Austria is often referred to as the Alpine Republic. Even though the Alps with their foothills in the north and east shape the country, Austria’s landscape offers much more for our feathered friends. For instance, rivers and lakes, where waterbirds spend the winter. And what might be the most important stopover ground for migratory birds in Central Europe can also be found in Austria: Lake Neusiedl, located in the province of Burgenland, and shared with Hungary.
Although this stopover ground is considered relatively safe, cases of illegal killing still occur in this region. Beyond Lake Neusiedl, throughout Austria, birds are illegally killed , especially birds of prey, such as the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and Red Kite (Milvus milvus); who are either shot or poisoned.
Since the year 2000, more than 450 cases of illegal killing have been proven. And these are only the reported cases – sadly, the real number is no doubt much higher.
In north and east Austria, you can find some of the worst “blackspots” for illegal killing. No fewer than 10 of the top 15 worst illegal killing areas in the country are located in Lower Austria, followed by four districts in Upper Austria.
What does the law say?
The legal protection of birds in Austria is mainly regulated on the federal state level by nature conservation and/or hunting laws. In 2021, in total 33 species of wild birds have a regular shooting season in Austria, at least in one federal state. Furthermore, some other bird species are exceptionally released for hunting. Nevertheless, all raptor species in Austria are protected and killing them is illegal, although it is, infuriatingly, still widespread.
The law needs significant improvement, as prosecutions rarely lead to convictions – mainly due to a lack of evidence.
In recent years, positive changes have occurred at the political level thanks to the efforts of nature conservation NGOs such as BirdLife Austria. Public relations work has led to regular media coverage and has alerted the general population to the issue of illegal killing. This has increased political pressure and raised awareness of the problem in national ministries, as well as in the judiciary and executive. Investigations are now taken much more seriously. House searches for taxidermy or banned poisons are taking place, which was hardly conceivable just a few years ago. In addition, there are political demands for tougher penalties.