|A black-crowned night heron was one of the birds rescued. Photo by Sam Gangwer, the OC Register|
NEWPORT BEACH – Residents of a neighborhood on the Balboa Peninsula are mourning the loss of bird chicks in a tree pulled down Thursday. The tree was filled with nests of snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons.
At least 75 people attended a memorial service Sunday for the birds that died or were displaced by the removal of the tree, which was on private property. People brought flowers and candles and heard “Amazing Grace” from a local guitarist and saxophone player. Event organizer Shelley Ervin said neighbors thought there were 20 to 30 baby birds and parents in the tree.
“We as a community are not going to let this drop,” Ervin said.
Herons and egrets were still circling around the former site of the more than 50-year-old tree on Monday, resident Jeff Dole said.
“It was a catastrophe,” Dole said. “It was probably one of the worst things that’s happened in Newport Beach nature-wise in a long time.”
Lt. Tom Fischbacher said Newport Beach’s Animal Control department is looking into whether the removal of the tree by a contractor was a violation of state laws protecting migratory birds -- based on the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 that protects more than 1,000 species across the country -- with support from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Once the investigation is complete, a report will be given to the county district attorney’s office, he said.
Violations of the state laws could mean misdemeanor charges. Snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons aren’t endangered or threatened species, but are protected under the federal law.
Fischbacher said animal control officers responded to the site at least three times Thursday and Friday, and recovered eight live baby egrets and one baby night heron, he said. All of the animals were taken to the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center of Orange County in Huntington Beach.
Wildlife director Debbie McGuire of Wetlands and Wildlife said a few of the baby birds arrived dead.
Neighbors said the process of chopping down the tree began around 3 p.m. Thursday. Caroline Vassar, who lives about a block away from the tree, noticed the demolition and tried to stand under the tree and catch baby birdsbefore they hit the ground.
“I wasn’t trying to save the whole tree, I was just telling them it was full of nesting birds,” Vassar said. “It was terrible.”
Daniel Broome of Tim Greenleaf Engineering, the company contracted to remove the trees, said the project had all necessary approvals from the city and the state's Coastal Commission. He wasn't aware of any environmental restrictions on the trees, he said.
Broome said he hopes he can work with the local homeowners' association to begin to make up for the impact on the neighborhood.
"We're not happy about how the crew responded to neighbors or how the wildlife was handled," he said. "This whole thing is raising issues internally in our company and pushing us to be a better citizen in the area."