How to protect bird nests: if you love them, leave them alone

Even loud noise can be enough to frighten parent birds away from the nest ©

This article is part of our Spring Alive program designed to inspire and educate children across Africa and Eurasia about the wonders of nature and bird migration. The Spring Alive 2021 season was again made possible with the support of HeidelbergCement, which has been working with BirdLife since 2011 and working together worldwide to implement local measures to minimize the impact and improve biodiversity management in quarries.

Imagine flying thousands of kilometers to your breeding grounds. Show off your finest plumage, sing your most beautiful songs, and even battle other birds to find a mate. You build a nest together, carefully assemble your branch branch by branch, and take turns incubating your precious eggs day and night. But it’s only when the chicks arrive that the really hard work begins, with every spare second spent for months stuffing food into hungry, screeching mouths. As any parent will tell you, raising teenagers is not an easy task and breeding birds need all the help they can get. As part of this year’s Spring Alive “How should we protect bird nests?” Theme, there are a few steps you can take to make your local birds’ efforts worthwhile and ensure they bring forth a brood of healthy new fledglings Spring:

If you love her, leave her alone

Finding a bird in your yard or around you can be exciting, but once you’ve discovered the location of a nest, it’s important to leave it alone. If you get too close, you can run the risk of damaging it – even loud noises and disturbance can be enough to make parents leave their nest. Additionally, you may leave a trail of scent that can take predators straight to a simple snack. With the nest on the ground, you can use an upright stick or bamboo pole to mark which area to avoid. In urban areas, scientists recommend staying at least 60 meters from the nests of large birds such as birds of prey and herons. But you can still enjoy watching their antics with your binoculars …

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Let this garden grow!

Trees, hedges, meadows, undergrowth – all of these have cozy corners where birds like to raise their young. If you see a bird building a nest in one of these locations, don’t prune it until the breeding season is over. For example, in Northern Europe, try to avoid mowing meadows or cutting shrubs between February and August. You can look up your country’s breeding season for a more accurate guide.

Keep pets indoors

We may love our gentle, purring feline friends, but cats turn into cold-blooded hunters when they are on the go. Since they are not a natural part of the ecosystem, they can have devastating effects on garden bird populations – especially birds that nest near the ground. So keep your cat indoors or create an enclosed outdoor area or “catio”. Dogs are also known to eat eggs and chicks. Therefore, keep them on a leash near birds that nest on the ground.

Build a predator-proof bird crate

Native predators are a natural part of the ecosystem. However, if you are concerned about invasive species, or if there is a rare bird in your area that you would like some extra help, there are numerous changes you can make to a regular animal nest box to prevent predators from gaining access. You can reinforce the entrance with metal to prevent intruders from gnawing it further, or install a tubular tunnel about two to three inches long in place of a hole. Extending the roof about four inches past the front and sides of the box will make it harder for predators to get in from above. Location is also important: ideally, the box should be at least ten feet above the ground and away from any buildings, trees, or bushes that predators can climb on. Attaching your box to a post made of smooth metal instead of wood will amaze the most skilled climber!

Reinforcing the entrance with metal prevents predators from gnawing at © Mike Haler / Flickr

Do you see a nest in danger? Say something!

Many countries have laws to protect breeding birds. If you see someone steal eggs or chicks from a nest, or if an important nesting site is about to be built or destroyed in your area, let your local authorities know. Remember, your safety comes first and confronting the abuser directly is rarely a good idea. Instead, many authorities have hotlines or online forms that you can use to report your concerns anonymously.

Support nature conservation

Conservation groups like BirdLife International, the organizer of Spring Alive, are working to protect the most important habitats for breeding birds. By donating, volunteering or simply raising awareness for nature conservation, you are helping to protect your favorite species for generations to come.