Trimming trees with babies in mind

Trees aren't just part of a beautiful garden offering shade and sometimes even tasty fruits. They're also home to bird and squirrel nests which are sometimes full of little babies. Most gardening books recommend doing your tree trimming or pruning before spring arrives. This also happens to be the time babies are arriving. Here's how you can get your trees ready for springtime and keep all the birds and squirrels healthy and happy.

How to spot a nest: Squirrels and birds like to nest in larger trees and bushes at least 8' feet off the ground. They generally build their nests in the crotches of branches. A squirrels nest is about 2' wide and is made of twigs and leaves on the outside and pet hair and soft materials on the inside. A birds nest can be anywhere from six inches for small birds to two feet for larger birds of prey. They are also made of twigs, leaves and animal fur. Some of the local wild parrots like to carve nests out of the palm tree crowns. In colder areas of the city squirrels like to build their nests inside tree trunks.

What to do when you see a nest: The best thing to do is to trim the trees when there are no babies in the nest which is during the late fall or winter. Winter is a good time to trim trees as they are generally in their dormant stage. Squirrels probably have babies in their nests from January to April and again from July to September. Birds have active nests during similar time periods. If you trim the tree when the nests are not active, it's still important to remove then replace the empty nests. The adults may be able to climb and fly away when you're trimming the tree but they still need a home when they return after you're done. You wouldn't want your back yard Mockingbird to find another yard to sing his beautiful songs so make sure he still has a home in your garden.

If you must trim the tree during baby season, follow these guidelines to remove then replace the nest, even if the nest is empty. Carefully remove the nest wearing thick leather gloves trying to keep it completely intact. Remember its location. Don't worry too much about putting human scent on the nest or babies. The mothers will still take them back but it's always wise to rub a little dirt on your gloves before touching them. Place the nest in a warm box in a safe place away from cats, dogs or hawks. If you can, place a heating pad under the box. The mother will not take back a cold baby. Newborn birds must eat every 20 minutes. Newborn baby squirrels must nurse every two hours so try to trim the tree quickly yet safely.

As soon as you are finished trimming the tree, replace the nest at a similar height and placement in the tree. If you've trimmed the tree shorter, just replace it at least 12' off the ground. The mother bird will come back to the nest and continue to feed her young. The mother squirrel will come back to the nest and move all of her babies to one of her other nests. 

What if you find a nest or babies on the ground? Try to put the nest back together using twigs, leaves and wire. If there is no nest, try to build one out of a small cardboard box, margarine tub or berry container filled with leaves. Then place the babies back into the nest and replace the nest securely when you are done. Use wire to attach it to the tree if necessary. 
If the nest or babies are on the ground, here are instructions to reunite them Reunite babies with mom

If the baby has received more than a few scratches from the fall, you will need to get that baby to a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator. You can call Fish & Game for a referral. Some city animal shelters, the SPCA, local veterinarians and humane societies will also have referrals for you. Go here to find one now Find a rehabber Keep the baby warm until you can give the baby to the rehabilitator. Do not give it food or water unless instructed.

The law and animal nests: It is a federal Fish & Game violation to touch the nest of a migratory, predatory or song bird. It's also a violation to harm these birds and their nestlings as they are protected. Fines are anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000. You or your tree trimmer would actually need a permit to trim the tree. It is a Los Angeles city violation to destroy the nests or nestlings of song birds. It is considered an act of animal cruelty to throw a nest with babies into the trash or wood chipper to die, punishable by a fine of $5,000 per animal and up to six months in jail.

So the next time you're getting ready to spruce up your garden trees, keep in mind all the little critters that make your garden not only their home but a wonderful place for you to enjoy. There's nothing more relaxing than watching squirrels playing in your trees and listening to the songs of happy birds.

Article in English in PDF format one page flyer

Article in Spanish in PDF format one page flyer

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