Nesting Birds

Each Spring and Summer we get many enquiries about nesting birds. Mostly these are either concerns that birds are nesting in dangerous places, or enquiries from those who do not want birds nesting in or around their property.



Birds nesting in chimneys #

Chimneys are a popular nesting spot for some species such as jackdaws. This can cause concerns about health and safety, especially as nesting material can catch light if the fire is lit come winter.

Like all nests, those in chimneys are covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, making it illegal to move or disturb the nest. In extreme cases you may be able to get a license to remove the nest from the government but, in general, you will need to wait until the end of nesting season before taking action.

It’s not uncommon for babies to fall from the nest into the base of the chimney. You may then hear them moving around or cheeping. Action is normally needed to extract the bird otherwise they will die and the body will decompose causing a health hazard. There’s more advice on this scenario here.

Once nesting season is over and the nest is no longer in use, it’s sensible to employ a chimney sweep to remove any nesting material and then have cowls fitted to prevent birds accessing the chimney in future.


Birds nesting in a cavity wall #

Birds will sometimes enter the home through gaps such as air bricks and vents in order to find somewhere safe and sheltered to nest. When the babies leave the nest, they may sometimes then fall down into the wall cavity. You may then hear the babies moving around and cheeping in the wall.

This is often a situation which can be resolved without assistance from a wildlife rescue. This scenario usually involves little hands on rescuing of the bird itself and often involves more DIY or even professional building work. Please bear in mind that wildlife rescues operate entirely on donations so have very limited resources. They may not be able to send a volunteer rescuer out unless specialist wildlife handling skills are required. It is likely going to be necessary to make a hole in the wall to extract the bird and this will need to be done by a suitably skilled professional.

Of course, this is messy, inconvenient and involves a cost, but the alternative is that the bird is left to die inside the wall. Not only does this breach the Animal Welfare Act but would also leave you with a dead body in your wall which will attract flies, then maggots, and cause a terrible smell and health hazard. While the contractor is releasing the bird, we would advise talking to them about identifying how the bird fell into the cavity and having them make some repairs so that the issue doesn’t recur. Once the bird has been extracted, put them into a box and contact us or a rescue for advice about next steps. Depending on the age and condition of the bird it may be possible to put them straight outside but if they’re very young or weakened by their experience, they may require care.


Birds nesting in the loft/eaves #

Lofts and eaves areas are very popular nesting places with birds such as starlings and swifts. Most of the contacts we receive about this scenario are from folks worried that the birds are trapped in their loft. This is unlikely – usually if they can get in, they can get back out again. You can confirm this by checking the loft regularly for signs of activity over the next 24 hours and watching the outside to see if birds are flying back and forth. If the bird has been consistently visible in the loft for 24 hours, you don’t see any outside activity and/or the bird is looking unwell, then you’ll need to contact a wildlife rescue for help. If the bird comes and goes then it can and should be left alone.

Sometimes we are contacted by householders unhappy about birds nesting in lofts. The babies may be quite noisy or there may be health concerns. Like all birds’ nests, those in your loft are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is illegal to disturb or destroy them. If there is a genuine health and safety issue (rather than just general concerns) then you may be able to get a license to remove the nests from the government, but this is unlikely and not a simple process. In general, the advice is to remember that babies are only in the nest for a few weeks so the issue will resolve itself before long. Once the nest is no longer in use you can employ a suitably skilled professional to remove the nesting material and seal the area up so that birds cannot nest there in future.


Birds nesting on a balcony #

Every Spring we receive contacts from households who haven’t used their balcony all winter and are then surprised to find, when they come to use it again, that there are birds nesting there. Most often the culprits are feral pigeons. These were originally cliff nesting birds so your balcony provides an ideal cliff ledge alternative for these birds who can breed all year round.

Although pigeons have a reputation as ‘vermin’, they and their nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act meaning it is illegal to destroy or disturb them. The only exception is when there is a genuine health and safety issue in which case action can be taken under the general licenses issued by the government. In these instances, we would urge you to contact a wildlife rescue to ask if they would take in any babies for raising and rehabilitation rather than having them killed by a pest control company. Once the nest is vacant, the nesting material can be removed. You may be tempted to ‘net’ the balcony to prevent birds from accessing it in future. However, this frequently results in birds of all species becoming tangled, injured, and even killed, for which you would then be legally liable. The better solution is to focus on making the balcony less attractive by tidying away anything they can nest under/behind and using the balcony regularly, so they don’t feel safe there.


Ducks nesting in garden #

This is covered in a separate article here.


Birds nesting in a dangerous location #

Birds don’t always nest in sensible places. Some common enquiries we receive are, for example, birds nesting in post boxes, birds nesting in wall-mounted ash trays, birds nesting in hanging baskets right by a door, or a bird’s nest being close to the ground and at risk from predation or vandalism.

The first thing to be aware of in these cases is that it is illegal, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, to disturb the nest of a wild bird from the time it is being constructed. This is the case even if your intentions are to prevent future harm to the birds or their young.

We’re often asked whether it would be possible to move the nest to somewhere safer. Not only would this be illegal, but it’s also very unlikely that the birds would move with the nest.

So, any efforts to protect the birds need to be focused on preventing harm to that nest in that location. If you’re concerned about cats or dogs disturbing the nest then keep them inside/on a lead and/or try erecting a barrier around the nest to keep them away. Even just extra coverage in the form of some branches cut from trees or bushes can provide protection. Just make sure that the adult birds can still get access.

If you’re concerned about people disturbing the nest then putting a sign up can really help, especially if the nest isn’t immediately visible such as in a wall mounted ash tray. It’s worth including a reminder that disturbing the birds would be illegal on the sign.

You're welcome to use our poster to protect birds nesting in dangerous places. Click to see it full size.
You're welcome to use our poster to protect birds nesting in dangerous places. Click to see it full size.

Disturbed nests #

Bird’s nests are often disturbed by tree or hedge cutting undertaken during nesting season. If the nest has been completely destroyed then it’s likely that the babies will need to be taken into rescue unless they’re at the fledgling stage. If in doubt, contact us or a rescue for advice.

If the nest is intact but the surrounding foliage has been cut back, you can usually drape the cut branches back over the gap to provide cover. Just keep a watch from a distance for a few hours to make sure that the parents return to care for the babies. If not, they’ll need to go to rescue.

Finding Help #

You can find details of rescues in your area by searching our directory. If you're unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, we have information about sources of bespoke help. We also have articles with detailed, practical advice about capturing an animal, providing short term care, contacting a wildlife rescue, and getting the animal to them.

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Updated on May 6, 2024