Abstract The Council of the European Community in 1979 adopted a directive and a resolution on bird conservation. The directive imposes legal obligations on EEC member states to take special measures to protect the habitat for migratory species and listed rare species in the most suitable areas throughout the Community. The aim is to set up a network of areas forming a coherent whole. Criteria to be used in selecting such areas are discussed and the importance of the clauses evaluated. The terms of the directive providing for scientific research on bird conservation, and for harmonisation of national laws, are analysed. The directive forms a legal basis for a Community policy on bird conservation and nature reserves for birds.