It’s not uncommon for gardeners to find house finches, mourning doves or robins nesting in hanging baskets. At first you may react with delight—baby birds are so ugly they’re cute.
However, in most cases hanging baskets occupy areas we frequent during the spring and summer—balconies, patios or porches. A family of birds can create quite a mess. Think: messy bird droppings all over that balcony, patio or porch.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is usually illegal to move a bird's nest that's in use. (For more interpretation, see this post from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch.) The best approach, then, is to prevent birds from nesting in your containers in the first place.
Here's how to discourage nesting in your hanging basket:
1. Create other nesting sites by hanging up birdhouses or nesting boxes elsewhere in the garden.
2. Lay chicken wire or a similar material over the soil in the hanging basket.
3. Insert short skewers in the soil of the basket; not so sharp that they might harm a bird, but to create an inhospitable building site.
4. Install fake predators such as rubber snakes or an owl statue.
5. Hang streamers, wind chimes, wind socks or similar items alongside the basket. Their movement will discourage nesting.
6. Remove nesting material as it appears.
If you're too late and there's a nest in your hanging basket, you'll have to wait the birds out. Despite the mess, you may enjoy watching the family grow. And you can still care for your plant. Just water the basket slowly and from an angle that won't soak the nest.
Keep in mind that many birds, such as house finches and robins, have two broods. When the first brood has permanently left the nest, you can discard the old nest. Then follow the steps listed above to discourage rebuilding.