Can I Move a Bird 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 feel like a victory. But what about when that nest appears someplace a little 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 bird nest. But before you do, there are some factors to consider, including whether or not it’s legal to do so.

Can I Move a Bird NestJen Giordano
Jen Giordano This robin’s nest might make dinner al fresco a little bit difficult…

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 in a wide variety of ways, and that includes their nests. It’s illegal to interfere with an “active nest,” which is defined as one in which a bird has either laid eggs and/or is brooding (sitting on the nest).

What that means to you: If you come across a bird nest in your yard that has eggs, or see a female sitting on the nest, your options are legally pretty 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 to do so 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.) For instance, a friend recently discovered the beginnings of a robin’s nest in her patio umbrella. The nest was in the early stages, so she removed it and decided to keep the umbrella closed for the time being, unless she was actually sitting under it.

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.

Learn about different kinds of bird nests and how to spot them by clicking here.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.