Move a bird nest?

The Question: I have a mallard hen laying eggs (11 so far) in a flower pot on the end of my dock and I’m loving it. The problem is we are getting a new dock in a few weeks. If I move the pot 20-25 yards away to the neighbor’s dock will Mama duck be able to find the new spot? Mama isn’t here during the days so she’s still laying but has to be done soon. Would it be better to do when she is incubating so she goes with the eggs at the same time??

Submitted by: Lizanne, Nebraska, USA

The Question: I took down a hanging plant to water it and there was a nest with 3 eggs in it. I accidentally dropped it when I went to rehang it and the eggs broke. I moved the plant to my porch floor so Mama could find it. Will she lay more eggs?

Submitted by: Betsy, Illinois, USA

(click on photos and graphics to expand)

Legal Warning: People and bird nests often collide. And caring people often wonder whether or not to move a nest that seems to be in danger. The first thing I have to say is that the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper or move the nest of a bird while it has eggs or chicks. Both mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) and American robins (Turdus migratorius) are covered by the act, which is both U.S. law and an international treaty. This site by a group of lawyers who offer to defend people charged with violating the act lists two cases where prosecutions occured. In both cases, the problems were with commercial firms disrupting nests in a fairly blatant way. One case involved cutting down a tree that held the nests of egrets and black-crowned night herons, and the other involved bridge repairs that disrupted nesting falcons. I doubt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has any interest in prosecuting homeowners for moving nests of common birds such as mallards and robins, but if you are unsure, you should contact Fish and Wildlife to see whether you need a permit to move a nest. Not all birds are covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Non-native birds such as starlings and house sparrows are not covered, for example.

On to my suggestions …

A Lesson from Pet Birds: When I used to raise pet finches and parakeets in large flight cages, I discovered that if I moved a nest several feet all at once, parent birds were often confused. It seems that at least some birds have a memory of where they nested. Even if the moved nest was clearly visible on the other side of the cage, they often ignored it. However, I found that if I moved a nest a few inches at a time, parents had no trouble recognizing it, and would follow it around the cage. If I moved a nest in small steps, I could pretty much move it wherever I wanted to, and the parents would continue to recognize the nest as their own.

mallard-nest
mallard nest

Lizanne’s mallards: Mallard incubation takes about a month, and Lizanne’s dock construction was due to begin before that. The good news is that once mallard chicks hatch, they swim off to find food and don’t need the nest. I feared that if Lizanne moved the nest all at once to her neighbor’s dock, the mallard hen probably wouldn’t find it, so I suggested she move it a few feet at a time. And the nest should be moved while the hen was not sitting on it. Near the end of the egg-laying period, the hen would begin sitting on the eggs for most of the day, so it would be hard to move her. I also suggested building a floating platform and anchor it near where the original dock is, and letting the nest stay as close to its original location as possible.

robin-nest
robin nest

Betsy’s robins: I was sorry to hear of Betsy’s robin nest accident. I know she felt terrible about it. I suggested moving the flower pot a bit at a time, because the robin might not recognize the location of the nest on the floor. However, I wonder if the robin will abandon the nest no matter Betsy does. With all her eggs gone, the female robin’s instincts would tell her that a predator had found her nest. Although birds often renest if the first clutch of eggs/chicks is eaten, they may build the new nest in a new location. This makes sense, given that a predator has found the nest and would simply raid it again. A mother robin presumably wouldn’t recognize Betsy’s care and concern and its instincts would tell it that the nest was not in a safe location. Better to start over somewhere else.

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Cite this article as: Pelletier, TC. (June 14, 2015). Move a bird nest? Retrieved from http://askanaturalist.com/move-a-bird-nest/ on May 23, 2018.

 

17 thoughts on “Move a bird nest?”

  1. I found a bird nest in my dryer vent outside. I tried cleaning it out but the next morning I heard a little bird tweeting in the vent. What should I do???

