Birds of Feather Flock to Construction Projects

A huge construction project could be severely delayed by the tiniest nesting bird.

The Federal Migratory Bird Act as well as the Fishing Game code forbid bothering or moving an active bird nest in a project area until the baby birds leave the nest. This could take weeks. Since August 31st is the official close of bird nesting season, SFPUC Bureau of Environmental Management Environmental Project Manager Brett Becker could spare a little time to explain how construction projects avoid being flummoxed by our feathered friends.

Red tail hawk.

SFPUC Project Engineers and Project Managers, whose projects need to remove trees, prune branches or demolish structures, should be especially mindful of nesting birds. Prior to construction getting underway, SFPUC biologists survey the trees and structures for evidence of bird nesting.

“Having biological resources input early in a construction process can help avoid and minimize nesting bird issues, such as potential nests in trees within the construction area,” notes Becker. “We can anticipate bird disturbing activities in the construction schedule and will be able to tell if there’s a tree near the work area and that it needs to be surveyed for nesting activity.”

Red tail hawk perched on its nest.

If biologists discover a nest during a survey, they will determine if the nests are active or not. Active would mean eggs or fledglings for all protected migratory birds, as well as mating behavior for raptors. In either case, the contractor would have to avoid disturbing the active nest or refrain from construction activities within a certain distance of the nest until the birds have fully fledged.

If the bird nesting survey shows there are no nests within the construction area but there is the potential for nesting to occur due to favorable habitat conditions, then there are ways to discourage birds from nesting within the area such as installation of balloons, reflective tape, bird spikes or fake scare owls.

Robin eggs.

“Birds generally look for nesting spots where they can avoid predators and human activity,” says Becker. Migratory birds build new nests in new locations each year. Raptors, though, habitually return to the same nests year after year, typically making them a lot easier to track and monitor. Becker has seen all kinds of birds in his tenure, from hawks to hummingbirds, and everything in between.

Bird nesting season starts again in February, so Becker and his colleagues can enjoy a few months off before the hard work of avoiding nesting starts again.

A hummingbird.