Proper Actions To Observations Clearly Breaking Protection Laws

One of the few other data-collecting site I use is NestWatch because I tend to be good at finding bird nests. So I’ve been using my knowledge to help identify all the eggs and nests with no ids on iNat. However I see quite a few observations where the photographer is clearly breaking protection laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Namely these actions include, holding/moving nests with eggs or young in the nest, holding eggs/young for photos, etc. The following link is the most severe case I’ve seen on the site where the observer took a bluebird nest out of the box for photo.

Now if you click the link, I posted a message along with the id that it’s illegal to even touch the nesting material, let alone pull the nest out and hold it. This is not the first time I’ve posted a message like this. I also mentioned all the severe affects the close encounter could have on the nest. I’m just wondering, was I too rough on person. I was trying to show I guess tough love on the person, be stern about what’s wrong in the photo but try to get them change their ways and still have a desire to check boxes or nests. I guess this is a touchy subject because I try to think of the consequences of either telling them it’s illegal or not. And the list I’ve provided are all negative.

Keeping silent:

  • Repetitive illegal actions by the observer is more likely and nest success rate may drop.
  • People follow by example; other identifiers may see these observations and think it’s okay to hold or touch nests as long as you’re “careful”. Perhaps this is the reason why there are so many observations like this.

Telling the person:

  • Person may and likely will get defensive and try to justify their actions.
  • Person may think I will call game wardens on them or something.
  • Person may just stop using iNat in general to avoid “offensive” comments.

So I guess what the opinions of those who’ve encountered observations like this? I’m wondering if we can add a Data Quality value that deals with law abiding observations and if an observation violates that, it gets a casual grade so that way no mistakes are repeated by other observers. I think the biggest problem we’ll encounter is observing with double standards and I myself is included. I like herping (reptile/amphibian catching) just to observe the species up close and sometimes it is necessary to catch them, such as the reptile being on a roadway. Yet in my home state of Oregon, most of the reptiles are protected under similar laws to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, where I’m not even allowed to touch the reptile. So it’s like, where do we draw the line on what’s acceptable or not. Alright, I’ll leave it at that.


I don’t want to minimize careless behavior. However, keep in mind that not everyone knows everything that you know. A lot of people don’t know what’s harmful, or what’s legal. Most of the time people doing this kind of stuff don’t mean to cause harm–they are just super excited about seeing wildlife up close. Also I doubt that there a lot of people doing this kind of thing repetitively. If they are you then you can bring that up in a private message to them.

I think the best response might be to leave a comment like: “That’s a cool observation. Next time you should take a photo without handling the nest. I’m sure you are super careful when handling the nest, but posting photos like this might encourage other people who are less careful than you to pick up nests or handle nestlings. This can harm the birds.”


On the one hand, I think your response was entirely appropriate and it is important for anyone viewing the observation to understand the repercussions of handling an active nest. Perhaps the response could have been expressed more gently, but the message was important and I think it is often better to be direct and not leave waffle-room. On the other hand, there are lots of observations where wildlife is being handled by the observer who has a permit for the activity. That is not always apparent from the observation so automatically deeming such observations as violating laws would not be appropriate.


I don’t see any value in bringing up legality in a case like this - nobody is likely to face legal consequences for inspecting a nest that in a bluebird box that they likely installed and maintain personally. It would make sense to cite the law if it seems they are intentionally harassing or killing, or are causing serious harm due to negligence and refuse to stop.

In a case like this, you can assume that the observer does not want to harm the birds, so they are likely to respond positively to an evidence-based message that explains the risks of their behaviors, and suggests ways to mitigate them.


I thought your response was fair and not harsh. And I do think it’s important to let people know.
I don’t know how I feel about changing those observations to casual, though. Researchers upload images of animals being handled (e.g., during bird banding) and we shouldn’t do anything to discourage that. But it won’t be obvious to all casual nature enthusiasts (particularly newcomers) that permits were required and obtained for those instances.


As someone who is guilty of similar behaviour (twice, bending branches to see eggs/chicks) I thought your response was correct. It has certainly made me rethink what I may or may not do. It was not an aggressive post - simply stating the facts. The person can do with those facts as they see fit.
As for the legal aspect, I suspect it is flexible. I know of many people who work in wildlife rehab. If the birds, or whatever, were not picked up, they may be dead, not re-introduced to the environment. Yet at the same time, corporate buildings kill a large number of migrating birds each year, seemingly with no legal repercussions. If some of these corporations, or their buildings, were charged, it may bring the issue into more prominence.


It’s also possible that the the observer has a permit to handle the nest. Not likely, but possible.


It’s also possible that the the observer has a permit to handle the nest. Not likely, but possible.

This is actually more likely than you think. Many researchers who have permits to handle bird nests, eggs and young birds share their observations on iNat.


If the bluebird box is privately installed, perhaps the photographer does need prompting to let the birds breed in peace. Or why bother?

Can one not monitor a nest by a quick look in and with minimal disturbance?
Each picture like this on social media encourages many others to do likewise and keep trying for an even better photo (rant over).

There was that rare South American dolphin which was literally selfied to death.


I think your approach is acceptable. I think the grammar is a little clumsy, and makes it seem a little “knee-jerk”, but then that also makes it seem less “talking down to”… I agree that legality doesn’t need to be raised excessively, the law is a big stick for hitting the worst offenders with. I would ask them if they do this often, and if so could they add a description to each such observation letting others know of the considerations involved in handling nests. Perhaps even have a standard “friendly” spiel that you can copy and paste, and suggest that they are welcome to use it as well.


If they would say so in the description it would serve a double purpose of explaining their observation and letting others know about the risks.


I scanned the responses and one point seems to be missing. Rather than leave a comment, if I did anything, I would send a private message to the person. I say this based on my experience with teaching Chinese. By posting a public note, a Chinese person would “lose face” meaning be very embarrassed. For example, I once commented on someone’s English mistake in a group and that person immediately quit the group. We don’t want to discourage people from posting; we just want to encourage them to do so legally and biologically appropriately. I had a moderator on this very website who left what I considered a nasty note about a photo I posted (and inappropriately based on website rules). My first reaction was, “Ok, I’m done with I-naturalist.” Others have mentioned how some people may not realize what they are doing is illegal, or may be doing so legally. Perhaps a good approach would be to comment:

“I’m glad you have a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to handle bird nest. I would suggest that you state this when posting photos when you handle nests or young. This will prevent people who are unaware that doing so without a permit is against the law. May I politely suggest you please add a note to such pictures saying that what you are doing is part of a scientific research study and you have a permit to handle nests? Many young people may be unaware that a permit is needed and imitate your actions. It is probably overkill to include your permit number, but that would also allow law enforcement to verify your permit, although enforcement of these laws is probably lax for many species.”

Sent as a private message, it might be much more readily accepted. It is always hard to write something that is appropriate. Even for my note, I would let it sit 24 hours and read it again before posting it as a private message to see if I can soften it a bit more.


Well put!

Praise In Public, Criticize In Private
[Vince Lombardi]

The first one is easy, although I need to do it more… the second not so easy… I usually recall that quote long after the proverbial has hit the mechanical! But it also depends on the situation. If the criticism is around the mis-leading of others, then there is a responsibility to publicly put forth the alternate viewpoint.

That raises the other issue with this, in that we might think we are right with our viewpoint, but we could potentially be the ones that are wrong!

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It’s really not necessary to inject your opinions on others in this situation. Bluebirds are very used to people, a thriving species, and big picture it’s not a big deal.

When I think about that way, I think about the Passenger Pigeon. They were an incredibly common and yet just a couple factors led to a quick extinction. Perhaps a disturbed nest or two might not be a problem but if repeated by many observers, it could have devastating effects. I mean we’ve lost 25% of all birds in North America since 1970, who knows what will happen if unaccepted behavior continues.


RE the example: I don’t understand why a photo of the adult bluebirds at the nest box would not have achieved the same objective of an iNaturalist observation as taking a nest out of a nestbox. Maybe the observer has a permit and I agree it should be in iNaturalist guidelines to explain this in your observations. Otherwise, there is no point in this type of disturbance just for the sake of an observation in my opinion.


In iNat a photo of the adults vs a photo of their nest and chicks can count as separate observations though, but i agree, if one sees the parents and manage to take a picture then there likely is no point in disturbing the nest.


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