Are Wood Pigeons Protected?

In the USA, wood pigeons are classed the same as feral pigeons and are not protected.

In the UK, wood pigeons are classed differently from feral pigeons and they are protected but with a proviso.

are wood pigeons protected

What Does Protected Mean?

In the USA, it is legal to kill wood pigeons under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that protects domestic birds but not feral pigeons.

This is because, in the USA, the wood pigeon is considered non-native (growing or living in a place that is not the location of its natural occurrence), so you are legally allowed to kill them, damage their nests and collect or destroy their eggs.

In the UK, it is more complicated.

Wood pigeons are protected in the UK under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

a wood pigeon

Working alongside them are the (DEFRA) Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has made it that it is illegal to injure or kill wood pigeons along with various other wild birds.

However in the UK, wood pigeons are vermin by virtue of them being agricultural pests.  

This means that they can be subject to pest control under a general license (GL42).

Pest control can take numerous forms including shooting them.

While farmers (and hunters they allow to use their land) may shoot pigeons, the general public cannot, for example, shoot pigeons on their roof.

Let’s look at the issues in further detail.

The following information relates to the UK because of the protected status.

If you are in the USA and have concerns about any of the issues raised here, contact your state wildlife agency.

Moving Or Destroying A Wood Pigeon’s Nests

If the wood pigeon is in an unsafe area during the nesting season, or you find that they have become a problem in your garden, you still cannot move or destroy the nest or eggs in the UK.

If you find that the pigeons are in danger, seek advice from a local vet, the RSPCA/RSPB, or you can contact the Wildlife Aid Foundation that is dedicated to British wildlife.

wood pigeon nest

If you do move the nest/eggs, then this is considered an offense.

If you are found guilty of this you will be fined and may even be given a penalty of imprisonment for six months.

Once the nest is not in use, or not being built, then you may remove it, but keep in mind that some birds will reuse the nest more than once in a given season.

In the USA, there are several varieties of domestic birds that will reuse another bird’s nest, so if you destroy it, you may be destroying the new nest of a protected domestic bird.

Clearing Out Nest boxes

If you keep nest boxes in your garden, you will probably end up cleaning them out at some point.

You will need to do this after breeding season as the nest will no longer be in use.

wood pigeon nesting box

At this point, you will also be able to remove the unhatched eggs from the nest.

Between the 1st September and the 31st January each year, it is legal to remove the eggs while cleaning a nest box out because they are considered dead at this point.

When removing the unhatched eggs, you will have to throw them away as it is illegal to keep the eggs because they are still protected.

Accidentally Breaking a Nest While Gardening

If you break a nest that is being built, or empty, do not attempt to put the nest back into the tree, because the nest will be less stable, and more likely to be blown down.

If the nest gets damaged, and it is containing young, you can look up how to safely re-nest baby birds online, or again contact the RSPB.

 If you are an animal lover, then beware of calling a vet because some have a policy of allowing wildlife to die, or to help it die if they are handed responsibility.

The RSPCA may take a similar approach, but the RSPB may help you re-nest the birds, teach you how to care for them, or even suggest a pigeon-friendly rescue center that is able to care for them.

What If You Capture a Protected Bird?

If you capture a wood pigeon that is injured, you will need to contact a vet to have it humanely destroyed.

If you contact the RSPCA before going to the vet they will give you a code to give to the vet so you won’t get the vet bill at the end of the consultation.

Many vets will not charge you for destroying wild animals, but their methods for doing so will vary.

In other words, many are not keen on spending money on killing the bird.

If you plan on keeping the bird in captivity because it can no longer look after itself, then you may need to get a licence.

If you find the bird and it is sick, and a vet does agree to treat it, then contact the RSPB to ask their advice on what to do next.

Are Wood Pigeons Going Extinct?

No, it was the passenger pigeon of North America that was killed to extinction in the early 1900s.

Oddly enough, many varieties of birds have been purposefully hunted to extinction because it was fun.

Even more have died off simply because a new creature entered a bird’s environment and ensured their extinction.

For example, along with their own invasion, humans introduced pigs and monkeys to the dodo’s habitat who ate the vulnerable eggs and competed with the dodos for food.

The last dodo died in 1681.

Can I Keep a Wood Pigeon as a Pet?

Because a wood pigeon is wild, they will not cope well in a small cage or confinement, but if the wood pigeon was to be hand-reared from birth, then it would be fine as a pet.

Can You Keep a Wild Pigeon as A Pet

If you have domesticated a wild wood pigeon, then you will probably know not to set it free in the woods.

A hand-reared bird cannot cope out in the wild, just like how a domestic budgie cannot live in the wild.

The wood pigeon relies on you to feed it, look after it, and keep it away from predators.

It should be a question of should I keep a wood pigeon as a pet rather than can I.

Because the wood pigeon is not an exotic bird like the Atlantic Puffin or the Rainbow Lorikeet, you can legally keep a pigeon as a pet, but as they are still wild animals make sure you get one from a shelter.

If you get one from the wild, you do not know if the wood pigeon has babies it is caring for.

Pigeons are a loving breed that mate for life and live as couples.

So when you take them from their home, you are taking them from their loved one.

Wild animals are much happier to be left alone.

It is legal to feed pigeons in your garden, but people prefer not to feed them because pigeons are big birds that can cause a lot of damage to roofs and cars.

Under the Environmental Protection Act (1990) it is illegal to feed pigeons in the streets because it is classed as littering.

pigeons eating seed

The maximum fine for this is £150 but the mandate from the UK Conservative government has allocated them no funds to police “Bird feeding” littering.

This is a subtle way of telling the police not to arrest people who feed the birds.

Manchester council, however, has started using taxpayer money to catch and fine people who feed birds in Manchester, so stay away from there if you like birds.

Please note, this article is for information and educational purposes only. There are comments about legal issues which are correct at the time of writing but as situations and laws change, it is best to seek qualified legal advice for your specific issue or question.

Denise Bereford

Denise Bereford is a full-time writer and researcher with a long-standing passion for pigeons.

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