- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) - Two men who cut down a tree in Newport Beach containing baby birds - killing half of them - have been charged with animal cruelty.

Stephen Esser of Dana Point and David Stanley of Downey were charged Thursday.

Prosecutors say the men worked for Tim Greenleaf Engineering and used a backhoe last May to cut down a ficus tree as part of a demolition project.

Authorities say the men ignored pleas by neighbors to spare the tree because snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons were nesting there.

Prosecutors say a dozen nestlings fell out of the tree. Five died.

The men could face up to 1 ½ years in jail if convicted.

The engineering company and the two men didn’t immediately return calls for comment.

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