Reducing risk to Migratory Birds

Three bird: Canada Warbler, A bird’s nest, Thick-billed Murre

Planning ahead to reduce the risk of detrimental effects to migratory birds and their nests and eggs

If you are active on land or in the water in Canada, you need to be aware of the legal obligations regarding the protection of migratory birds, including the prohibition against disturbing or destroying the nests and eggs of migratory birds. Planning ahead can help you comply with the law and minimize the risk of detrimental effects to migratory birds. Assessing the risks of effects is a first step for developing appropriate prevention and mitigation measures that help maintain sustainable populations of migratory birds.

How do I know if migratory birds may be affected or will be nesting in the area?

In order to help ensure that you are complying with the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA) and the Migratory Birds Regulations (MBR), you should first determine the likelihood of the presence of migratory birds and their nests or eggs when planning activities to be carried out. It is recommended to use a scientifically sound approach that considers the available bird habitats, the migratory bird species likely to be encountered in such habitats, and the likely time period of encounters.

You should plan to avoid engaging in potentially destructive or disruptive activities at key locations or during key periods, including the breeding periods and periods of high usage such as migration and/or feeding, which vary by region and by species, in order to reduce the risk of harmful impacts on migratory birds and the risk of nest destruction or disturbance (see Risk factors for migratory birds and Timing of breeding of birds in Canada).

If you need to determine whether migratory birds are nesting in an area at a particular time, consider using non-intrusive monitoring methods in order to prevent disturbing migratory birds while they may be nesting. Except when nests are known to be easy to locate, active nest searches are generally not recommended because 1) searchers may disturb or stress nesting birds, and 2) in most habitats, the likelihood of detecting all nests in a given search area is known to be low.

Read the Specific considerations related to determining the presence of nests, and assess and document what is the most appropriate approach for the circumstance. Remember that searching for nesting birds generally requires effort and expertise. Finding all nests in an area is generally unlikely; therefore, incidental take is also unlikely to be avoided through an approach based exclusively on conducting active nest searches prior to industrial or other operations.

About nests

  • What should I do if I find a migratory bird’s nest?
  • Can I remove a migratory bird’s nest from last year before the birds come back to use it again?

What should I do if I find a migratory bird’s nest?

If nests containing eggs or young of migratory birds are located or discovered during operations, all disruptive activities in the nesting area should be halted until nesting is completed. In all cases where a nest of a migratory bird may be disturbed, move away as quickly and quietly as possible, without disturbing the surrounding vegetation (i.e., avoid making a trail to and from the nest). Any nest found should be protected with a buffer zone determined by a setback distance appropriate to the species, the intensity of disturbance and the surrounding habitat until the young have naturally and permanently left the vicinity of the nest. (Read Specific considerations related to determining the presence of nests for more details about setback distances).

Moreover, if there are migratory bird nests where you plan to work, consider options like avoiding, adapting, rescheduling or relocating activities that could disturb or destroy nests.

Can I remove a migratory bird’s nest from last year before the birds come back to use it again?

The MBR do not explicitly limit the protection of nests to active nests, and an individual may be in violation of the Regulations if he or she damages, destroys or removes a non-active nest.

Photo of Great Blue Heron
Photo: © Thinkstockphotos.
Great Blue Heron

For most migratory bird species, however, removing the nest after the breeding season will have no effect on the ability of birds to nest again, as the great majority build or occupy new nests each year. On the other hand, some species such as the Great Blue Heron may reuse the same nest structure year after year, and the loss of these nests could have a negative impact on future nesting success. An appropriate approach for such circumstances must take into account relevant scientific information or practices for the species, considering in particular the species' reliance on its old nest and the potential impact on nesting success of having to build a new nest.

The nest of a migratory bird is included in the definition of “residence” for migratory bird species listed in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as endangered, threatened and, in some cases, extirpated (i.e. when the recovery strategy has recommended the reintroduction of the species in the wild in Canada). Nests of species listed under SARA are also protected at all times when the species usually reuses its nest. (For more information, please refer to the legal text of SARA).

Also remember that some provincial or other legislation may protect nests of some migratory bird species at all times.

For more information, please contact Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service office in your region.

What is the law?

The Act and its regulations protect migratory birds and prohibit the disturbance or destruction of migratory bird nests and eggs in Canada. The legislation and regulations apply to all lands and waters in Canada, regardless of ownership (see How are migratory birds protected in Canada?). Environment and Climate Change Canada is responsible for administering the MBCA on behalf of the federal government.

What is Environment and Climate Change Canada’s role?

In the context of incidental take, Environment and Climate Change Canada works cooperatively with individuals, governments and industries to minimize the risk of effects to migratory birds, to maintain sustainable populations and to achieve compliance with the law. To attain these goals, Environment and Climate Change Canada:

  • Promotes awareness and compliance of the legislation and regulations;
  • Issues expert guidance on how to avoid incidental disturbance or destruction of migratory birds and their nests and eggs;
  • Develops and communicates Bird Conservation Region Strategies that provide information about threats to migratory bird conservation and help establish priorities for conservation actions; and
  • Undertakes activities to verify compliance with the legislation, investigates alleged infractions, and ensures deterrence through a combination of game officer presence and court prosecutions.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also encourages the development and application of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs) by individuals and companies to protect and conserve migratory birds. For background information on BMPs, refer to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Approach to the Development of BMPs.

Please note that Environment and Climate Change Canada cannot provide authorizations or permits for the incidental take of migratory bird nests and eggs. Activities affecting migratory birds and/or their nests and eggs, regardless of their scale, the level of potential detrimental effects on bird populations, or the nature of mitigation measures taken, can result in violations of the MBR.

In summary

To avoid the incidental take of migratory birds, nests and eggs, it is recommended to plan ahead and:

Also consider:

  • Developing and implementing appropriate preventive and mitigation measures to minimize the risk of detrimental effects and to help maintain sustainable populations of migratory birds;
  • Incorporating migratory bird protection measures and relevant conservation objectives and actions into policies, procedures, plans, directives and compensatory plans for your project or activity (see the Bird Conservation Region Strategies).

Note that the appropriate measures need to be decided on a case-by-case basis. It is the responsibility of the individual or company undertaking the activities to determine these measures.

In some cases, appropriate measures that minimize the risk of detrimental effects to migratory birds and their nests and eggs could be incorporated into BMPs. (see Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Approach to the Development of BMPs).

All appropriate preventive or mitigation measures identified by a person, company, landowner or activity manager will require awareness on the part of the proponents’ representatives (including contractors) conducting operations in the field.

Environment and Climate Change Canada recommends that all field operations staff be made aware of the selected avoidance and mitigation measures and be provided with appropriate advice/training on how to implement these measures.

Date modified: