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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Translocate nests to avoid disturbance Bird Conservation

Key messages

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  • Four small trials from the USA and a replicated study from Chatham Island, New Zealand found some success in relocating nests whilst they were in use.
  • However, one study from the USA found that only 40% of burrowing owls Athene cunicularia were moved successfully, another found that American kestrels Falco sparverius tolerated movement of their nest, but not repeated disturbance and another found that barn swallow Hirundo rustica may follow their nest as it is slowly moved on a car, but may not stay at the new site.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A small single-site study from May-August in 1979-1981 reporting a translocation attempt of a pair of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) into an undisturbed shrubland area in Wyoming, USA (Postovit et al. 1982) found that temporary nesting platforms can be used to induce relocation into the target area. To encourage the pair to move into the target area, their single nestling was moved sequentially to a series of temporary platforms erected between the nest tree (located in a mining-impacted area) and the target platform at points 175, 715 and 1,375 m from the nest tree. Sticks were added to each temporary platform. Each move was executed only after the nestling’s acceptance of the previous platform. A fresh rabbit carcass was placed with the nestling each time it was moved. The nestling fledged from the third temporary platform before the adult pair had fully accepted the temporary platforms. However, in 1981, the adults voluntarily nested on and successfully fledged one nestling from the target platform.



A small replicated study from June-July in 1989 that tested a new method for translocating whole nests on two barn swallow Hirundo rustica nests in Ithaca, New York, USA (Winkler & McCarty 1990), found that nests could be successfully transferred in stages but that only one parent remained with one of the nests. Overall, the 3.5 km journey between the old and new site required 27 and 13 hours of daylight for each nest respectively. All chicks fledged from both nests but only one of four parents remained with the nest post-translocation. Both nests were fastened to a vehicle-roof and moved in stages, waiting at each point until the parents had fed the young. Distance between stops varied from 5-10 m initially to 100-200 m closer to the target site. Nests were moved in 4 m stages at the target site (using a mist-net pole) to the new habitat. The transport box (13 x 20 cm) had one side left open for parents to access the nest.



A single-site study in May 1992 in one field containing an American kestrel Falco sparverius breeding pair in an artificial nest box in Ohio, USA (Carpenter 1992) found that the breeding pair tolerated initial, but not continued, human disturbance. The nestbox (containing two eggs), initially located in a maple tree, was removed from the tree and placed upright on the ground 3 m away while the tree was felled. The male was found incubating the eggs at this time. The nestbox was subsequently attached to a steel fencepost 10 m away.  Although the female kestrel entered the nest initially, the birds appeared to abandon the nest and were later observed copulating near a nest box located 1 km away. When checked, the translocated nest box contained 5 cold eggs. Three eggs were therefore laid after the nest was moved and incubation was initiated while the nest box was on the ground. The author suggests that kestrel nests may be successfully relocated to a short distance if further disturbance is kept to a minimum.



A small study from June-July in 1998 in one field impacted by agriculture in southern Idaho, USA (Smith & Belthoff 2001) found that burrowing owls Athene cunicularia exhibited mixed responses to nest relocation to a nearby natural buffer strip. Relocation distances averaged 153 m from old nests. Overall, two families (five fledglings) accepted the new nests (40%); two families (five fledglings) returned to the vicinity of the old nests one day after relocation (40%); and one family (five fledglings) disappeared from the field (20%). Dates of relocation events did not correlate with relocation outcomes. In 1999, one male and one female returned to the relocated sites and successfully fledged young (20% return rate). However, during 1999, none of the 15 fledglings from the 1998 nests was observed. The buffer strip was 25 m wide on the outskirts of a field zoned for development. All nests were artificial burrow systems.



A replicated study on a beach on Chatham Island, New Zealand (Moore & Williams 2005) found that, of 78 Chatham Island oystercatcher Haematopus chathamensis nests gradually moved 1–32 m upshore during 1998–2004, although 11 were subsequently washed away by storm surges or high tides. Nests were moved either by hand (from a shallow nesting scrape to another, man-made scrape close by) or by dragging the artificial nesting platforms that the nests were on (see ‘Provide nesting habitat for birds that is safe from extreme weather’). In 2004-5, 26 nests from 33 pairs were washed away by very high storms; no data was available on the number of nests moved in this year. Before nests were moved, all nests on the beach were sometimes washed away. No data were provided on acceptance of movement or breeding success. The beach was also subject to several other conservation interventions: see ‘Exclude livestock to reduce trampling or predation’, ‘Predator control on islands’ and ‘Remove problematic vegetation’.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.