Migratory Bird Q&A

At ECS, we constantly evolve and move toward the future and new capabilities in our industry. We talked with Michael Bacon, Environmental Project Manager, in our Hanover, MD office to learn about migratory bird evaluations, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and ECS’ Bird Rapid Response Team.


Q: Tell us a little about your professional background and expertise in wildlife sciences.

A: Growing up in rural northeast PA, I was always fascinated with nature and knew I wanted to do something with wildlife. Birds always interested me. I got my environmental science degree focusing on wildlife biology from Towson University. For my senior research project, I looked at the effects of anthropogenic sounds on bird populations within the Baltimore region. Once I graduated, I got a job with an environmental firm and began conducting migratory bird evaluations on telecommunication towers spanning from northern NC to ME. I have performed approximately 500 bird surveys nationwide.

Q: What is a Migratory Bird Evaluation (MBE)? What types of birds trigger these services and why is it essential in our industry to perform these evaluations?

A: For the evaluation, we typically set up a quarter of a mile away from the nest with a spotting scope and observe the nest and structure to identify the species of bird, to determine if the nest is considered active or inactive and estimate when the eggs will hatch or the age of the chicks and fledglings residing in the nest. We also provide stress monitoring for clients when activity near the nest is required. The stress monitoring reduces the possibility of the adult bird abandoning its nest or causing damage to the nest resulting in the death of a chick or fledgling, which is considered a “take” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and a violation of that law.

An MBE is typically triggered when there’s proposed work on an existing structure or tree within an area proposed to be disturbed near a nesting bird protected under the MBTA. Usually, the bird is not the trigger since the client may not be familiar with the species, which is why the MBE is needed. Only native birds are considered protected under the MBTA and once we conduct the evaluation, we can inform our client of the bird species, if it is protected and when we think work can commence. Furthermore, part of our due diligence efforts is to help our clients follow state and federal laws concerning the MBTA and evaluate whether the proposed project does not result in a “take.” A “take” is the killing, capturing, selling, trading, or transporting of any protected migratory bird species without consent from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In addition, if a protected nest is to be removed, we will work with state agencies and the USFWS to apply for a permit to remove the nest.

Q: What is ECS’ Bird Rapid Response Team?

A: The Bird Rapid Response Team is responsible for conducting MBEs and bald eagle evaluations for clients nationwide. It was created five years ago to mobilize our team members to support our clients wherever their projects may be. Now, we continue to expand and are training more scientists across our footprint so that we can mobilize to the project site as quickly as possible. Typically, these repair or maintenance projects cannot wait and being able to respond quickly to a site with a potential migratory bird issue allows us to provide our clients with quick information so they remain in compliance with state and federal laws.

Q: What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and how does it affect a project’s development?

A: The MBTA was created in 1918 to ensure population stability for all protected migratory birds. The MBTA only protects native birds and does not protect invasive bird species such as the European starling, house sparrow, or rock dove. Under the MBTA, destroying a nest with eggs, chicks, or young birds still dependent on the nest for survival is illegal. The goal of conducting MBEs and stress monitoring is to reduce the potential for a “take,” which can result in a fine of up to $15,000 or up to six months in jail. The MBTA can affect a project by delaying work until the nest is inactive, which can take days or months, depending on the species.  The MBTA requirements can also restrict what can or cannot be done on a project site which can directly impact a project’s schedule and viability.

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