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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Conservation of wild birds

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Conservation of wild birds

The populations of many species of migratory and native European wild birds are in decline. The European Union has introduced policies to reverse this trend through banning certain practices, and introducing protective and habitat management measures.


Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (OJ L 20, 26.1.2010, pp. 7-25)

Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds (OJ L 103, 25.4.1979, pp. 1-18)



It seeks to conserve all wild birds in the EU by setting out rules for their protection, management and control. It covers birds, their eggs, nests and habitats.


EU countries must take action to maintain or restore the populations of endangered species to a level, which is in line with ecological, scientific and cultural requirements, while taking into account economic and recreational needs.

Measures must be set in place to preserve, maintain or re-establish a sufficient diversity and area of habitats* for all bird species. These measures mainly involve:

  • the creation of protected areas,
  • the upkeep and management of habitats inside and outside the protected areas, and
  • the re-establishment of destroyed biotopes*, and the creation of new ones.

Certain species, listed in Annex I, are subject to special measures concerning their habitat to ensure survival. These include species that are:

  • in danger of extinction,
  • vulnerable to habitat change,
  • in small numbers or restricted local distribution, or
  • in need of particular attention because of the specific nature of their habitat.

EU countries must create special protection areas (SPAs) for threatened species and migratory birds, with conditions favourable to their survival, situated in the birds’ natural area of distribution (i.e. where they naturally occur). Particular attention is paid to wetlands. The SPAs form part of the Natura 2000 network of protected ecological sites.

This Directive also puts in place general protection for all species of wild birds in the EU. In particular the following are banned:

  • deliberate destruction or capture of wild birds,
  • damage to nests,
  • taking or keeping eggs,
  • deliberate disturbance which put conservation at risk, and
  • trading or keeping live or dead birds, the hunting of which is banned.

EU countries must promote research for the purposes of the management, protection and wise exploitation (e.g., ensuring hunting is limited to maintaining the population of the species at a satisfactory level) of wild birds in Europe

Some species, whose numbers allow, may be hunted, if certain principles are observed:

  • the number of birds taken must not jeopardise satisfactory population levels,
  • species must not be hunted during periods of breeding or rearing,
  • migratory species must not be hunted during their return to breeding grounds, and
  • large-scale or non-selective killing methods are prohibited.


In 2015, the European Commission issued for a second time a report on conservation status under the EU Birds Directive, enabling a comparative assessment to be made. According to the report, and a similar report under the Habitats Directive, knowledge on the status and trends for protected species and habitats has improved. Some species and habitats are showing signs of recovery, and there are clear indications that the Natura 2000 network is playing a major role in stabilising habitats and species, especially where measures have been implemented on an adequate scale.

For more information, see Nature and biodiversity on the European Commission’s website.


* Habitat: a natural area or type of environment where a particular kind of animal or plant normally lives.

* Biotope: an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living space for a specific mix of animals and plants.


The legislation was originally adopted in 1979 (Council Directive 79/409/EEC) and was to be transposed in EU countries’ law by 7 April 1981. Directive 79/409/EEC was replaced by a codified version (Directive 2009/147/EC) in 2009.


Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: The State of Nature in the European Union Report on the status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives for the 2007-2012 period as required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directive (COM(2015) 219 final of 20.5.2015)

last update 24.09.2015