Do Not Disturb

Through most of North America, nesting season is in full swing. Here are some friendly reminders on how to protect wildlife during this vulnerable time:

Avoid disturbance to known nest or den sites

Since all wildlife species must successfully breed and raise young to survive, it is important to avoid disturbing nests, den sites, or other breeding habitat – especially during the spring when breeding activity peaks. In fact, it is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to “take” native bird nests, eggs, or young without a permit. Protect ground nests (e.g., killdeer nests) with flagging, stakes, or ropes to avoid intrusion. Be sure to let people know why the area is marked with a sign at the site and/or in a prevalent location where everyone is sure to see it. 

Avoid disturbance to unknown nest or den sites

In tall grass areas, do not mow until after young birds have left their nests. Avoid thinning woods or trimming shrubs during the spring as birds are very successful at hiding their nests and you cannot be sure to notice them. 

As an example, ruby-throated hummingbird nests are the size of a thimble. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they “normally place their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree; however, these birds are accustomed to human habitation and have been known to nest on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords.” How likely is it that you or your staff would notice such a small nest hidden in the shrub next to the entrance door? Avoid the risk and do your trimming at a different time of year. 

Educate maintenance workers

Routinely review environmentally sound maintenance practices with the maintenance crew. Set high expectations and follow up on careless or inappropriate practices.

Mount signage

One of the most effective ways to protect special habitats is to mount signs. In certain areas you may choose to use a simple “Environmentally Sensitive Area” sign. Other areas may warrant an explanation of your expectations (e.g., No Carts-Keep Out), a statement of why the area is significant (e.g., Wildlife Habitat; Nesting Area; Native Prairie), or both.

Minimize traffic

Limiting traffic in habitat areas minimizes habitat disturbance and fragmentation. Route vehicular and foot traffic away from any environmentally sensitive areas.


Look for ways to inform people in greater detail about sensitive habitats or species in need of protection. Blogs, newsletter articles, bulletin board notices, meetings, and seasonal site tours can be successful.

Monitor, document, and report

Going beyond nest boxes, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch program collects information on all breeding birds from citizen scientists just like you! Their extensive database “is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.” As an added bonus, working with patrons, staff, and local organizations to collect data is a fun way to bolster your outreach efforts and your results can help you significantly with your own communications.

Leave a Comment