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Unusual Nesting Sites

unusual nesting sites sparrow

It’s spring at last and the time of year when birds are nesting in the UK. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) means that all nesting birds are protected by law, and it is an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy any nest and its eggs. It is important to make sure that as ecologists we monitor any potential nesting sites where we are working and use deterrents to stop birds choosing them.

Breeding Season Checks

As defined by Natural England, the nesting season runs from February to August. The busiest period is March to July, with birds tending to nest later the further north you are. During this time, an ecologist must carry out nesting bird surveys no more than 48 hours before any construction work begins if it is in suitable nesting habitat. If no activity is recorded, work can go ahead.

However, if the habitat is such that it is difficult to be certain no nesting has occurred, for example in thick scrub or bramble, then the ecologist will need to carry out a watching brief while the work is done. Work will need to halt if any activity is recorded.

Not Playing by the Rules

However, birds don’t always seem to appreciate that we are trying to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. For example, a couple of years ago, a pied wagtail on a site we were working on decided to nest in a cable drum. This spring, the starling below thought about nesting in an excavator exhaust on another site we are on. Luckily, it seems to have thought better of it!

Unusual nesting sites starling

So, what do we do if a bird nests in or on equipment on a site? When the bird isn’t a Schedule 1 species, an ecologist can use their judgement to decide how far along the nesting attempt is. If material is still being gathered and there are no eggs, an ecologist might remove the material and prevent further nesting.

If a bird has laid eggs, or a Schedule 1 species is involved, then things are different, and the nest cannot be disturbed in any way. An exclusion zone is set up around the nest site and the equipment will be put out of use. How far the exclusion zone extends will depend on the species, although the type of environment is also a factor. The ecologist will use their knowledge and experience to assess the situation and decide what is appropriate.

Unusual nesting sites nesting starling

Only when any young have fledged can the equipment be used again. Obviously, depending on the type of equipment involved, this can have a huge impact on a project and hold up work for some weeks. Which all goes to show how important it is to monitor a site early in the breeding season and hopefully stop any birds nesting before they have started.