Ask SIB: What can we do to protect a nesting owl?

Question: They have just begun clearing the lot next door where I know there is a nesting owl. What can we do to protect the nest? – Anonymous neighbor

Answer: You are not alone in wanting to protect an owl nest! As stated on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website: Most bird nests are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law says: “No person may take (kill), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit…” Under the MBTA it is illegal to destroy a nest that has eggs or chicks in it or if there are young birds that are still dependent on the nest for survival. It is also illegal for anyone to keep a nest they take out of a tree or find on the ground unless they have a permit to do so issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Therefore, the idea of getting the fire department to help move the nest to a safer location is not possible. The first step in this situation was to find exactly where the nest was located. The neighbor had heard the owls daily in the vacant lot and once clearing had started, the owls definitely made their displeasure known. Several SIB members visited the lot over the weekend. The Barred Owl was vocal during our visits as well but the first few visits didn’t disclose the nest. It was finally located in a tree NOT marked for removal.

Melissa Chapman from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommended the contractor be notified of the nest and they should be careful around the tree. Nothing could be done about the disturbance the work may cause the owl. Steve Hirsch of SIPOA took the action item to work with SIPOA ARC to educate the contractor. The Code Enforcement officer of the Town confirmed the tree’s status was the purview of ARC rather than Code Enforcement.

A personal visit with the tree removal contractor provided more positive feedback. When he began the clearing, he noted the owls flying back and forth. He watched where they went and independently watched for where the nest was located. Without being told, he took care near the tree. He had completed the clearing nearest the tree when I talked with him and indicated just that morning he had seen the owl go in and out of the nest cavity so he felt the nest was still active although he had not seen any owlets.

When asked how often this situation occurs, he indicated “fairly regularly”. He mentioned one time on Kiawah, he noted an owl nest in an abandoned Osprey nest in a tree slated to be removed. His firm ceased the clearing of that tree until after the owls had fledged.

People in the business know the rules of MBTA. Gina Sanders reported that when her house in Greenville was being built, a Carolina Wren built a nest on one end of the framing. Her contractor showed her the nest and then proceeded to work on the other end of the house until the babies had fledged.

Mark Andrews reported that ARC also told them to wait to remove a fallen tree until the chicks had fledged from the Piliated Woodpecker nest in that tree. So it’s not just owl nests that can’t be destroyed, it’s all birds even the common Carolina Wren or noisy Piliated Woodpecker.

So the short answer to “What can we do to protect the nest?” is educate the contractor(s) about the nest’s presence and hope for the best.

Answer by: Judy Morr
Photos using 600mm lens: Dean Morr

Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

2 thoughts on “Ask SIB: What can we do to protect a nesting owl?”

  1. One has to wonder if this is the same owl which was released a few years ago from the back of the Lake House by a Bird’s of Prey speaker.

    George Haskins


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