Home is Where You Make Your Nest

Trim Trees in Fall to Keep Nesting Birds Safe

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There’s no place like home, especially for trees with nesting birds.

It’s that time of the year when we begin beautifying our yards, and for some, that means taking down trees to achieve their vision of the ideal backyard.

Here’s a tip. Don’t.

Trees with Nesting Birds Are Off Limits

Resist the urge to cut down trees. Cutting just one tree devastates nesting birds and makes their unhatched eggs and nestlings orphans.

Birds cannot move their eggs or chicks. They can just watch helpless from above, stressed out, while the beings that destroyed their home now hold the fate of their offspring in their hands.

Often we harm birds inadvertently because tree trimmers may not see nests until it’s too late. Hawk nests are large and visible, but most songbird nests are small and often camouflaged.

If knowing you’re harming a nesting family isn’t enough, then maybe the fact you’re breaking the law matters to you.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to destroy or disturb nests with birds or eggs in them.

On top of that, most states have their own regulations, too.

This means if you find an active nest unless you get a permit to do so, and that’s not so easy, you legally have to wait four to six weeks for the young birds to fledge before you can remove the nest.

Red-shouldered Hawk parent feeding three chicks

Nesting Birds Become Empty Nesters

So what is a homeowner to do?

The answer is simple. Wait until fall to trim branches when trees are dormant, and nests are empty.

And it’s better for the trees.

Cutting, trimming, and pruning during spring and early summer can lead to diseased trees and pest intrusions that harm trees.

Tree trimming and its impact on nature and wildlife was in the spotlight last week.

Barred Owl parent feeding its young

Nesting Birds in Distress

Our favorite birds of prey rehabilitator and advocacy partner, Christine Peyreigne of Christine’s Critters in Weston, Connecticut, rescued a pair of birds of prey devastated by a homeowner’s tree cutting.

Well, not really birds because they were eggs.

You read that right, eggs.

How did this happen? It resulted from a Connecticut homeowner deciding to do tree work even though they know Red-shouldered Hawks are nesting in their tree.

A neighbor’s ring camera captured the entire act and shared it with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

Adorable Barred Owl chicks Christine’s Critters saved as eggs. They won the race and hatched before the Red-shouldered Hawk chicks. Photo credit: Christine’s Critters

No Regard for Nesting Birds

The video shows the tree cutters never climbing the tree or inspecting the nest with a bucket truck. Then cutting the tree at the bottom and watching the nest and eggs come crashing 60 feet down to the ground.

As if this first act wasn’t bad enough, it happens a second time, with a different homeowner, but this time involves a Barred Owl’s nest.

In both cases, the impact from the fall should have busted the sac in the eggs. Still, Christine holds out hope the eggs are viable, and she incubates them.

Progression of the adorable Red-shouldered Hawk chicks Christine Critters saved as eggs and incubated so they hatch. Photo credit: Christine’s Critters

Taking on the Role of Bird Parents

Without having an incubator, Christine swaddles the eggs in a makeshift nest of cloth material to keep them warm and increase their chances for hatching.

Luckily, the kind person rescuing the Red-shouldered Hawk’s eggs holds a fundraiser to buy Christine the incubator she needs to help these tiny birds of prey.

Before the incubator arrives, the Barred Owl eggs both hatch. They’re healthy owlets but require around-the-clock feeding just like their parents provide.

So Christine and her Mom, Betsy, take shifts feeding the owl chicks.

A few days later, the incubator arrives. So the Barred Owl chicks and Red-shouldered Hawk eggs enjoy the high humidity levels and temperature needed for optimal hatching conditions.

The humidity in the air allows the Red-shouldered Hawk eggs to exchange water through the pores in the shell, virtually drinking from the air around them.

A few days later, Red-shouldered Hawk chick #1 hatches. And a few hours later, chick #2 joins its sibling.

Both hawks enter the world making lots of noise, so it’s a positive sign the hawk’s will to survive is greater than the impact of falling from that tree.

Now Christine and Betsy play the role of bird parents providing four chicks with around-the-clock feedings.

The Barred Owl and Red-shouldered Hawk chicks need around-the-clock feeding so Christine and Betsy share the role of bird parents. Photo credit: Christine’s Critters

Got Chicks, Now What

Both sets of chicks are growing, and once they’ve become stronger, Christine plans to unite the chicks in nests with Barred Owl and Red-shouldered Hawk nestlings close in age.

Birds are well known for their parental care and feed hungry chicks without regard for their own. The trickiest part of uniting these chicks with a surrogate family is identifying a potential nest, climbing the tree, and placing the chicks in the nest.

Luckily, Christine has an incredible team of fearless volunteers who also are bird banders that can climb trees, place the chicks in their new nest and keep tabs on their progress.

It takes a village to fix the devastation caused by the cruel and senseless act of cutting down a tree with nesting birds.

We’re grateful for Christine and Betsy, and the support of so many to help give these beautiful birds of prey their chance at life in the wild.

Follow Christine’s Critters on Facebook for live updates and posts to track the progress of the hawk and owl nestlings.

The Barred Owls chicks are growing stronger each day. Please use caution when trimming trees to keep our birds of prey safe. Photo credit: Christine’s Critters

Ways to Help Trees and Nesting Birds

Here are a few ways to trim trees and keep birds safe.

-Schedule tree trimming and pruning outside of nesting season during the fall and winter when trees are dormant.

-Hire an arborist who is ISA (International Society of Arborists) certified, a licensed landscaper, or a qualified tree trimmer who knows and cares about a tree’s health. Be sure to ask them if they look for nests.

-Avoid hiring “bargain‟ tree trimmers or handymen. They’re generally inexperienced and may cause more harm than good to the trees, or not share your concerns about nesting birds.

-If you see tree trimmers disturbing an active nest, don’t stay silent. Take a photo of the nest, note the destruction, and write down the company’s name. Then report violations to the Law Enforcement Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at (310) 328-1516.

The earth is a big planet, so we must do a better job of sharing it with nature and wildlife.

Let’s try to be neighborly with nature and coexist!


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  1. It’s great. Many thanks to you. I always cut the tree myself and be careful when doing it to avoid unfortunate situations that happen to the nests. We often careless do not pay attention to the nests of birds and inadvertently destroy their nests. this is so sad. I think this article should be shared widely so that everyone can follow it to protect nesting birds.

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