Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest? Avoid breaking the law in your own backyard

Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest? Here's what gardeners need to know about laws that protect birds

Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest
(Image credit: Getty/Marcia Straub)

Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest in your garden? Spring brings with it many changes in our gardens, and while for some people learning how to attract birds into your garden is one of their top wildlife garden ideas, others might be concerned about unsightly nests or excessive bird droppings if there are multiple nests.

Fortunately, larger birds rarely make their home too close to humans; most birds' nests in gardens will belong to small songbirds, and most of the time, you won't even be aware of their presence apart from hearing birdsong at dusk and dawn (hardly an inconvenience). 

If you do have a bird's nest in your garden that you would rather have removed, however, read the following information first – or you could be breaking the law.  

Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest in the US?

Feeding drongo

(Image credit: Getty/Vijayamurthy S)

Yes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is clear on the law: Most bird nests are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law says: 'No person may take (kill), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit.' 

The only times it may be legal to destroy a bird's nest is if it's definitely been abandoned, but if a breeding pair is still reliant on the nest, even if you can't see eggs or chicks, then you will be breaking the law by removing it. It's also illegal to keep any wild bird's nest in your home, unless you've applied for permission to do so. 

There are exceptions to the law where invasive species, e.g. European house sparrows and starlings, are concerned, but if you're not sure what type of bird the nest in your garden tree belongs to, don't destroy it – contact your local environmental department first. 

Is it illegal to remove a bird's nest in the UK? 

Starling with young

(Image credit: Getty/Frank Sommariva)

Again, the answer is 'yes' – most wild birds are protected under the the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, including starlings and sparrows. It is illegal to remove or destroy any active nest 'while it is in use or is being built'. It is also illegal to take or destroy the egg of any wild bird. 

This law also covers pigeons and seagulls – if either bird is being a nuisance in or near your garden or house, you have to contact the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who are responsible for the control of bird populations. Never assume that if you hire pest control or a contractor of any kind to deal with a bird problem then they are responsible; the legal responsibility for nest removal will still fall on you. 

If you're not sure whether the nest in your garden is being used or not, contact the RSPB for guidance. 

How can I help birds in winter and early spring?

Bird feeders

(Image credit: Getty)

At this time of year, at the very end of winter, many birds will still be struggling to find enough food, especially early-breeding species who must also find food for their young. 

Learning how to make bird feeders is a great place to start, as is leaving out water for thirsty birds. And while some people may be concerned about birds' nests, there's actually not enough space for urban birds to nest, so building a nest box could help breeding pairs looking for somewhere to raise their offspring. 

Head over to our wildlife garden ideas for more ways to encourage creatures great and small to enjoy your outdoor space this spring. 

Anna writes about interior design and gardening. Her work has appeared in Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and many other publications. She is an experienced outdoor and indoor gardener and has a passion for growing roses and Japanese maples in her outside space.