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Living with Birds

Many species of birds occupy Colorado throughout the year. Most birds in Colorado are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA makes it unlawful for anyone to pursue, hunt, take, capture or kill migratory birds or destroy nests or eggs unless otherwise permitted.

Other laws protect even non-migratory birds. A homeowner has no constitutional right to control federally protected birds (or other wildlife) to protect property. A permit must be applied for and issued only if the owner can prove that non-lethal methods have been tried and have failed.

RaptorsBald Eagle

Raptors - Eagles, Owls, Hawks, Falcons… No other group of birds stirs the imagination, lifts our spirits and symbolizes noble qualities more than these. Raptor habitat is being lost at an alarming rate.

Habitat loss reduces raptor nest sites, hunting habitat, and winter roost sites. Habitat reduction also increases human-raptor conflicts such as collisions with cars, power lines, and other man-made structures.

While they pose practically no threat to humans, raptors play a vitally important role in the earth’s “web of life” because they prey on small animals such as rodents, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Those in agriculture appreciate raptors because of the millions of rodents, grasshoppers, and other insects they consume every year. Without raptors’ natural population control, these prey species’ populations could upset the balance of nature.

Canada Geese

Canada geese reside year-round locally throughout much of Colorado, and large numbers of migrant Canada geese occupy parts of Colorado during the fall and winter.

Canada geese are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and state laws. Non-lethal control activities (e.g., activities in which there is no direct contact with geese and that do not result in harm to geese, goslings, eggs, or nests) do not require federal or state permits, and most non-lethal activities can be conducted throughout the year (except using trained dogs for hazing—see below).

Canada GeeseAny activities that result in handling, damage, or destruction of geese, or their eggs or nests, require permits. The primary control activity conducted under available permits is egg and nest control of locally-breeding geese. This activity is usually conducted following, and in conjunction with, non-lethal control methods.

If you want to discourage Canada geese, respond quickly, stay persistent, and try to use more than one method at a time. If feeding is occurring in the immediate area, all other methods to discourage geese may be of little use.

Some landowners and land managers have used highly trained border collies with skilled handlers to chase geese off their properties. This is not a method to be tried with a canine pet—dogs cannot be allowed to harm geese or other waterfowl. Leash laws do not allow dogs to run free to chase geese. There are state regulations prohibiting use of dogs during April 1 to August 1 (when geese are nesting, molting their wing feathers, and rearing their broods). However, where allowed and used consistently, this method has proven successful in persuading geese to avoid local sites.

Written permission from the Colorado Division of Wildlife is required before any interference with eggs or nests can begin. Contact the Division of Wildlife for more information about applying for a federal permit to conduct egg or nest control activities.

The CDOW also provides other hazing strategies on their website.

Woodpeckers

The northern flicker is the most common member of the woodpecker family in Colorado. It is identified in-flight by a yellow or salmon tint under the wings and tail feathers. Northern flickers have black spots on a tannish-white breast and belly. Males have a black or red mustache extending from the base of the beak to below the eyes.

Northern flickerThe red-headed woodpecker, red-naped sapsucker, Lewis’ woodpecker, Williamson's sapsucker, hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker are also found in Colorado, but are less common.

Woodpeckers can cause property damage by drilling holes in wood siding and eaves. During the early spring, woodpeckers hammer to attract mates, to establish and/or defend a territory, to excavate nesting or roosting sites, and to search for insects.

Trying to drive woodpeckers away involves using visual repellents and loud noises. Attempting to scare them off requires immediate action because woodpeckers are persistent once a territory or pecking site is established.

Prompt repair of holes may encourage the woodpecker to leave, or discourage other woodpeckers, as these holes may serve as visual attractants. Cover holes with aluminum flashing, tin can tops or metal sheathing and paint them to match the siding.

If damage occurs near areas that provide perch sites, discourage use of the perch with metal flashing or other materials. If a single board on the house serves as a foothold, tightly stretch wire or heavy monofilament fishing line approximately two inches in front of the board to prevent the bird from landing.

Other methods include hanging black plastic strips 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide and 2 to 3 feet long, pinwheels with reflective vanes, or aluminum pie tins near the damaged area. Allow the wind to blow the strips, pinwheels and pie tins freely.

Woodpeckers are classified as migratory, nongame birds and are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A federal permit is required before any lethal control methods can be employed. Penalties and fines are assessed to violators.

Barn Swallows and Cliff SwallowsBarn Swallows

Barn swallows and Cliff swallows build mud nests on man-made structures, but their insect-eating abilities make them a welcome summer visitor. Insects make up, on average, 99.8 percent of the swallow’s diet.

Colorado is fortunate to be the summer home for many species of migratory birds, including several species of swallows, notably the barn swallow and cliff swallow. These small, industrious birds are chiefly known for two things: eating millions of insects each summer and building mud nests on the sides of buildings, bridges and man-made overhangs.

Barn Swallow NestBarn swallows and cliff swallows can be differentiated by their distinct tails: the barn swallow has a sharply forked tail, while the cliff swallow has a square-shaped tail. Both barn swallows and cliff swallows build nests out of mud pellets that they carry in their mouths to a nest site protected by an overhang.

Placing a piece of wood, particularly rough wood such as weathered barn wood, approximately one foot from the building’s eave or overhang, appeals to swallows. The swallows seem to prefer to build right up near the ceiling.

Some people find mud-based swallow nests an unattractive decoration on the sides of buildings, but destroying an active nest and/or the young in the nest is illegal. Swallows, their nests and eggs are all protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and may not be destroyed while active. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows vacant nests to be destroyed, but nests with active birds, their young or the presence of eggs must be left alone. Otherwise, it is a violation.

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Photo La Plata County scenery