  2. I rent a house and a small tree has been damaged causing giant limbs to be leaning down across my driveway. There is a robin’s nest on the affected limb that amazingly enough wasn’t damaged by the limbs falling. It’s precariously perched and I of course don’t want to disturb it any way but am concerned for the safety of momma and her eggs. Is there something/someone o should do or call? Or should I just hope for the best and wait to remove the limbs until either the babies hatch or the nest falls? :/

  3. Sara, sorry for the delay in responding. It’s hard to give you good advice without seeing the actual situation, but if you decide to move the nest, you could try and move it a little bit at a time. Move it a foot or two and see if Momma bird finds it. Once she seems like she is okay with the new location, move it a couple more feet, etc., until you get it where you need it to be. Or, if you can just wait, that’s probably the safest. Most small birds like robins fledge in just a couple of weeks, so you wouldn’t have to wait too long.

  4. We have a robin laying building a nest in our barbecue. Now it has layers about 7 eggs and we think we should move it, if we don’t my dad can’t barbecue anything for months. Can we move the nest?

  5. Hi Roxy, you can try to move it, but you have to do it in stages. If you could set up a table next to the grill, put it there, and wait to see if the parents go to it. Once you’re sure they have found it, move it a little further away. If you can eventually get it to a somewhat hidden spot that the parents cam still reach, that would be good. Tom

  6. Need immediate advice. Discovered bluebird nest with 2 feathered nestlings under cover of propane tanks on our travel trailer. We leave tomorrow for several days. Can I move nest & babies to a nearby empty nest box? I have never noticed parent birds near the trailer, so the nest discovery was complete surprise.

  7. Hi Cathy,

    That’s both exciting, and too bad that you’re leaving. I usually suggest to people that they move the nest slowly a foot or so at a time. You might have time to complete that move, but what about if you moved the box close to where the trailer is, and then slowly move the nest to the box. Any chance you can leave the top of the box open until the parents have figured out where the nest is? I’m worried that if you just put it in a box, they’ll never find it. Tom

  8. Just realized they are carolina wrens. Parents were both at the nest just now. That makes me not want to put the nest in bluebird box. (I kind of wondered why so much moss & dry leaves, not typical of blues.) I will have to rig up a shelter near the camper parking pad. Any other advice?

  9. I have what I think is a robin nest in a hanging flower pot. The birds are hatched and are old enough to have feathers. (or wherever the proper term is). My question is can I move the nest, plant new plants and put the nest back where it was and the parents not abandon the nest?

  10. Hi Jackie, If the babies are actively and loudly begging, you would probably be okay. Are the new plants going to cover up the nest? Tom

  11. Hi. There was a sparrows nest behind the siding close to the roofline of our house. My husband cleared the nest and there were 4 babies that fell out. I scooped up the nest and tucked the babies back in it and set on the window flower box a few feet below the original spot. The parents keep fluttering by the siding and a few times flew to the flower box but they don’t go to the nest. Will they find it.? Babies don’t have feathers yet and I am concerned!

  12. The closer you can get the nest to where the nest was, the better. If they don’t find it soon, however, the babies won’t make it. Do you want to raise some sparrows? Tom

  13. Hi Tom, thanks for responding to my question. I’ve decided to just leave the nest alone and let nature do her thing. The hanging plant is on my porch and I see Mama coming in and out several times a day, from what I can tell without disturbing the nest, it probably won’t be too long before they take wing. I can wait.. Thanks again.

  14. Shanna, if the babies don’t have a full set if festhers, the might not make it overnight without warmth. You could bring them inside overnight and keep them warm and then try again tomorrow to get the parents to find them. Or you could try to feed them. Tom

  15. There’s a nest with two eggs nestled in my outdoors seat cushions. There’s lots of birds around but I have not seen any one bird(s) where the nest is. It went through a lot to build such an elaborate nest to just leave them there. We’re always outside moving past the furniture it’s under our pergola. Will the squirrels get at it? It’s two little grayish eggs.

  16. Hi Ana, can you take a picture of the nest and email it to me at tom@askanaturalist.com? Try and get a close up of the eggs. I might be able to figure out which species, which might play a role in my answer. Where are you located? Tom

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