What Should You Do If You Find a Bird's Nest in an Inconvenient Area?

When they roost in a busy walkway or gutter, here's when to remove it safely.

Gardeners, bird watchers, and outdoor enthusiasts may always be seeking new ways to attract more birds to their collective backyards. However, what do you do if you stumble upon a bird's nest in an inconvenient area nestled into a front door wreath, a shutter, or an awning?

What to Know About Conservation Laws

Before you make any attempt at removing the unwanted nest, you should be aware that there are laws in place that protect the nest and eggs of certain avian species. Jessica Jane MacMurchy, adoption coordinator at Animal Charity of Ohio, say, "First and foremost, check with your local or state Department of Natural Resources. It is actually illegal to remove or relocate an active bird's nest in many states, even in your own backyard!" In the United States, for example, it is illegal to tamper with any active nest from a native bird species, but if the nest has been abandoned or no eggs have yet been laid, it can be removed as needed. Nests of invasive birds, such as house sparrows or European starlings, however, are not protected under this law.

When to Remove the Nest

After doing some of this preliminary homework, take into consideration whether the nest is already home to a mother and her unhatched eggs. In this case, MacMurchy recommends leaving the nest be. However, if the nest and its occupant have a great chance of being in immediate danger (meaning in harm's way of household pets and other obstacles like outdoor equipment), MacMurchy recommends safely relocating the nest. And if you happen to stumble upon an abandoned nest in your spring cleaning, MacMurchy recommends double-checking that the nest is indeed abandoned before doing anything else. Young birds will occasionally return to the nest for several days in seek of food from their parents, but after a few days they will move on and no longer visit the nest. If so, you can safely discard the nest.

woman holding birds nest with eggs
Larry Hirshowitz / Getty Images

How to Remove It

"When relocating a nest, determine a spot nearby but out of danger," advises MacMurchy. Wear gloves when handling the nest to protect against contamination from mites, bacteria, or other parasites that may have infected the nest. "Also when relocating, I suggest making the move quickly and staying away from the nest after," she continues, "as mama birds will stay away in the presence of humans."

After removing a nest, sanitize the area thoroughly. MacMurchy suggests discarding the nest by tying it in a bag and placing it in a trash can away from household pets or animals prowling the neighborhood. If possible, add the discarded nest to a compost pile. Nesting material will naturally decompose or may even be reused by other nesting birds. And if you don't want birds roosting in the same area again, you can take certain steps—clearing the underbrush, adding a sloped roof, or disrupting the hideout entirely—to deter birds from rebuilding there next spring.

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