Keeping Wild Birds in the United Kingdom
You must be able to prove that you followed the conditions of the relevant law before you keep any wild bird, its eggs, or the nest.
In simple terms, the definition of ‘taken legally’ is (any):
- Taken under licence.
- Taken from the wild and kept because it’s not fit for release.
- Killed by accident (e.g. roadkill) or found dead.
Note: The RSPCA offers further guidance if you find a baby bird out of its nest (e.g. nestlings or fledglings). As a rule, you will need to get a licence to keep a wild bird in captivity.
How to Keep a Wild Disabled Bird
Wild disabled birds are those which may be better off kept in captivity because they are considered as being unfit for release (e.g. unlikely to survive alone in their natural habitat).
Most veterinarians will be able to provide proof that the bird is ‘unfit for release’ if you want to keep it. Thus, you would need to get a statement confirming that it would be unlikely to survive by itself in the wild.
As the new keeper of a wild disabled bird, you would need to meet all of its welfare needs and be able to care for it without creating any ‘unnecessary’ suffering.
Bird keepers must also…
- Care for it in a way that increases the chances of it fending for itself when released into the wild.
- Ensure it gets any appropriate veterinary treatment needed for any injuries.
- Keep the bird in a cage that is big enough for it to spread its wings (in all directions).
- Release the bird from captivity and back into its natural habitat if it makes a good enough recovery.
Note: Failing to meet the welfare needs of birds, or causing them unnecessary suffering, can result in a fine and a prosecution in the United Kingdom.
Getting Licences for Wild Birds
There is no legal requirement to get a licence to keep a wild bird if the animal was taken or killed ‘legally’. Even so, you must be able to provide some proof that you own it ‘legally’ to avoid prosecution and an unlimited fine.
Thus, it would be important to keep a record of where you found the bird and when you took it. You would need to produce a receipt if you paid for it (e.g. bought it from someone).
Birds of Prey (schedule 4 birds)
Four schedules outline the laws that relate to the treatment and protection of birds of prey in the United Kingdom – and internationally.
If the bird is listed on schedule 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) you would not need a licence to keep it. But, you would need to register it (including wild disabled birds).
Birds listed on the schedule 4 species:
- Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
- Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
- Honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus)
- Marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
- Merlin (Falco columbarius)
- Montagu’s harrier (Circus pygargus)
- Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
- Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
- White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Important: Defra produces further guidance about registering to keep captive schedule 4 birds. The information also explains when to ring them and when to have them microchipped.
Getting a Wild Bird Licence
You must apply for a licence to keep a wild animal, including birds classed as dangerous and wild (i.e. cassowary, ostrich).
Furthermore, you would also need to meet the conditions set out in other short-term licences, including a licence for:
- An authorised person to keep disabled schedule 4 wild birds for rehabilitation (GL07).
- Vets to keep disabled schedule 4 wild birds for rehabilitation (GL08), such as for the rehabilitation and the potential release of disabled wild birds.
Note: Another section explains the best methods for preventing problems caused by wild birds (e.g. to land and water) and how to get a licence to capture or kill them.
Related Help Guides
- Can you own a monkey in the United Kingdom?
- UK rules about animals and family pets.
- Cats welfare: Advice, tips, and information.
Note: This video presented by ‘OC Aviary’ is a useful guide for beginners to learn about breeding and keeping British native birds in captivity.