Multiple Houston-based news outlets reported a story recently about a contractor that killed or maimed 138 egrets and herons protected under the Migratory Species Act. The birds were nesting on a site being cleared by the contractor.
It’s not clear from news coverage whether the contractor was working for a homebuilder or homeowner. While I have done dozens of stories over the years about the environmental impacts of land clearing, i.e., loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat, I can’t remember any this callous.
Summaries of Local News Coverage
KPRC Channel 2
Channel 2 reported that “An investigation has been launched after dozens of migratory birds were discovered injured or dead in an area being used as a breeding ground by the protected species.”
The incident occurred last Friday in the 19700 block of Cherrywood Bend Lane in the Town Lake neighborhood in Cypress. A tree trimming company cut down trees where the birds had built nests. The surviving birds suffered broken wings, mangled legs, and internal injuries.
Texas Parks and Wildlife said the property owner and tree trimming company will be held accountable. “Their fines could add up thousands of dollars, multiple Class C violations, plus the civil restitution,” said Texas Game Warden Jaime Hill.
Egrets and herons are migratory birds protected by state law, in addition to being federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA protects 1,000 species. Under the MBTA, it is illegal to kill, injure, or capture protected birds.
Houston Chronicle reported that 67 birds were discovered dead and another 71 were rescued by the SPCA’s Wildlife Center of Texas. The story said the non-profit had to euthanize 17 of the injured birds due to the extent their injuries.
A game warden cited the contractor and property owner for violating a statute which protects these non-game birds from being injured or killed, and their nests disturbed or destroyed.
“The issue here is the nests,” said Hill, the game warden. “Before nesting season begins residents can harass the birds so they don’t return.” They can use noise-making devices, fake owls, balloons with eyes on them and even pyrotechnics to try to ward them off, the warden added. “But any harassment must end when the first egg is laid,” she added.
“The birds might be a nuisance,” she said, “but at the end of the day when it comes to their nests and their young, they are protected.”
TPWD conferred with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and agreed to handle the incident at the state level.
KHOU Channel 11
The Houston SPCA will care for the surviving birds until they can be released back to the wild.
TPWD’s investigation is ongoing.
Few waterbirds are more beautiful or graceful than herons and egrets. I have photographed them in the wild for years. My favorite shot is this one, taken years ago, not at the site in question.
I took it moments after the chick hatched out of its egg, as both parents looked on proudly.
The chicks look gawky and gangly in their nests. As they mature and grow feathers, they walk out on branches and flap their wings to gain strength. Then one day, they release their grip on the branches and take wing to repeat the cycle of life as young adults.
It isn’t until you follow these birds from egg to air, that you can appreciate them as individuals. At moments like the one in the photo above, I see the same emotion that parents of every species feel. Love. Pride. And protectiveness.
But sadly, the egrets are no match for chain saws.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/22
1722 Days after Hurricane Harvey