Wild bird laws aim to safeguard chicks from the curious with cameras


It is illegal to disturb wild birds' nests
Birds’ eggs and nestling chicks are protected by the law (a fledgling robin)

SPRING is an exciting time of the year when birds are nesting in hedgerows and trees, but people could be unwittingly breaking the law by taking photographs of eggs or chicks!

Birdwatch Ireland recently issued a plea on their Facebook page for followers not to post images of birds’ eggs or their young in the nest – urging people to resist any temptation to take the photographs in the first place.

Wild bird photography laws

Wildlife photographers are very clued in about the ethics – the dos and don’ts – of photographing bird and animal species in their natural environment, and the necessity of ensuring that they are not disturbed. Those involved in wildlife photography clubs, or working as individuals, will also know that laws exist to protect feathered parents and their chicks.

However, many ordinary members of the public may be unaware that in Ireland, and Northern Ireland, it is illegal to take photographs of nests with eggs and nestlings, unless you have a special licence.

In Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is responsible for issuing licences, under the Wildlife Act 1976, that allow a person to “take or make photographic, video or other pictures of a protected wild bird of a species specified in the licence on or near a nest containing eggs or unflown young”.

Anyone who suspects that laws designed to protect birds and their young have been broken is encouraged to contact the NPWS or Gardaí.

RSPB NI tells me that, similarly, it is necessary to apply for a licence north of the border, with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) being responsible for deciding who gets a licence.

Under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, it is an offence to disturb, damage or destroy nesting birds, their eggs, or chicks, so the conservation body urges people to simply play it safe and “give nests a wide berth”!

Need for nest protection

The reason why laws across the European Union are in place to safeguard nesting birds and chicks from the curious and/or careless is very simple – disturbing a nest could lead to the death of unhatched or hatched chicks.

Firstly, predators, such as larger birds like magpies, or mammals, like cats, may be alerted to the presence of a nest by humans and then target the eggs or chicks.

Also, parent birds may abandon a nest if they suspect it has been targeted by a perceived predator, even a two-legged one, despite the fact that they may have meant no harm and only wanted to take the snap of a lifetime!

Worryingly, if vegetation is moved, or either the parents or young become aware of a person’s presence, heightened stress levels may cause older chicks to quit the nest early  (a term commonly used is ‘explode’), which may greatly reduce their chances of survival.

So be warned, what may seem like a rare chance to photograph an inhabited nest could land you in legal hot water, so it’s best just to steer clear!

Visit http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Default.aspx?tabid=371 for some sensible advice and interesting facts regarding baby birds.

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