This past week in Oakland, onlookers were horrified to watch as nesting baby birds fell into a woodchipper being used for branch trimmings. Both state and federal wildlife officials have opened investigations into the alleged incident, which affected the nests of black-crowned night herons.
The U.S. Postal Service had requested that the tree branches be removed because officials were concerned about birds pooping on their mail trucks. They contacted a local tree removal company, Campos Tree Service. Witnesses reported seeing baby herons fall into the wood chipper.
The company claims that the crew was new and didn’t realize there were baby birds involved; however, this seems questionable given that random onlookers were able to see what was happening and contact police. Police then stopped the work and a local environmental group, Raptors Are The Solution, was able to save five of the chicks.
“It’s especially appalling because these birds are so vulnerable and such a valuable part of the ecosystem,” says Lisa Owen Viani, director of Raptors Are The Solution.
Black-crowned night herons are currently protected by laws on both the state and federal level. City work crews operating in Oakland usually leave the nests alone, but Campose Tree Service was a private contractor.
If the USPS or tree service are found guilty, they could be criminally charged under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to Andrew Hughan, who works with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. So far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has said that an investigation found no evidence of birds in the chipper. However, one baby bird was dead at the scene, and the surviving birds and undergoing treatment for fractures and scrapes, which leaves the possibility of legal action open.
Though the black-crowned night heron is not an endangered species nationally, it’s a rare sight in Oakland — the bird’s populations have been in serious decline throughout the Bay Area. The birds relocated to the downtown ficus trees after leaving their historic nesting area at the Lake Merritt bird sanctuary; many theorize this was due to the growing population of double-crested cormorants there. Because the herons are large, though, a fair amount of guano does accumulate, and some residents have been complaining.