Residents decry tree trimming

NEWPORT BEACH — Residents in Newport Heights worry that a tree-trimming program threatens species of protected birds that nest there during the spring mating season.

Some Clay Street homeowners are questioning the city's trimming of about 15 ficus trees that line the street, saying that birds have built active nests among those branches and limbs.

Department Director of Municipal Operations Mike Pisani said city contractors check the trees before trimming and leave those with active nests alone.

"I'm sure they don't check," said Anna Burgess, 27. "I don't think they're that concerned."

Federal law and Department of Fish and Game code protect active nests — those that are being used by birds for mating — from being disrupted, said Laird Henkel, an environmental scientist with Fish and Game.

Eggs and birds are also protected under the laws.

Bird species exempt from such protection are English sparrows, pigeons, parrots and European starlings, said Scott Thomas, conservation committee chairman for the Sea & Sage Audubon Society.

All other birds, native and migratory, are protected under federal and state law.

"It can take me hours, days to find a nest in a tree," said Thomas, a consulting biologist who specializes in nesting birds. "Their job [the birds] is to find a hidden spot. A hummingbird nest is about the size of a quarter."

The spring and early summertime is when birds are most active and mating — and most at risk to being dislodged by tree trimming, Thomas said.

"Between March 15 and Aug. 15, there are birds breeding all over California," Thomas said. "We lose a lot of birds, and nests get knocked out because of tree trimmings. The look people want is tight, new, fresh, clean.

"Springtime everyone has their mind set on wanting to clean up."

Residents on the shady street with mostly tidy, single-story homes say they have seen more birds in Newport Heights.

Burgess said that a bird recently built a nest outside her bedroom window.

"There has been a lot of bird action" recently, Burgess said, adding that she likes and respects the creatures but also finds tree trimming necessary.

"I've seen more colorful birds lately," said Nancy Hamm, 37, a Clay Street resident who said that she has recently seen two broken eggs outside her home. "There have been some really beautiful blue birds. It is peculiar they [tree trimmers] come in the spring and not the fall."

Nancy's husband, David Hamm, 35, said that tree trimming concerns him if it has a negative effect on birds.

"I would have a problem with it because the trees don't look that overgrown," he said.

Some Orange County cities have worked with the Audubon Society in identifying birds that nest. Mission Viejo has asked the Audubon Society for help in identifying birds of prey that would be disrupted by tree trimming.

Irvine had a biologist inspect trees before trimming, Thomas said.

Newport Beach has a certified arborist who works as the city's urban forester, is an expert on street tree issues and is responsible for policies regarding the management of the trees, Pisani said.

Newport trims 10,000 of the 40,000 trees a year for which the city is responsible. About 1,000 trees need trimming each month, according to Pisani.

"We can't just leave town for four to five months a year," Pisani said.