Bird Friendly Trimming Tips

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Monday, June 20th was the Summer Solstice; a date that typically marks the end of nesting season for many bird species. It’s important to keep in mind however, that many species will be laying multiple clutches throughout the summer, and nesting periods vary from species to species. For these reasons, it’s of paramount importance that all trees, shrubs, and bushes be inspected, preferably by a professional/trained biologist or wildlife expert, before trimming and pruning. Vegetation plays a crucial role in the survival of birds and other wildlife from the start of spring through the fall (migration madness) each year, and this is especially true in the Florida Keys and south Florida in general.

One of the requirements for a habitat to be considered livable for wildlife is readily available shelter. The canopies of trees and leafy bushes provide shelter to birds and other wildlife, and more importantly they provide a safe place for birds to build nests during the nesting season. Trees and bushes also provide shelter for birds migrating south through the Caribbean in the fall. The Florida Keys, a major flyway for migrating raptors, are considered to be the last stop before migrating birds fly out over the ocean to reach their destinations in South America. (i) Having a healthy habitat for these birds to refuel and rest up before braving the mighty Caribbean Sea is crucial to their success in migration.

Moreover, just because a tree is dead doesn’t mean that it can’t be a great home for a residential bird. Owls and other species can readily make their homes in dead trees and other manmade structures. (ii) This is known as cavity nesting. For this reason, it’s also important to inspect dead vegetation prior to removal and/or trimming.

So, when is the best time to trim your trees and bushes? In general nesting season starts in the beginning of March and last into autumn. Since nesting season is pretty much immediately followed by the fall migration, we recommend trying to limit tree and bush trimming to the months between November and February. Trimming during the winter months is the best way to ensure that you won’t be destroying bird nests or taking away much needed shelter for native and migratory birds.

Lastly, we’d like to leave you with some basic tips regarding inspecting vegetation prior to trimming. (iii) Keep in mind that we recommend using these tips and inspecting ALL trees and bushes before trimming AT ALL TIMES OF THE YEAR:

1. Inspect the ground around the plant for white-gray dropping from nesting birds. If there is a high concentration of droppings in one or two specific locations, then it’s highly likely that birds are nesting above.
2. Look for birds flying into and out of vegetation and scolding you. This type of behavior is typical of birds defending a nest from would-be predators.
3. Watch for birds carrying nest-building materials (sticks, leaves, debris, etc.) or food recurrently to the same location.

Remember that if a bird nest is found in a tree or bush it is illegal to begin/continue to trim that vegetation. Native and migratory birds and their nests are protected under a set of laws known as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which includes relocating their nests. (iv) For more information about these laws, consult the US Fish & Wildlife Services website. If you find a baby bird that may be in need of help, then you can click here to download our baby bird rescue flowchart. If a replacement nest is needed, then you can check out our newsletter from the spring of 2015 for instructions on how to create one. Finally, always keep in mind that our bird emergency rescue hotline is always live, 24/7, and we’re always more than happy to take after-hours calls.

Ian Martin, Education Coordinator, 2016

(i) Florida Keys Hawk Watch
(ii) U.S. Department of Agriculture Forrest Service
(iii) Los Angeles Audubon
(iv) U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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