Barn owl Tyto alba, perched on fence post, Norfolk

Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about bird law.


Can barn owls legally be bought and sold?

It is only legal to buy and sell barn owls that have been born and bred in captivity. Barn owls in the wild are fully protected by the law under the Wildlife & Countryside Act of 1981. 

To qualify for sale, barn owls must wear a ring on their leg which proves they have been born and bred in captivity.

Is it okay to photograph birds at their nests?

When taking photographs, the welfare of birds must always come first. Schedule 1 breeding birds are protected by law, which means you need a licence to photograph them at or near the nest. Please check the schedules list in the link before you take any photographs.

If your bird is not legally protected, please still consider whether you really need to photograph it at its nest. You will always cause some disturbance to the bird, which may result in it deserting the nest. You might also draw attention to the nest, which will make the birds more vulnerable to predators.  

Is it okay to keep an old egg collection?

Anyone in possession of the egg of any British wild bird is breaking the law. The law is designed to deal with active egg collecting, but covers old collections as well. It is also illegal to sell birds’ eggs, no matter how old they are.  

Some museums may take old eggs but they need to be of scientific value and have accurate records of when they were collected.

Is it legal to trap magpies?

Magpies can be trapped and killed but there must be a specific reason and the person doing it must hold a licence. Please contact Wildlife Enquiries for further information.