmed. A further 28 reported incidents related to the intentional destruction of bird of prey nests, eggs or chicks. Two of these incidents were confirmed – both involving peregrines.

Golden Plover eggs, Sutherland, Scotland

How you can help

Poisoned bird of prey

Have you seen a crime against a wild bird? Use this form to report a wildlife crime to us.

You might also be interested in: Bird of Prey Defenders