Relocating Nesting Birds

These instructions are for Starlings and House Sparrows (English sparrow) only. All other common nesting songbirds are protected by federal law, which prohibits the moving of their nests. Before you interfere with any nest, identify the species by watching the adult birds at the nest.

What to Do?

We strongly advise the public to leave nesting birds alone and wait for the youngsters to fledge, or leave the nest, before carrying out repairs on your house. Common birds that nest on buildings, such as House Finches, Easter Phoebes, Barn Swallows, Robins and Carolina Wrens spend about 2 weeks incubating their eggs and then 12-18 days raising their young in the nest. Waiting those 4-5 weeks for the babies to grow and fledge is the kindest way to deal with the situation.

When “waiting it out” is not possible, in the case of House Sparrows and Starlings only, it may be possible to relocate the nestlings into a temporary nest box as close as possible to the original site, to allow the parent birds to finish raising their babies. After all the birds leave the nest, the nest box should be taken down and discarded. The original nest site must be made inaccessible to other English Sparrows and Starlings, or they will nest there again.

Steps to Relocate English Sparrow and Starling Nests

English Sparrow – Male
Sparrow – Female
  1. Identify the species of bird you are dealing with. We advise using these plans for English Sparrows or Starlings only.
  2. Have the nest box ready and replacement site chosen. The size of the box depends on the bird: English Sparrow boxes should be at least 6 inches square with a 2 inch hole for each nest. Staling boxes can be bigger, up to 12 inches maximum, with a 2.5 inch entrance hole.
  3. Removal of the original nest. Once you have your box ready and your replacement site chosen, remove the original nest with its nesting material and babies. Place some of that nesting material (no more than 2 inches) into the replacement nest box, making sure that it is densely packed so the babies do not get covered up by it. Try to have the nest down for a minimal amount of time. Put the baby birds in the box on top of the nesting material, and keep the box in a warm (not hot) place that is quiet and safe from children or pets. Complete repairs and then affix the box as close as possible to the original site (no more than 7 feet away from the original site).
  4. Wait. See if the parents return. Step far enough away so they don’t feel threatened by your presence. Make sure kids and pets are out of site. The parent birds may be tentative, so give them time and privacy to return to their babies. It takes these birds 15-21 days after hatching to fledge (leave the nest). After fledging, the youngsters do not return to the nest.
  5. Remove the nest box after the youngsters fledge, and you have seen no activity at the nest box for at least three days.

Things to remember:

  • This project could be avoided completely by closing off potential nest sites (cover gutters, screen off openings and dryer vents, close openings off under air-conditioners) in early March, before nesting season begins. (What You Can Do to Prevent Injuries to Wild Birds)
  • Once evicted, the adults will return to use the original nest site, so close up the original cavity and make it inaccessible, or you will have to go through this again.
  • If the nesting box is not made of weatherproof materials, it may not hold up long enough to last through the nesting period; it should be placed under an awning or overhang, or wrapped with plastic to keep it dry.
  • Craft stores sell inexpensive wooden bird houses, ready made, that could work and easily be affixed to the side of a building. Most garden centers sell bird houses as well – ones that you and your birds can use for years to come.
  • Starting this project early in the day will give you time to watch for the parents after you are finished.
  • Make sure unfeathered babies are kept warm. Out of the nest, without their mom brooding them, nestling birds become cold and hypothermic. If the babies are feathered out, they can last longer.
  • If the babies are feathered, they are very close to leaving on their own, so consider putting off repairs for one to two weeks.

Nestling Periods

English Sparrow 

Incubation: 11-14 days
Nestling phase: about 2 weeks
Fledgling age: 15 to 17 days old
Total nesting time: about 31 days


Incubation: 12 daysNestling phase: about 21 days
Fledgling age: 21 days old
Total nesting time: about 33 days

In New Jersey, English Sparrows and Starlings may nest from April through August, and sometimes as late as September. They are both non-native species, introduced from England about 100 years ago.

**Native birds can not be legally killed, trapped, harassed, or possessed (including birds found dead). Even “adoption” of young birds that appear to have been deserted by their parents is illegal without a permit. Native birds are protected down to the last feather. In fact, it is against the law to possess native bird feathers or their eggs.**

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