Can I Shoot Birds in My Backyard? A Comprehensive Legal Answer

Is it legal to shoot a bird in my backyard?

This is a question that many bird lovers and environmentalists are asking. There are some people who believe that shooting wild birds with shotguns or any other kind of firearm is illegal, while others argue that they can shoot as many as they want on their property so long as there is not an endangered species nearby.

So who’s right? Well, actually they are both wrong. The answer to this question depends on the type of bird you shoot.

What Birds Can You Shoot

Generally speaking, you cannot shoot most native wild birds even if they are in your own backyard.

As it can be quite a nuisance to remember the names of all the birds that are illegal to shoot, it’s smart to just remember the names of the birds that are legal to shoot.

According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, pigeons, English sparrows and starlings are the only birds that you can shoot no matter where you live in the country.

What Birds Are Illegal to Kill

All birds in the MBTA (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) list are best left alone. You don’t want to kill those birds. Otherwise, you could face a hefty fine or even do jail time.

What’s the MBTA, you ask?

MBTA is a treaty between the United States and Canada that took place in 1918. It clearly states that it’s illegal to harm native birds or possess any of their parts including feathers and nests.

In the years since then, there have been several amendments and additional countries added to the treaty. One of the latest provisions bumped up the fine for breaking this law to $15,000. Other nations that joined in on the treaty include Mexico, Japan, and Russia.

Now, we bet we can guess your next question, “Are all birds covered by the MBTA?”

The answer is no. The MBTA is only for native birds. So the birds that are not native to the American region do not have the protection of the law on their sides. Some of the species that are not included are:

  • House sparrows
  • Pigeons
  • Mute swans

What Are the Legal Requirements of Shooting a Bird In Your Backyard

To shoot an unprotected bird on your property, you must obtain a permit from your local game warden. Plus, you will need a gun license and a FOID card if your state requires it.

The requirements for obtaining a permit, as you can guess, vary from state to state.

However, the general process is similar to the following.

When you call your local game warden, he will ask you what type of bird you want to shoot and why you want to shoot it. Once he evaluates your situation and if he determines you should be awarded a permit, he will then give you a permit number along with other instructions about your state’s regulations on hunting wild birds.

Once you have the permit, make sure you don’t lose it. If a legal situation occurs sometime later on, you will need to show the permit to prove that you had the legal authority to shoot the bird.

In case you lose your permit, contact your local warden to help you out.

Now before we move on to the next section, we want to clear up one thing. You need a permit to shoot birds that are not protected by the law. You don’t need a permit to kill the three birds that we mentioned earlier that can be shot anywhere legally — pigeons, English sparrows, and starlings.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bird Shooting

We’re often asked the following five questions by our blog readers about bird shooting on an individual’ss own property — and here are their answers!

1. Can I Shoot a Hunting Bird In My Backyard?

If a hunting bird happens to come into your yard, you can shoot it. This is legal as long as the bird isn’t one of those birds that are protected by law such as a bald eagle or an endangered species like California condor.

2. Can I Shoot a Bird On the Ground?

Technically speaking, it is not illegal to shoot a pigeon, English sparrow, or starling on the ground if it’s in your own garden.

However, it’s common sense to not shoot a bird that’s sitting on the ground because doing so can lead to an unfortunate accident. As you may know, bullets often rebound when they hit a surface. So shooting on the ground is highly dangerous, which is why we strongly advise against it. 

So remember, just because you can shoot a bird sitting on the ground, doesn’t mean you should.

3. If I Can’t Identify a Bird, Should I Still Shoot It?

If you can’t identify a bird, it’s best not to shoot it. Otherwise, you risk facing some serious consequences if the bird is in fact a protected species. You could get some serious jail time, or a fine up to $15,000, or even both!

So unless you’re absolutely sure the bird in your backyard is one that’s unprotected by the law, don’t shoot it.

4. What Weapons Are Allowed When Shooting Birds?

As long as you shoot the birds from your backyard and not outside the property, there isn’t a limit to what weapon is allowed. You can shoot them with an air gun or BB gun; it’s also legal to shoot them with a bow and arrow!

So if you want to shoot a pigeon in your yard, feel free to use whatever weapon you have at your disposal. Just make sure it’s an effective one — one that kills the bird instantly without causing much pain.

5. Is It Illegal to Shoot a Cardinal

Cardinals are the worst guests. They are usually aggressive and attack your property, making life difficult for you and your family. Unfortunately, these havoc-wreaking birds are protected under the MBTA because they’re one of the most popular species of songbirds throughout America.

Final Thoughts

Since most bird species are protected by the law and you need to go through a lot of hassle to legally shoot the ones that aren’t, it’s in your best interest to avoid bird shooting in your backyard all together. You’re much better off trying to scare off an invading bird and hoping it never returns.


  • Nathan Collins

    Having spent years working in the landscaping industry, Nathan Collins has cultivated a wealth of knowledge about the natural world. He is committed to helping others appreciate the beauty in their backyards, whether it's through identifying rare rocks and minerals or crafting the perfect landscape.

Leave a Reply