Owls and The Law

Harmful interaction between humans and wild owls and the disturbance of Barn Owls in the wild is thankfully well protected by the law. Inspection or interference with a nesting box is prohibited unless in possession of a current Disturbance Licence. It is illegal to disturb wild Barn Owls at or near their nest whilst they are breeding, or to remove, damage or disturb the nest, the eggs or the young of a nesting Barn Owl. However, it unlikely that anyone making a single visit to return an owlet to its nest would be prosecuted.

Although Barn Owls in the wild have fared badly and population levels are low, in captivity they breed very easily and owing to the large population of legitimate captive birds in the UK, the law does not require captive Barn Owls to be registered. 

To prevent wild adult Barn Owls being caught and sold, the law requires that when offered for sale, it must be proved that they have been captive bred and the owls must wear a close ring - a continuous metal ring whose restricted size enables it only to be slipped on to the leg of a nestling, not an adult.

The sale of, or commercial use of, a Barn Owl for exhibition or display also requires a DEFRA “Article 10” certificate to accompany the bird.  It is worth remembering that any person with a Barn Owl in their possession can be called upon at any time to prove their possession is legal in a courtroom.

Paradoxically, the release of captive-bred Barn Owls into the wild is illegal unless carried out under licence, but such instances are strictly controlled by DEFRA and applicants are required to comply with detailed guidelines which evaluate the effectiveness of such release schemes as a conservation measure.

Click below to find out more about building and siting owl nest boxes: