If you live or work at White Sands Missile Range, you have probably noticed that birds are becoming more conspicuous this time of year. Many birds are starting to sing in anticipation of breeding season, and some species are beginning to return from their wintering areas to the South. The breeding season at WSMR generally spans March through August, and some birds such as owls, doves, and eagles will nest before or after that time.
Birds sometimes build their nests in places where they are a nuisance to people. In the Garrison Environmental Division, we will soon be receiving calls about birds building nests above doorways, in the eaves of buildings, in trees that need to be trimmed, in vehicles, or in equipment such as satellite dishes or radar towers.
We have over 300 species of birds at WSMR, and all but four of those species are protected by a federal law called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Eagles and threatened or endangered species are afforded additional protections by the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
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 federal permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It does not matter if the "take" was intentional or unintentional. Under the MBTA such actions are punishable by fines or jail time, especially when intentional, and you or your commanders could be at risk.
A nest is considered to be "active" if it has eggs or nestlings in it. While it is not lawful to harm or deconstruct an active nest without a federal permit, it is lawful to deconstruct a nest when it is inactive (prior to having eggs or nestlings). For colonial nesting birds, such as the barn swallow, it is not lawful to deconstruct any nests after the first nest in the colony is active. Once a nest has eggs or nestlings, we must leave it alone (or leave all nests alone in the case of colonial nesting birds) until the young are fledged and the birds stop using the nest. The nests of eagles or endangered species are protected, even if empty.
In 2006, DoD and the USFWS entered into a "Memorandum of Understanding 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., to avoid and minimize impacts to birds. The USFWS can make exceptions for military readiness activities relating directly to combat, but such exceptions must be addressed properly in project National Environmental Policy Act documents to ensure that there are not significant impacts to bird populations.
We encourage WSMR residents and workforce to enjoy and tolerate nesting birds whenever possible. They are fun 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 (575) 678-2225. Please also report any bird injuries or mortalities so that we can do our best to resolve and prevent further issues.