Moving bird nests

Bird nests are protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, moving a nest at the wrong time could mean you're breaking the law. If you need to move a nest, find out when you are legally able to.

Moving or destroying nests when they're 'in the way'

Nests can't be moved or destroyed by anyone while they're being built or still in use - apart from exceptions to allow the control of certain birds for specific reasons under licence.

Birds are at their most vulnerable when nesting. Any disturbance could cause death or injury to wild birds and their young - or cause them to abandon their nest, eggs and young.

Be careful not to break the law

Many people are unaware of the legal protection that birds, their nests, eggs and young have and what action they can legally take. However, reckless building work, tree-felling or hedge-cutting at the height of the nesting season can leave people facing prosecution.

Anyone found guilty of an offence could be given a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and an unlimited fine, which can be imposed in respect of each bird, nest or egg affected.

Carry out work out of nesting season

Any activity which will affect nesting birds, including in gardens, shouldn't be carried out in spring or summer when birds are nesting. Instead, work should be planned for times of the year that nests aren't in use.

Also consider any other protected species that might be affected by the work, e.g. bats roosting in buildings.

Removing a nest no longer in use

With the exception of species included on schedule ZA1, you can remove nests as long as they're not being built or in use. However, please keep in mind that some species will have more than one brood in the same nest in a given season.

Additionally, unless there's a reason to remove the nest, leaving it alone can be beneficial for wild birds. For example, some species:

  • use nests as roosts outside the breeding season
  • may reuse their nest the following year
  • reuse the nests of other birds i.e. buzzards take over disused crows' nests.

Clearing out nestboxes

If you're clearing out a nestbox after breeding season and you need to remove unhatched eggs from a nest that isn't currently being used, it's only legal for you to do this between 1 September and 31 January each year. If you do remove unhatched eggs, then you must throw them away as it's illegal to keep them.

Stop birds nesting on your building

If you're having problems with birds nesting on buildings, there are some actions you can take to try and discourage birds from nesting there. But remember that nests are protected while they're being built or in use, so you should take these actions well before the nesting season to make sure that you're not disturbing active nests - ideally, during winter.

Anti-perch methods

Anti-perching devices, such as spikes, are considered to be one of the most humane ways of trying to minimise any problems caused by nesting birds. The spines are usually angled so that they are awkward to land on but will not impale the bird, but some may be designed to bend but be firm enough to provide an uncomfortable perching or roosting place for the bird. However, it's very important that these are installed appropriately by trained professionals and inspected regularly.

Bird netting and meshes

Seagull caught in roof netting © RSPCAWhen it's installed properly, netting can provide a humane, long-term solution to controlling birds.

Using the correct size and tension of mesh will help to reduce the risk of birds becoming caught in the netting. As with anti-perching devices, netting should be maintained and inspected regularly and installed by a professional.

Simple wire-frame structures can be placed around chimney pots. This will stop birds from settling and making sure they can't fold their wings when they land.

Read more about wild birds and netting.

Clear out potential nesting material from your roof

Clear all the moss and plants off your roof and out of gutters, as birds might use this as nesting material.

Accidentally dislodged a nest whilst gardening

If you accidentally dislodge a nest that's empty or being built, don't attempt to return it to the tree as it may be less stable or inadequately sheltered and more likely to be blown down at a later date if it's reoccupied.

Any eggs may also have been damaged, and parents will usually prepare a new nest for a new clutch of eggs.

If you dislodge a nest containing young, know how to safely renest baby birds.

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