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Construction workers plead guilty in deaths and injuries of baby birds in Newport Beach

About a dozen birds too young to fly plummeted from a ficus tree felled by workers on a demolition project in Newport Beach. Five of the birds died, prosecutors say.

About a dozen birds too young to fly plummeted from a ficus tree felled by workers on a demolition project in Newport Beach. Five of the birds died, prosecutors say.

(Shelley Ervin / Daily Pilot)

Two construction workers have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from the deaths or injury of a dozen baby birds that were knocked out of a Newport Beach tree where they were nesting last year.

Stephen John Esser, 47, of Dana Point and David Roger Stanley, 41, of Downey entered their pleas in Orange County Superior Court and were immediately sentenced to three years of informal probation and 120 hours of community service.

Each has already paid $13,570 in restitution to cover the cost of nursing the injured birds back to health, according to court records.

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“Both of my clients, although they never intended to harm any birds, accepted responsibility for what they did,” said Jeremy Goldman, an attorney representing Esser and Stanley.

According to the Orange County district attorney’s office, Esser and Stanley were doing demolition work May 28 in the 1500 block of East Balboa Boulevard when they began removing a ficus tree that held eight or nine nests of snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons.

About a dozen baby birds not yet able to fly plummeted from the ficus, authorities said. Five of them died, according to prosecutors.

Neighbors who saw what was happening said they pleaded with the workers to stop and rushed to save the surviving birds from the debris.

“Something like this that is so brutal, so senseless, it affects you deeply,” resident Shelley Ervin said in July, when prosecutors filed charges against Esser and Stanley.

The surviving birds were taken to the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach and rehabilitated.

Esser and Stanley originally faced four misdemeanor charges each, with a possible penalty of up to a year and a half in jail.

However, they agreed to plead guilty to two of the counts — unlawful destruction of bird nests or eggs and unlawful taking of migratory nongame birds — and prosecutors dropped the remaining charges of animal cruelty and harassing a bird or mammal.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

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