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Can you be fined for helping birds?

Ducklings in danger? Know the laws before you help!
Ducklings in danger? Know the laws before you help!
Marc Mayntz

If you see birds in danger, can it be against the law to stop and help? Depending on the circumstances, yes, as a driver in New Hampshire discovered on July 18. Hallie Bibeau saw ducklings in danger along Route 101, and while she did not hit any of the ducklings herself, the mother duck and several other ducklings had already been killed by the busy traffic. Bibeau stopped in the highway's median and called authorities, but when a patrol car arrived, she wasn't thanked for her compassion, but instead was handed a ticket for stopping in the median.

In New Hampshire, it is illegal to stop in a highway median except under extreme emergency circumstances, which authorities say do not include protecting wildlife. Emergency vehicles can stop in the median because they are equipped with warning lights and other equipment that can alert oncoming drivers about the unusual circumstance, while ordinary drivers may inadvertently cause unsafe situations if they stop in the median.

The New Hampshire driver's manual does not specifically cover what to do in case of wildlife emergencies, and in fact, wildlife is not mentioned in the 112-page guide. Different sections do cover driving emergencies and stopping on an expressway as it applies to emergency situations, and even sharing the road with other types of vehicles, pedestrians, playing children and horses. Drivers are advised that if they hit a dog, they must report the incident, but nowhere are they required to report hitting wildlife.

Good Samaritan laws typically cover anyone who offers reasonable assistance in emergency situations, protecting them from legal actions when their assistance is rendered in good faith. New Hampshire does offer Good Samaritan protection, but just as the state's driving laws do not cover wildlife, neither do Good Samaritan protections.

Bibeau's situation – and her resulting ticket – are not unique. In 2010, a Canadian woman stopped on the left side of a highway to help ducklings, and a motorcycle collided with her stopped car. The motorcyclist and his passenger were killed, and the woman, Emma Czornobaj, was recently convicted of criminal negligence and dangerous driving, and may face life in prison. The prosecutor in the case, Annie-Claude Chasse, stated "What we hope is that a clear message is sent to society that we do not stop on the highway for animals. It’s not worth it."

For birders and wildlife lovers, stopping to help birds in danger is certainly worth it, but should always be done safely and with keen awareness of local laws and the hazards of the situation.

Learn other ways birding can be a crime, and how to protect yourself as well as the birds!

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