Photo © Keith Williams

Latest News

Sparrow Swap Returns For 2nd Season

House Sparrows are a non-native species that compete for cavities with native birds throughout North America. While this ubiquity can make them a nuisance around nest boxes, it can also make them a really good study subject for learning about widespread problems like environmental toxins. 

The Sparrow Swap Project invites you to collaborate in citizen-science research with a three-fold mission: (1) determine if House Sparrow eggs can be used to map exposure to environmental contaminants, (2) test the effectiveness of different House Sparrow management techniques, and (3) investigate the geographic variation in the color and speckling of House Sparrow eggs.

All you need to participate is a nest box that is currently attracting House Sparrows. Visit Sparrow Swap to get more information and sign up. Sparrow Swap is a project of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. If you have questions about the project, please refer to the Sparrow Swap FAQs. NestWatch reminds you that only the eggs of non-native species may be collected without a permit. If you’re unsure about the species, do not remove any eggs.

Youth Workshops a Hit

Pine nest boxes lay across the picnic table, waiting to be installed on metal conduit with predator guards. Youth gather and work together determining the best location to install the nest boxes for our target species: Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, and Black-capped Chickadees. We wonder aloud, “Might we attract Tufted Titmice this year?” Soon installation is underway, and laughter fills the air along with the high-pitched whir of battery-powered screwdrivers. 

This nesting season marks the second year of our NestWatch workshop series. With the help of 4-H partners in two New York communities, NestWatch is in the process of piloting a curriculum aimed at engaging youth with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) using nesting birds as a “hook.” Throughout the three-part workshop series, youth install nest boxes, learn about breeding bird biology, monitor nest boxes, collect and analyze data, and build their own nest boxes. In the next several years, the curriculum will be hosted on the NestWatch website, freely available for educators, community members, and families. We look forward to sharing this fun resource with you! 

In addition to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, partners include Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Cornell University Cooperative Extensions of Columbia-Greene and Jefferson Counties, and New York State 4-H with additional support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture for Smith-Lever project 2015-16-110. 

New Purple Martin Nest Box Plan

We are pleased to report that we have updated our Purple Martin nest box plan in the All About Birdhouses section of our website. The new plan, which accommodates six martin nests, features larger nest compartments and the option of crescent-shaped entrance holes (we recommend the crescent-shaped holes because they deter European Starlings). The plan also includes instructions for mounting on a pole with a pulley system for raising and lowering the house.

Many thanks to Mel Lehman, designer of the “Cedar Suite” martin house, for sharing his detailed plans with NestWatch. We’d also like to thank Joe Siegrist, of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, for assistance during the process.

To find out if you’ve got the right habitat and location to attract Purple Martins, and to download the free nest box plan, visit us online. Purple Martins are in decline in parts of their range, and are almost entirely dependent on human-provided housing. Please report any martin nests to

Wanted: Flycatcher Nest Photos

Great Crested Flycatchers have a curious habit of adding snake skins to their nests. But, why do they do this? If you find a Great Crested Flycatcher nest this spring, take a photo and submit it to NestWatch to help us understand this unusual behavior. We’re collaborating with Dr. Vanya Rohwer of the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates to address three main questions:

1. Does the use of snake skins in nests vary across the breeding range?

2. Where in the nests do flycatchers place snake skins (e.g., touching eggs, around the entrance hole, or scattered throughout the nest cup)?

3. Do snake skins increase nesting success?

How to take photos: Great Crested Flycatchers are cavity nesters, so these directions assume that you’ve found a nest in a box. Please take photos looking straight down onto the nest so that the nest cup, eggs/nestlings, and box walls are visible. For each photo, please include the location, the date you took the photo, and indicate whether you’re NestWatching the box (data on nest fates are especially helpful). In order for photos to be used, they must be in focus and sufficiently bright so that we can see snake skins inside the nest (or lack thereof). Please submit photos through our online Participant Photos Gallery.

