Article copyright The Charlotte Observer
July 10, 2004

Staff Writer

You really can find most anything on eBay -- even songbird nests from Charlotte back yards.

Bird lovers are aflutter over a rash of online, and illegal, sales of eggs and nests.

Beyond risking prison and a $250,000 fine, sellers taking nests at the height of the breeding season could hurt the species already in decline.

"Birds need all the help they can get," said Bill Hilton Jr., a York, S.C., naturalist. "Stealing the eggs and nests out from under them isn't going to help matters at all."

For 20 years, Hilton has banded hummingbirds to help study their migrations and breeding success. That's why an eBay listing of a hummingbird nest caught his eye early this month.

Hilton wrote the seller, who hadn't realized her error and removed the listing.

Many people don't know such transactions are illegal, wildlife experts say, or their potential harm. "Empty" nests may actually hold two or three clutches of eggs a year.

Most of the three dozen other sellers he and fellow birders have written since mid-June, Hilton said, didn't respond or tried to fudge the details.

"These birds live in my yard all year round and (are) not migratory birds," a Charlotte eBay seller who goes by "toad08" wrote in a June 20 listing of bluebird, wren, titmouse and chickadee nests.

Wrong, toad. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 -- that's the one punishable by up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine -- protects more than 800 species, from bald eagles to Carolina chickadees.

The four Charlotte nests sold for $41, chickadee egg included.

The migratory bird law was a response to uncontrolled shooting of birds to sell on the meat market and to supply feathers for fashionable turn-of-the-century hats. The first national wildlife refuges also sprang out of public outrage over those practices.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to even possess bird parts, feathers, eggs and nests. The biggest penalties, felonies, are for selling them.

But Internet trading is almost impossible for understaffed wildlife agencies to track. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 261 enforcement officers. Three million new items are listed each day on eBay.

"What the bird people are trying to do is monitor it for them," said Hilton, executive director of the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. An online network of birders and banders has been buzzing for weeks over the sales.

Sandra Cleva, a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife law enforcement, said hundreds of items illegal under wildlife law, from sea turtle shells to stuffed migratory birds, are traded online each day.

"It's hard to even start cataloging what may be sold on the Internet at any given time," she said. "We simply do not have the resources to pursue every sale."

Wildlife agents do periodically check online trading sites, Cleva said. She said eBay pulls illegal items when notified.

"Our general policy is that if it's illegal offline, it is illegal on eBay," company spokesman Chris Donlay said. "We do monitor for prohibited items, and when we find them, we take them down. Often it's things that people had no idea were illegal."

The numbers, again, stack the odds against vigorous security. EBay lists 25 million items, has 105 million users worldwide and $1,000 in trades change hands every second.

The two nests the Observer reported to eBay on Thursday were off the site by Friday.

But buyers could take their choice of four new listings.
Bruce Henderson: (704) 358-5051;

If you enjoy This Week at Hilton Pond,
please help

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

Just CLICK on one of the logos below.

Make direct donations on-line through
Network for Good:
Donate a portion of your purchase price from 500+ top on-line stores via iGive:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Nature Blog Network

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

Up to Top of Page

Back to This Week at Hilton Pond Center

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.