If you live or work at White Sands Missile Range you have probably noticed that birds are very active this time of year. Many birds have now returned from their wintering areas to the South. The breeding season at WSMR generally spans March through August, and some species such as owls and doves will even nest before or after that time. In the spring and summer, many birds are tending to their nests, and sometimes building them in places where they are a nuisance to people. In the Garrison Environmental Division, WSM-PWE, we get many calls this time of year about birds building nests above doorways, in the eves of buildings, in vehicles, and in test equipment such as satellite dishes and radar towers.
We have documented 290 species of birds at WSMR, and all but four of those species, which are non-native to North America, are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, MBTA. Eagles and endangered species are afforded additional protections. Most of the time, the only solution we can provide for a bird nest is to wait for the young to grow and fledge. The MBTA makes it illegal to “take”, pursue, shoot, shoot at, wound, kill, capture, collect, molest, or disturb, any bird, nest, eggs, or nestlings, or attempt to do any of these things, without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS. It does not matter if the “take” was intentional or unintentional. Under the MBTA such actions are considered a crime punishable by fines or jail time, and you or your commanders could be at risk.
The USFWS considers a nest to be “active” if it has eggs or nestlings in it. The only tool we have to prevent nuisance nests is to deconstruct a nest before it is active. Once a nest has eggs or nestlings, we are required to leave it alone until the young are fledged and the birds stop using the nest. For colonial nesting birds, such as the barn swallow, we are not allowed to deconstruct any nests after the first nest in the colony is active. The nests of eagles or endangered species are protected even if empty.
In 2006, DoD and the USFWS entered into a “Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, to Promote the Conservation of Migratory Birds” in accordance with a presidential Executive Order, 13186, “Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds”. The MOU describes specific actions agreed to by DoD to advance migratory bird conservation; avoid or minimize the take of migratory birds, and ensure DoD operations are consistent with the MBTA. At WSMR we incorporate such measures into routine activities such as landscaping, operation of power lines, building renovations, construction, demolition, etc., so that we avoid and minimize impacts to nesting birds. The USFWS can make exceptions for military readiness activities relating directly to combat, but the definition of a military readiness activity is very specific, and such exceptions must be addressed properly in project NEPA, National Environmental Policy Act, documents to ensure that there are not significant impacts to bird populations.
We encourage WSMR residents and workforce to tolerate nesting birds whenever possible. Nesting birds can be enjoyable to watch, and we know that birds provide a service to us by eating insect and rodent pests. Bird droppings may be unsightly, but they are not harmful and can be scraped or swept on a regular basis. If you have a bird issue and need assistance, please contact the Garrison Environmental Division at 678-2225. Please also report any bird injuries mortalities to us so that we can do our best prevent additional mortalities.