Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Bird Nest Messes Bring Reminder From U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

April 19, 2002


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

Spring means its time for birds to return to North America to build nests and raise their young, and even though they sometimes can make a mess around houses and buildings it is illegal to harm them.

Native birds such as warblers, swallows and hummingbirds are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Even birds that don’t generally migrate, such as robins and wrens and woodpeckers are protected under the Act. The Act prohibits destruction of nests with eggs or young, or possession of migratory bird parts. Violations can carry maximum penalties of $15,000 and/or six months in jail. It is not a violation, however, to prevent the birds from constructing their nests. Non-native birds such as starlings and house sparrows are not protected under the Act.

"A bird must be just beginning to build its’s nest - just a few sticks or pieces of mud," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the Service’s Pacific Region. "However, sometimes people wash down a nest and don’t pay attention to the site for a week or so, only to find the nest has been reconstructed and has eggs in it. Once the nest has eggs, it is protected and its destruction or removal is illegal."

Hundreds of species of neotropical migratory birds - those that spend the winter in Central or South America or Mexico - return like clockwork to the United States early each spring. Most birds raise several "broods" of young in spring and summer. When natural habitat has been altered or destroyed birds will sometimes build nests on houses, buildings or bridges. For example, barn swallows often build nests made of mud pellets under porch eaves or on sides of houses, and chickadees will build nests almost anywhere they can find a safe cavity. Most birds take about a month to raise a brood, including laying eggs, incubating them and raising chicks until they are strong enough to leave the nest.

An active nest (one with eggs or young), may be removed only under a special permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These permits are issued only if the Service determines a nest poses a hazard to human health or safety.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was created in 1918 to address the mass killing of birds for their feathers, which were widely used in the hat business. Today many native bird populations are declining because of habitat loss, toxins, domestic cat predation and other reasons.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

For more information about migratory birds, visit the Service’s national migratory bird website: