Is It Illegal to Shoot Birds in Your Backyard?

is it illegal to shoot birds in your backyard

Birds often visit backyards to look for food, water and shelter. For many people, that’s a good thing as they can see wildlife from a closer view. For others, it can be a nuisance especially when they visit in numbers. If you’re having problems with birds messing up your garden, or damaging your yard, you might ask, “is it illegal to shoot birds in your backyard?”

It is illegal to shoot most bird species found in the U.S. Only a few bird species are not protected by the law. If you still want to shoot unprotected birds on your property, you’ll need to obtain a permit from your local game warden.

If you’re unsure which birds are protected, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we will discuss the legalities of shooting birds in your backyard and identify species that are legal to shoot. 

Can You Shoot Birds in Your Backyard?

Birds can be a real headache, especially for gardeners who have been working so hard to take care of their crops. As much as you want to get rid of them, shooting should not be the solution. Since all bird species in the U.S., with some exceptions, this makes it illegal to kill them.

Most birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), so it pays to know which species are off-limits before you take aim. Trapping, killing, possessing, and even taking/keeping feathers from a dead wild bird in your yard is prohibited and will be considered a federal offense.

Check out this complete list of protected bird species for more information.

What Birds Are Legal to Shoot?

There is a long list of wild birds that are protected by the MBTA, but it’s much easier to remember what birds you can shoot. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists pigeons, English sparrows and starlings as birds that you can legally shoot.  This also means you can shoot these birds at any time.

Is It Illegal to Shoot a Bird on the Ground?

Given that there are three types of birds that you can shoot without issues, you might wonder if you can readily take your gun and start firing at a bird that’s on the ground. Technically, it’s not illegal to do so, especially if you do it in your own garden.

In addition, you still need to keep in mind the species that you can legally shoot. If this is already a given, then shooting a bird on the ground is not an offense of any kind. However, it is a matter of safety and responsibility.

Shooting on the ground can have bullets ricocheting, and in the process, you might hurt or even kill someone within or outside your property. Just because you can shoot on the ground, doesn’t mean you should.

What Birds Are Illegal to Kill?

As mentioned, all birds in the MATB list are best left alone. You don’t want to kill those birds. Otherwise, you could face a hefty fine or do jail time. Below are just some of the common questions regarding the shooting of some birds that could end up in your property.

Is It Illegal to Shoot a Cardinal?

A cardinal can be a nightmarish bird. They can be aggressive and attack windows, making life difficult for you. It’s easy for you to consider shooting the bird, especially if it constantly gives you a hard time no matter the things you do to deter them.

However, a cardinal is one of the protected bird species listed in the MBTA, and killing them is against the law. The act aims to protect migratory birds, which includes native songbirds found in North America. Cardinal happens to be the most popular species of songbirds.

Is It Illegal to Shoot a Robin?

Just like cardinals, robins are also songbirds and they’re not considered pests. So, yes, it is illegal to shoot a robin, whether it’s an open or closed season.

Can I Shoot Doves in My Backyard?

This can be a more challenging decision to make because then you need to be knowledgeable of the dove type that ends up in your backyard. Whether or not it’s illegal to shoot doves will largely depend on the types.

If you’re having a problem with Mourning Doves, for instance, shooting them will be considered illegal because they’re covered by the MBTA. In that case, problems involving these birds should require assistance from the local game warden.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with Rock Doves, a.k.a common pigeons, then it’s legal to kill them since they’re not protected by the law (more on shooting pigeons further below). Be sure to know the difference between doves that can be killed and those that cannot be killed.

What Weapons Are Allowed When Shooting Birds?

Now that you know which birds you should stay away from and which birds you can legally shoot, you might also ask about the types of weapons you can or cannot use when dealing with birds. It’s worth noting that bird shooting is generally a last resort.

Shooting birds because they’re making your life miserable is rarely done, even for the most feral of pigeons. But if you have to, you can use a pellet gun or air gun.

Is It Illegal to Shoot Birds With a BB Gun?

BB guns refer to air guns that can shoot projectiles. BB is short for ball-bearing, which is the gun’s pellet-size bullet. Different states have different laws regarding the use of BB guns, but when it comes to using it against birds, the MBTA still applies.

That said, it is not illegal to shoot birds with a BB gun as long as you’re firing at pest birds not protected by the law. In hunting, it is generally advised not to use BB guns since it doesn’t make a clean, humane kill.

Can I Kill a Bird With a BB Gun?

If you feel the need to shoot an unprotected bird with a BB gun, know that there is a chance you could kill it. At the same time, you could simply scare it away or injure it. It all depends on the kind of BB gun you’re using and its firing force.

A BB gun that has a higher velocity of the projectile will be more effective than one that has a low velocity. In addition, the kind of bird you’re targeting will also matter as some birds can survive the shot.

Is It Illegal to Shoot Pigeons With a BB Gun?

Pigeons are likened to rats, except that they have wings. This means they are a pest that most people don’t want to welcome in their property. They are potential carriers of disease, which can be spread through their feces.

Not to mention, they could flock to your garden and destroy your beautiful landscape. These birds are commonly found in urban environments since they have easy access to food and water. Some people also do some pigeon feeding in parks.

However, if pigeons are doing any damage to your property, you may consider shooting them with a BB gun. Many people go for this option since shooting with a BB gun is not illegal. For one, pigeons belong to the unprotected list of the MBTA, according to the UISFWS.

Pigeons are also small enough to be killed by a BB gun but there is still a chance that it can get away with injuries, making BB guns not a humane way to get rid of them. If you have to use one for pest control, make sure you get a BB gun with high FPS.  

Another thing to note is the different state laws regarding the owning, using, and licensing of BB guns. Make sure you are familiar with them.

Can I Shoot Birds With a Pellet Guns?

Pellet and BB guns are terms commonly used interchangeably. One can be mistaken for the other but they are actually different in terms of the projectile used. When it comes to shooting birds, a pellet gun with high FPS can be used to make a clean kill.

Generally, though, pellet guns are not recommended for birds, unless the gun has high FPS or the bird is small enough to succumb to the damage. If not, you can cause pain to or injure the animal.


The important takeaway is that it is not illegal to shoot birds in your backyard as long as you are targeting non protected species such as pigeons, English sparrows, and starlings. If you have to shoot pest birds that are ruining your property, it is generally recommended to use other means of pest control, such as putting up a scarecrow.

Shooting should be considered the last option. Still, when you are shooting as a way to control them, the aim is to make a clean shot that will quickly kill the bird. This is a more humane way to get rid of them instead of injuring them in the process and making them suffer.

Meanwhile, it is illegal to shoot wild birds protected by the MBTA and doing so is considered a federal offense. If shooting wild, protected birds that end up in your property is necessary, you need to contact the local game warden for a permit.

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