I'm rubbish at finding birds' nests, and rubbish at identifying their eggs, and so I have a small sneaking admiration for the skill of egg collectors but that is where it ends.
Talking to RSPB Investifations staff, they are more hard-nosed on the subject. Here is a selection of things they said: 'look like petty criminals and are', 'more obsessive than birders', 'often spotted by birdwatchers just because they look shifty' and so on.
Egg collectors are always male - there was an unverified rumour of a female egg-collector but it was probably just 'wishful' thinking. And they are competitive - they want to get to that egg first. A typical egg collector, if there is such a thing, will have amassed a collection of between 1000 and 2000 eggs, with many Schedule 1 species represented in it.
But they are a dying breed. That might partly be because far too many of us are losing touch with nature but it is more likely to be better police action co-ordinated through Operation Easter and the introduction of custodial sentences for the crime. In the past the same people would keep re-appearing in front of magistrates, collect a fine and go back to their pillaging.
There have been 11 individual egg collectors given custodial sentences (one has had two and another three), with the longest being 5 months. The big stick approach seems to be working as the incidence of egg-collecting is falling.
But birds of conservation concern are still targetted. Last year the pair of red-backed shrikes nesting in the UK needed intensive guarding and surveillance as it was visited by known egg collectors, and this is a species whose demise in England was probably sealed by egg collectors (although the overall decline was more to do with the loss of large insects from farmland, we believe). Very rare species (once even rarer) such as white-tailed eagle and bittern have been targetted by egg collectors.
And you can't show off your collection of dead young birds (that's what eggs are) very easily so they are hidden away in secret rooms (by the rich) or in a specially-adapted caravan or under the floorboards if you are of more modest means. The police, when searching for egg collections, look in all the places where they would look for drugs if on a drugs raid.
Although a dying breed, the activities of egg-collectors still can have harmful impacts and the RSPB spends thousands of pounds a year guarding nests and investigating crimes and suspected crimes. Nobody else will do it if we don't.
Lets also not forget that these criminals don't only collect eggs from birds in Britain. Organised crime in Europe, especially those countries where prevention is not a high priority, is also a reality and impacting on birds that are protected but not policed like we see here in the UK. It would also be wrong to think that these criminals are less dangerous to deal with than other criminals dealing in drugs or the like.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654