Guidance

Keeping wild birds or animals

Find out what you need to do to keep wild birds or animals legally and safely, including when you need a licence and how to get one.

This guidance applies to you if you’re a:

  • member of the public that keeps wild birds or animals
  • business that keeps wild birds or animals, eg a zoo, pet shop, garden centre, farm or circus

This guidance only covers wild birds which usually live in or visit one of the European Union countries.

For the purposes of this guidance, wild birds don’t include birds that have been bred in captivity, poultry or game birds.

A wild animal is any animal other than a bird which is living wild, for example a wild fox.

Keeping wild animals

You must follow certain requirements if you keep a wild animal to make sure you’re keeping it responsibly and safely.

Check if you need a licence

You must check if you need a licence to keep your animal and apply for one if you do.

You could be prosecuted and may have to pay a fine of up to £5,000 if you own a wild animal without the relevant licence.

Prove you legally own the animal

You must be able to show if asked that you legally own your animal and it’s not captured from the wild. You should keep a record of when and where the animal was found or taken, or a receipt if you bought it.

Keep live wild animals so they can’t escape

You must not allow your live non-native animal to escape into the wild. You could be prosecuted and may have to pay a fine if you do.

Licences for wild animals

You need a licence to keep a wild animal that’s any of the following:

Destructive imported animals are:

  • grey squirrel
  • American mink
  • coypu
  • musk-rat
  • non-indigenous rabbits

You may also need a licence for animals on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) checklist.

Contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency if you’re not sure if your animal needs a licence or not.

When you don’t need a licence

There are some exceptions to these rules. You can keep a wild animal without a licence if it’s any of the following:

  • bred in captivity
  • taken from the wild in a country which is not one of the European Union countries
  • taken from the wild before 10 June 1994
  • an exempted species listed on the EC Habitats Directive
  • a European protected species that was taken legally before 31 October 1981

You can also keep an animal listed on schedule 5 of the WCA if it was taken legally and bred in captivity.

Taken legally means any of the following:

  • taken under licence
  • taken from the wild and kept as it’s unfit to be released
  • found dead or killed accidentally such as road kill

Animals listed on schedule 5 of the WCA have different levels of protection. If your animal is listed, you must check what level of protection it has and what you can and can’t do.

Get a wild animal licence

The type of licence you’ll need depends on what kind of animal you want and what you intend to do with it.

You must apply for a licence to:

You must register with Natural England to use a licence to:

How you register, and how long it takes is included in each licence. Registration usually takes about 15 days.

Keeping wild birds

You must not keep any wild bird (or its egg or nest) unless you can prove it was taken or killed legally.

Taken legally means any of the following:

  • taken under licence
  • taken from the wild and kept as it’s unfit to be released
  • found dead or killed accidentally such as road kill

You must check if you need a licence to keep a wild bird and apply for one if you do.

If you find a fledgling (a baby bird that’s just left the nest) follow the RSPCA guidance on fledglings.

Keep wild disabled birds properly

If you want to keep a wild bird that you think couldn’t survive in the wild (known as a ‘wild disabled bird’), you must be able to prove it’s ‘unfit for release’.

You’ll need to consult a vet with experience in wild birds. You must get a statement from the vet saying the animal is unlikely to survive in the wild.

While looking after the bird, you must:

  • provide appropriate veterinary treatment for any injuries
  • keep it in a cage where it can spread its wings in every direction
  • care for it so it can fend for itself when released

You must also meet the bird’s welfare needs and not cause it any unnecessary suffering.

You could be prosecuted and fined if you don’t meet the bird’s welfare needs or if you cause it any unnecessary suffering.

You must release the bird back into the wild once it’s fit to release.

Licences for wild birds

You don’t need to have a licence to keep a wild bird that was taken or killed legally, but you do need to be able to prove that you own it legally.

To prove you own it legally, you should keep a record of when and where the bird was found or taken and by whom or a receipt if you bought it.

You could be prosecuted and may have to pay a fine of up to £5,000 if you can’t prove that the bird was killed or taken legally.

Registering birds

You don’t need to get a licence for a bird listed on schedule 4 of the WCA, but you must register it. This includes a wild disabled bird.

Birds on the schedule 4 species are:

  • honey buzzard
  • white-tailed eagle
  • golden eagle
  • goshawk
  • marsh harrier
  • Montagu’s harrier
  • osprey
  • peregrine falcon
  • merlin

Register a schedule 4 bird.

Get a wild bird licence

You must apply for a licence to keep birds that are classed as dangerous and wild, which is the ostrich and the cassowary.

You must meet the conditions of these short-term licences to:

Published 27 May 2015