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Conservation of wild birds

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Conservation of wild birds

A large number of species of wild birds which occur naturally in European territory are in decline. To reverse this trend, the European Union (EU) is introducing a general system prohibiting practices (killing and capturing of birds, destruction of nests, taking of eggs, etc.) which threaten the conservation of bird species. The protection arrangements put in place also include the designation of special protection areas (SPAs) for endangered birds and migratory species which are subject to protective measures 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.


Member States of the European Union (EU) shall take measures to guarantee the conservation and govern the exploitation of wild birds naturally occurring in the European territory in order to maintain their population at a satisfactory level, or to adapt their population to that level.

Protection of habitats

The disappearance or deterioration of habitats represents a threat to the conservation of wild birds. Their protection is therefore essential.

To preserve, maintain or re-establish the biotopes and habitats of birds, Member States shall:

  • designate protected areas;
  • ensure the upkeep and management of habitats in accordance with ecological needs;
  • re-establish destroyed biotopes and create biotopes.

Special protection areas

Member States shall create special protection areas (SPAs) for threatened species of birds and for migratory birds (see Annex I). These areas are to be situated in the birds’ natural area of distribution and may include wintering and nesting grounds or staging posts along migration routes.

Member States shall pay particular attention to wetlands, which are in decline across Europe. They shall also create conditions favourable to the survival or reproduction of the species occurring in special protection areas. To this end, they shall take the necessary steps to avoid pollution or deterioration of habitats or any disturbances affecting the birds. They shall also assess the impact of projects likely to have a significant effect on the designated areas and take appropriate measures to avoid them.

The special protection areas (SPAs), together with the special areas of conservation (SACs) under theHabitatsDirective (92/43/EEC), form the Natura 2000 European network of protected ecological sites.

Protection of wild birds

This Directive establishes a general system of protection for all species of wild birds occurring in European territory. It prohibits in particular:

  • deliberate destruction or capture of wild birds;
  • destruction of, or damage to, nests;
  • taking or keeping eggs even if empty;
  • practices which deliberately disturb the birds and which jeopardise the conservation of the species;
  • trade in and the keeping of live or dead species the hunting and capture of which are not permitted (this prohibition also applies to any parts or derivatives of a bird).

Under certain conditions, Member States may derogate from the provisions laid down for the protection of wild birds. However, the consequences of such derogations must not be incompatible with the conservation objectives specified in the Directive.

Member States must promote research for the purposes of the management, protection and wise exploitation of the species of wild birds occurring in the European territory (see Annex V).


Species whose numbers, distribution and reproductive rate allow may be hunted. However, the practice of hunting must comply with certain principles:

  • the number of birds taken must not jeopardise the maintenance at a satisfactory level of the population of species which may be hunted;
  • species are not to be hunted during periods of breeding or rearing;
  • migratory species are not to be hunted during their return to their breeding grounds;
  • methods for the large-scale or non-selective killing of birds are prohibited (see Annex IV).

The list of species which may be hunted is provided in Annex II (Part A gives the list of species which may be hunted throughout the EU, and Part B the list of species which may be hunted in certain countries only).


This Directive replaces Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 (more commonly known as the Birds Directive), which was the oldest EU legislative text relating to nature. However, the modifications made are purely formal. The Birds Directive established for the first time a general system for the protection of all species of wild birds naturally occurring in the territory of the Union. It also recognises that wild birds, which include a large number of migratory species, are a shared heritage of the EU Member States and that their conservation, to be effective, requires cooperation on a global scale.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2009/147/EC



OJ L 20 of 26.1.2010

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2013/17/EU



OJ L 158 of 10.6.2013

Last updated: 06.05.2014