Can I Collect Birds' Eggs?

Quail Eggs

We get asked this question a few times each year during breeding season despite it having been illegal to take the eggs of wild birds since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and illegal to possess any wild birds’ eggs since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Even if you have bird boxes in your garden it is illegal to remove unhatched or abandoned eggs from them except between September and January, or August and January in Scotland, and then they must be disposed of and not kept.

Unfortunately, the practice of egg collection still continues although the introduction of custodial sentences for these offences by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 appears to have had a positive effect in reducing egg collecting activity.

If you have an egg collection in your possession, then you would not be breaking the law as long as you can prove the collection predates 1981. It is unlikely that you would ever be taken to court but be aware that the burden of proof of age would then lie with you; the prosecutor only needs to prove possession.

It is illegal to sell any egg collection, no matter how old it is. The eggs must be given away or destroyed although passing them on to someone else only hands the problem over to them. Many people find it difficult to destroy an egg collection, particularly if they have a sentimental attachment to it and consider giving them to museums.

However, museums will only take collections if they include accurate and reliable data, otherwise they have no scientific value and egg collections are no longer openly displayed in museums. If your egg collection has provenance, then it could be important to science as a source of information on the past lives and distributions of bird populations.

We also get asked every now and again if we’d like to buy collections of birds’ eggs – usually someone asking for a friend. The answer to this one is always ‘no’.

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