Great Crested Flycatchers are an insectivorous bird that is declining in some parts of its range. If you live in an area with an open forest habitat (urban or suburban neighborhoods with mature trees, old orchards, lake or riverside areas with large shade trees) in the eastern or midwestern states, you can put up a nest box to attract Great Crested Flycatchers. For the best chance of success, avoid placing the nest box in open agricultural areas or dense forest.

Providing Nesting Materials Safely

Birds’ nests are works of art, woven fibers and sculpted mud. Sometimes those gorgeous nests contain human-made materials such as cotton threads or plastic tinsel. Even your dog’s fur or a horse’s mane can be incorporated into a bird’s nest.

It is tempting to provide these easy-to-gather materials for birds; however, new evidence from wildlife rehabilitators suggests that caution is warranted when putting out nesting materials. Even fur and other seemingly innocuous materials can tangle and entrap adults and nestlings. In light of this new data, the Lab has recently revised its list of Dos and Don’ts for providing nesting materials to birds. Do your part and keep birds safe this nesting season! 

Do provide any combination of the following: dead twigs and leaves, dry grass (make sure the grass is chemical-free), feathers, plant fluff or down (e.g., cattail fluff, cottonwood down), moss, bark strips, and pine needles.

Don’t provide: plastic strips, tinsel, cellophane, aluminum foil, dryer lint, animal fur or hair (including human hair), yarn, felt, or bits of cloth. 

Get a Nesting Birds Shopping Tote

Celebrate spring with this sturdy tote from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The tote is illustrated by two talented Bartels Science Illustration Interns: Chloe Lam and Liz Clayton Fuller. Lam’s Western Bluebird family adorns one side of the bag, nesting in a tree cavity. The other side of the tote, illustrated by Fuller, features a pair of Northern Cardinals perched in a flowering shrub looking down on their clutch of speckled eggs. 

Make this tote yours with a $50 donation to NestWatch. In addition to the tote, you will receive our Common Nesting Birds and Cavity-Nesting Birds posters. This special offer is good through April 1, 2017. NestWatch is possible because of your generous support. Thank you! 

The 2016 NestWatch Digest Is Here

When the breeding season comes to a close, the real work of analyzing your data begins. Every winter we comb through nesting attempts from across North America and tease out the season’s trends for different regions. Want to know if last year was a “good” year for nesting birds? Read the Digest’s Regional Roundups to find out.

This year’s Digest also takes a closer look at an unusual nesting discovery, a Dark-eyed Junco nesting in a nest box. Juncos typically nest near the ground. We also celebrate historic Eastern Phoebe records now archived in our database and consider the impact of human structures on phoebes’ nest site preferences. Plus, get the scoop about our student-led research on supplemental feeding. The 2016 NestWatch Digest combines our latest data analysis and must-read news! Check it out.

Get the New NestWatch App!

Whether you monitor an extensive nest box trail or find a single nest in your yard—track nests, eggs, and baby birds with the new NestWatch app. No data sheets necessary! You can now record your observations in real time. Map your nest sites with ease using your phone’s built-in GPS, and keep tabs on your nesting statistics from anywhere. Have a remote location with patchy cell service? No worries. The NestWatch app has an offline mode, allowing you to record and save your nest observations without WiFi or cellular service. Download the free app from Google Play or the Apple App Store.

If you already have a NestWatch account, sign into the app with your NestWatch username. Your data will automatically sync to the device. Download the app, explore its features, and let us know your thoughts. We hope you find this new technology improves your experience monitoring nesting bird

Youth Citizen Science Ambassadors

The Citizen Science Association, 4-H, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are looking for citizen scientists between the ages of 13 and 18 who would like to help spread the word about citizen science.

Ambassadors are expected to dedicate 8 to 10 hours between February and May to help plan and create a social media campaign to connect young citizen scientists across the globe as well as create their own short video for the campaign. Act now! The deadline to apply is February 1. Learn more about how to become involved in this fun project.

