Can You Move a Birds Nest? [Is It Even Legal?]

can you move a birds nest

Finding a bird’s nest on your property is often a pleasing experience. Watching the eggs hatch and seeing the fledglings grow is a joy, but there are times when this can be very unwelcome. Birds choose their nesting sites for a good reason, but there are times you just have to move it.

Why would you need to move a bird’s nest?

Birds build nests outside, right? So why would you need to move one?

Not all birds do build their nests in places which are convenient for you. They like sheltered spots where they feel safe and secure, and this can mean you find nests in your roof or on other parts of your property. You may need to have trees cut down if they are dangerous, and these are good places for birds to build their nests.

Some reasons for removing a nest are:

  • If it has been abandoned after nesting, and you with to remove a tree or carry out some garden work.
  • If you find a nest which is being used, but it is unsafe for future use, you may wish to move it. This could be because a recent storm has made the structure it is on unsafe.
  • Likewise, if a nest is in a dangerous place. Birds will build nests anywhere, and these can be gutters or downpipes, on construction sites and even inside active chimneys.
  • If the nest is in your roof or outhouse, and you are looking at building work, you may need to move it, or delay your work.

Is it legal?

If you want to move a nest, first check out the law. The last thing you need is to be prosecuted.

In the US, it is illegal to move or destroy an active nest for any native species.

  • Active nests are those with eggs or brooding adults in it.
  • Abandoned eggs, or nests in which eggs have not yet been laid, can be moved.

Native birds are protected, so birds such as house sparrows and European starlings are non-native birds, so it is ok to move their nests.

Before you move a nest, contact the local wildlife authority, and they will confirm if it is safe for you to move the nest. They will know both national and local laws. They will also give you some advice on the best way to do move the next so that the parents continue to nest in it.

It’s important to note that there are occasions where you cannot move the nest.

  • Some birds will not build a new nest if the original one is destroyed, and if this includes an endangered species, then the nest must stay where it is until the birds have all left the nest.
  • Some species of birds reuse the same nest year after year, so you cannot remove these. When they come to breed, they will not be able to find it and may not build a new one.
  • If the nest is being used by a bird which has more than one brood a year, you cannot remove it if there is a chance they have not yet produced their second brood.
  • If the nest is part of a natural cavity, such as in a large tree, you cannot remove the tree while the nest is in it.
  • If the nest belongs to an invasive bird, such as house sparrow or European starling, then you can remove it as these are not protected by law.

moving a birds nest

Moving the nest

If you must move the nest, do so with caution. One big concern about moving a nest with eggs or hatchlings, is making sure the parents know where the nest is. If they cannot find it, they may abandon their young.

  • Before you do anything, find a suitable place to relocate it too. If you can, find a similar environment, but always put the nest in a safe and secure location. It will need to be sheltered and out of the way of any predators.
  • Place it close to where it originally was, but in a safe place with plenty of shelter. It needs to be close enough so that when the parents return, they will be able to hear their babies and find them. If you move the nest too far, the babies may not be found.
  • If the nest is undamaged, move it whole. It’s best to simply move the nest as any damage you may cause may make the parents think there is a potential threat, and they may abandon the nest.
  • Try not to handle the babies if you can. Some people say that their parents will smell you on them and so abandon the chicks, but this isn’t true. You can safely handle them, but do remember they may be frightened. Move them as quickly as you can.
  • One thing to be aware of, is the parents. If you try to move the nest while they are there, they may attack you. They could view you as a threat or a predator and they will fight to protect their babies.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What if I can’t get permission to move the nest?

If the nest is in use, and you are unsure what type of birds are in it, you must get permission to move it. If you move it without permission, you could be fined. Depending on the birds and the circumstances, this can be several thousand dollars.

In some cases, any building or garden work you have scheduled, may have to be postponed if you find nesting birds.

Should I take eggs out to move the nest?

If at all possible, try not to disturb any eggs which may be in the nest when you move it.

Mother birds will know if the eggs have moved at all, and if they have, they will take this to mean that the eggs have been threatened. With some birds, they will then abandon the nest and the eggs too.

What if I accidentally disturb a nest?

Unfortunately, this can happen. If you are cutting trees, you may not realise that birds are nesting until you come across them.

If you damage a nest, there is not a lot you can do, so leave it where it is and stop working.

Before you begin any work:

  • Check the area thoroughly to see if there are any birds or other creatures which are living in the area.
  • If you find a bird’s nest and it’s in use, postpone the work if you can. You will need to first identify the birds to find out if they are native or invasive. If the birds are invasive, you can remove the nest. If they are native, contact the local wildlife authority. If the nest is not in use or has been abandoned, you can remove it.

Moving a bird’s nest should always be a last resort.

Most birds don’t nest all year round, so if you do find one, it won’t alter your plans too much. You may just need a short delay before you can continue with your project.

If the nest is in a dangerous place, don’t move it yourself. Contact the authorities because you could still be fined, even if you meant well.

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