These instructions are for Starlings and House Sparrows 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.
Male House Sparrow
Female House Sparrow
We advise the public to leave nesting birds alone, and wait for the youngsters to fledge (leave the nest) before carrying out desired repairs on your house. Common birds that nest on buildings, such as House finches, Eastern 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, we advise that in the case of House sparrows and Starlings only, it may be possible to relocate the nestlings in 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, it can be taken down and discarded. However, the original nest site must be made inaccessible to other House sparrows and Starlings or they will nest there again.
1. Identify the species of bird you are dealing with. We advise using these plans for House sparrows or Starlings only. All native bird species are protected and their nests cannot be tampered with. Click here for House Sparrow and Starling identification help.
2. Have the nest box ready and replacement site chosen. The size of the box depends on the birds: House sparrow boxes should be at least 6 inches square with a 2 inch hole for each nest. Starling boxes can be bigger, up to 12 inches maximum, with a 2 1/2 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. Do not place the box in an air-conditioned room or direct sunlight, as this will harm the babies. Complete repairs and then affix the box as close as possible to the original site – No more than 10-15 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 sight. The parent birds may be tentative, so give them time and privacy to return to their babies.
It takes these birds about 15-21 days from hatching to fledge (leave the nest). After fledging, the youngsters do not return to the nest.
5. After the youngsters fledge (leave the nest), and you have seen no activity at the nest box for at least three days, then it is safe to remove the nest box
- This project may be avoided completely by closing off potential nest sites (cover gutters, screen off openings and dryer vents, close openings under off 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 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.
House Sparrow (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 days
Nestling phase: about 21 days
Fledgling age: 21 days old
Total nesting time: about 33 days
In New Jersey, House Sparrows and Starlings may nest from April through August, and sometimes as late as September. They are both non-native species, introduced from Europe 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.
The Raptor Trust is a private, non-profit, tax-exempt corporation dedicated to the preservation and well-being of wild birds. The center is open 9 AM to 4 PM in the fall and winter, and 9 AM to 7 PM in the summer months.