Can I Move a Bird’s Nest?

Birds have a habit of building nests in inconvenient places. Find out when and how you can move a bird nest if needed.

There’s nothing like the thrill of discovering a bird has decided to nest in your yard. After all the hard work you’ve put in creating a good wildlife habitat for them, learning they’ve finally moved in feels like a victory.

But what about when that bird nest appears someplace inconvenient — like your backyard grill, or among your garden rakes, or even in a coat pocket? (Yup, that happens. Wrens love pockets.) In that case, you might need to move the nest. But before you do, there are some factors to consider, including whether or not it’s legal to do so.

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Be Aware of Possible Legal Issues When Moving a Birds Nest

First, the legal stuff: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects more than 800 birds in North America, including basically every bird that might nest in your yard. The act protects birds, and their nests, in a variety of ways. It’s illegal to interfere with an “active nest,” where a bird has laid eggs and/or is brooding (sitting on eggs or chicks to keep them warm). Here’s how to keep birds from becoming pests.

What That Means to You

If you come across a bird nest in your yard with eggs, or see a female sitting on the nest, your options are legally limited no matter how inconvenient it might be for you. If the nest absolutely must be moved, you’ll need to contact a local rescue organization.

Such organizations have or can obtain permits to deal with the situation. Please note that under the law, it is not legal to simply move the nest to another location in your yard. (Additionally, it’s unlikely the parent birds will continue to use it — they’ll abandon the eggs and try to build another nest.)

So, When Can You Move a Bird Nest?

The only time is before it gets too far along. Most birds take several days to build a nest, so if you catch it early, go ahead and remove it. Then find a way to block off the area so the birds don’t return — birds can be awfully persistent!

What About After the Birds are Done Nesting?

One thing to consider: It’s not uncommon for some species to re-use their nests, whether in the same season or the following year. Sometimes, other species will move in after the original builders have left. And the nest parts may even be scavenged by other birds for building their own nests.

Whenever possible, just leave an old bird nest where you find it. If you have to move it, be sure the birds are gone and no new birds have moved in. This way you’ll do what’s best for wildlife and avoid breaking the law.