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Bird Nesting – How Should You Handle It?

It can be enjoyable to watch birds make nests, lay eggs, and care for their young. Birds don’t always make good choices when it comes to nesting spots. Sometimes, they make nests in places that aren’t safe or where they may become a nuisance. Before moving a nest, it’s important to understand local laws that protect the nests of birds, which bird nests are protected, how to remove unprotected nests, and what to do when nests are protected. If ignored, one could face fines and other charges. 

Laws Affecting Bird Nest Removal

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, most native bird species are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). That means that disturbing, destroying, removing, collecting, selling, exporting, transporting, etc. of birds’ nests with eggs and chicks is against the law.

Because many species are protected under multiple laws, it’s important to check all laws whether local, state, or federal. In addition, one must contact the local permit offices to ensure the species is not listed or if certain requirements must be fulfilled before taking action.

Bird Nests That Are Protected and Can’t Be Removed

If a nest isn’t inhabited by any eggs or chicks then it is considered inactive and, except for some exceptions, is okay to remove. All nests of bald eagles, golden eagles, and threatened or endangered species of birds are federally protected and cannot be removed even when the nests appear to be inactive.

While inactive nests are generally allowed to be removed, it can be difficult to determine if a nest is actually inactive. Some migratory birds and ground-nesting birds may be negatively affected by the removal of seemingly inactive nests, especially around nesting season. In these cases, a person may be violating the MBTA.

How to Safely and Legally Remove Bird Nests

Other than then the special cases mentioned, an inactive nest that has been confirmed to not contain any eggs or chicks can safely and legally be removed. Laws allow for its removal as long as the nest is not kept for any reason. Gloves should be used to avoid contamination and the area should be cleaned and blocked from further nesting.

When circumstances call for the removal of a bird nest that contains eggs or chicks, it can only be done if the nest is of a nonnative invasive species like starlings and sparrows. If the presence of a native bird nest is a risk to public safety, for example, a landowner may be able to obtain a permit for its legal removal. A local bird rescue organization may be able to take in the eggs and chicks. The other option is to wait until after nesting season.

When to Call a Professional

There may come a time when it’s best to remove a nest. This can happen when a bird makes a nest in an unsafe location, that has become damaged and unusable, or is located in a birdhouse that needs to be cleaned. While the laws can be confusing regarding protected birds, it’s important to check them on the local, state, and federal levels to learn what is and isn’t permitted. It is highly recommended that one seek assistance from a professional.