Permits needed for collecting bird nests

I got a call the other day from a woman in Marietta who wanted some advice on collecting abandoned bird nests. I asked if she had state and federal permits to do that. She said, no.

To her surprise, I told her that what she was intending to do probably was illegal without the permits, which are seldom granted, and she could face hefty fines if prosecuted. She said she would rethink her plans.

Nearly every native bird species in the U.S. is protected by the stringent 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Despite its title, the law applies to nearly every native bird in Georgia. The only exceptions: house sparrows, European starlings and pigeons, which are non-natives and considered pests.

Under the law, it is unlawful to “collect nests, eggs, feathers or any other parts of birds” without a government permit. Georgia law also prohibits such activity unless allowed by a Department of Natural Resources permit.

The law originally was passed to halt the once-popular practices of collecting nests and eggs for private “museums” and feathers for making women’s hats. Those practices are no longer major problems, but there is still a danger that collecting nests will harm bird populations, officials say.

So, technically, even if you think a nest has been abandoned — and even though most songbirds do not reuse old nests — it might be unlawful to collect or damage the nests.

Some folks say that a strict interpretation would even prohibit removing old nesting material from bluebird boxes. But wildlife officials have determined that is OK.

“You are allowed to clean out your bird house and remove a nest,” said Mike Mengak, a University of Georgia wildlife expert. “You are allowed to remove nesting material from a structure on your property — like a garage or porch. You cannot disturb the nesting material if there is a bird or eggs in it.”

For a good explanation of "dos and don'ts" under the law, visit:

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