Spotlight on the illegal killing of birds
Blackcap on limestick, © BirdLife ECA
The illegal killing of birds (IKB) is defined as any form of deliberate action that results in the death or removal from the wild of an individual bird (regardless of whether it was the target of this action or not), that is prohibited under national legislation. Many birds that breed in Northern and Western Europe as well as in Central Asia fly southwards to spend their winters in Africa, the Middle East or Southern Europe. In spring, they return north to the breeding grounds. These migrations are perilous, as large-scale illegal killing takes place across the flyway, in both spring and autumn, every year. On a global scale, other important migratory flyways are, for example, the East-Asian – Australasian flyway and the Atlantic flyway of the Americas.


Illegal killing of birds occur worldwide, with significant differences in scale, methods and motives among regions. Species are killed or taken illegally for a variety reasons: for food, trade, sport or for use as caged pets or decoys. The dominant types of illegal activities are: illegal shooting (), trapping (), poisoning (), and nest robbing (). It is thus important to collate and assess systematic monitoring data on IKB at regional and flyway level. The suggested methods are compiled in A best practice guide for monitoring illegal killing and taking of birds ().


The magnitude of the problem

BirdLife International has exposed the illegal mass slaughter of migratory birds across the Mediterranean (), Northern Europe and the Caucasus. Every year, just in the Mediterranean region an average of 25,000,000 birds are unlawfully shot, trapped or poisoned, from the smallest songbirds to the most powerful birds of prey. Endangered species, already hit hard by habitat loss and climate change, are being pushed closer to extinction – and all in open defiance of the law.


International legislations

The problem of IKB has been one of the principal drivers for the development of international policy instruments. One of these is the European Bird Directive (in full: Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds; the European Union (EU) Directive 79/409/EEC (now replaced by the Directive 2009/147/EC). Furthermore, there are, the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Council of Europe 1979), and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS 1979).

To tackle the threat of IKB specifically, the European Commission published the ‘Roadmap towards eliminating illegal killing, trapping and trade of birds’ (European Commission 2012), the Bern Convention produced the ‘Tunis Action Plan for the eradication of illegal killing, trapping and trade of wild birds’ (Council of Europe 2013). CMS adopted a Resolution on ‘the Prevention of illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds’ and established an ‘Intergovernmental Task Force to address illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds in the Mediterranean’ (UNEP/CMS 2014 ), which will continue working along the Rome Strategic Plan on Illegal Killing of Birds 2020-2030 (UNEP/CMS 2020).


To access these and other case studies on the illegal killing of birds, please click on the following link.


Assessment reports 

Popular publications
The Killing report (2015)
The Killing 2.0- A View to a Kill (2017)

Scientific publications
Mediterranean region: Brochet et al. 2015
Northern Europe, Central Europe and the Caucasus: Brochet et al. 2017
Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf: Brochet et al. 2019


Balkan anti-poisoning project
Flight for survival
Stop illegal bird killing I
Stop illegal bird killing II
Stop illegal killing of raptors
The Killing story map
Illegal killing of birds videos on YouTube
IMPEL-ESIX Newsletter


Compiled 2019

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Spotlight on the illegal killing of birds. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from:



BirdLife contact: Willem Van den Bossche



 Developed by the partners of the LIFE against Bird Crime project (LIFE17/GIE/NL/000599) with the financial contribution of the European Union LIFE Program.