Am I Allowed To Take Photographs Of Birds’ Nests And Eggs?
During spring and early summer if you’re out and about in the countryside or even in your own back garden you may come across a bird’s nest. It could be in the early stages or construction or it may even be housing a bird incubating its eggs or brooding its chicks.
Finding a bird’s nest can be an exciting experience and it may be tempting to try and get a closer look or take a photograph. But you need to be aware that there are laws that protect wild birds and their nests.
Protected by law
In Great Britain all wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 including birds that we encounter every day such as pigeons and house sparrow.
For rarer birds and those vulnerable to persecution or disturbance, schedules attached to the Act give them further protection.
You can see the full legislation in the Act about wild birds here but the parts that relate to nests and eggs can be summarised as follows:
For all wild birds it is illegal to intentionally or recklessly:
- Kill, injure, or take a bird from its natural habitat
- Take, damage, or destroy the nest of a bird while it is in use or being built
- Take or destroy birds’ eggs
- Have an egg in your possession unless you can prove it was collected prior to 1981
For birds listed on Schedule 1 of the Act it is also illegal to disturb:
- Any bird while it is building its nest
- Any bird while it is at or near an active nest
- The dependent young of any bird
- Any bird while lekking (in Scotland)
This means that it is not an offence to take a photograph of a bird or a bird’s nest even if it is a Schedule 1 bird. If you damage the nest or in the case of Schedule 1 birds disturb it or cause a nesting bird to change its behaviour, such as abandoning the nest, while taking a photograph then you would be breaking the law and may be punished with an unlimited fine or a custodial sentence of up to 6 months.
Interpreting by law
The confusion regarding the law comes about because it can be difficult to interpret what is meant by disturbing a bird at or near its nest. The proximity of ‘near’ is not defined but the legislation was written before the advent of digital cameras and more sophisticated equipment which meant that when taking a photo of a birds’ nest ‘near’ would have meant getting very get close up.
Nowadays, if you take a photograph of a nest from a public footpath using a camera with a long lens although you technically may be breaking the law it would be hard for the prosecution to prove that you were near enough to the nest to disturb it.
The other grey area is around the use of hides to observe and photograph Schedule 1 birds and their nests. Again, as long as you can be certain that you are not disturbing the birds as they nest then you are not committing an offence. Making noises to attract the attention of birds or leaving the hide to get a closer look would be committing an offence.
If you want to ensure that you are sticking to the letter of the law around photographing Schedule 1 birds then you need to obtain a licence. Licences are only given out to photographers who satisfy a number of criteria such as those who can demonstrate knowledge of breeding ecology and have the necessary skills to be able to work in the field without unduly disturbing the birds.
Follow the guidelines
Whatever the law says people also have a moral duty not to put any nesting bird or its eggs or chicks at risk and therefore we recommend that if you wish to take a photo of a nest then you follow some strict guidelines:
- Keep as far away from the nest as possible. If you need to handle the nest or move vegetation or anything else covering it to get a photo then you should leave it alone and take just the memory home with you.
- Stay silent when you are in the vicinity of the nest and do not use a flash or any other device that could disturb the bird.
- Do not spend ages setting up the perfect shot. Once you have taken your picture leave the area immediately.
Remember your first priority is the safety and welfare of the bird, its eggs, and its young. Our advice is that wherever possible you should leave nests undisturbed and don’t photograph them.
These days when so many of us have smartphones it has become a habit to take a photo of anything interesting or unusual that we spot as go about our lives. Bur how many of us have hundreds of photos on our phones that we’ve never looked at again let alone shown to other people?
There are many online resources of photographs of birds’ eggs including our own egg identification guides. So the best thing to do if you come across a nest is to stay well clear and leave it to the professionals to record nests and eggs.