Bats and Birds Bunk Up

Was it for warmth and protection, or a shortage of suitable nest cavities? Noctule bats, common across Europe, were filmed by the Poznań University of Life Sciences (Poland) using the same tree cavity as European Starling chicks. This is the first time bats and birds have been recorded sharing such close quarters. Watch the short clip.

While some people may shudder at the thought of snuggling up with a bat, these furry nocturnal mammals fulfill an important ecological niche by pollinating plants and voraciously eating flying insects. Installing bat boxes on your property is a win-win, as many species of bats are in decline due to habitat loss and an introduced fungal disease. Discover how to build and install bat boxes with the Habitat Network, a citizen-science project operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and The Nature Conservancy.

Can Feeding Birds Reduce Nest Success?

Many of us enjoy feeding birds, but bird feeders may potentially attract nest predators such as domestic cats, squirrels, jays, and crows. It remains unknown if these predators do extra harm to nesting birds when feeders are around. With about 50 million Americans feeding birds, it is important to understand the consequences of bird feeding on nesting birds, so researchers set out to study just that in two of our favorite species, American Robins and Northern Cardinals.

Researcher Jennifer Malpass and her colleagues at The Ohio State University monitored robin and cardinal nests and surveyed for nest predators in seven residential neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio. After examining data compiled over four breeding seasons, the researchers concluded the only instance of decreased nesting success was for American Robins in neighborhoods with high concentrations of bird feeders and crows.

The complex relationships among bird feeders, predators, and nest success in human-dominated environments makes it difficult to generalize about whether or not the presence of bird feeders is harmful.

Emma Greig, leader of the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch, points out that this area is ripe for research. “This work is really great. We need to see more research like this in order to get a full picture of the impacts of bird feeding. Even within this study there were both negative and neutral impacts, so imagine the diverse responses we would see if we looked at more species. The time is right for asking these questions.” Read the research summary.

Avian Apothecaries

Aromatic herbs such as lavender, sage, and mint are all commonly found in kitchens, gardens, and in soaps and lotions. The plants’ perfumes are intended to attract pollinators and repel herbivores. It is well-documented that aromatic herbs have medicinal properties. However, humans are not the only creatures to utilize medicinal plants; some birds are known to incorporate pungent plants into their nests.

Corsican Blue Tits use up to five different aromatic herbs in their nests. The herbs are strategically placed within the nest, with the average number of herbs increasing as the nesting cycle progresses. Researchers Lambrechts and Dos Santos (2000) experimentally removed herbs from nests. Within days, the birds had replaced them. And for good reason! The study went on to suggest that the “potpourri” of herbs can potentially kill or repel certain parasites and fleas, which in turn results in high body and feather growth rates in developing chicks.

Not only are herbs beneficial for young, according to Gwinner (2012), female European Starlings prefer nests with herbs. Males display plants such as yarrow, hogweed, elder, and cow parsley to females prior to incorporating them into the nest. Starling nests with herbs have high incubation temperatures, providing an energy-savings to the female. Fledglings from nests with herbs also had a greater body mass and were overall healthier with fewer mites.

While we aren’t suggesting that you add fresh herbs to your nest boxes, it is fascinating to know that birds “self-medicate.” Perhaps this spring, consider planting aromatic herbs in your yard, such as yarrow. Sit back and observe your feathered friends. Are they intrigued by your herbaceous offering? If not, you can always use the plants in your kitchen or for aromatherapy!

Thanks to guest student writer, Lillian Ruiz, a sophomore majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences.

Gwinner, H. 2012. Male European starlings use odorous herbs as nest material to attract females and benefit nestlings in Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 12, 353-362, Springer Publishing, New York.

Lambrechts, M. M. and A. D. Santos. 2000. Aromatic herbs in Corsican blue tit nests: The potpourri hypothesis. Acta Oecologica 21(3): 175-178.

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season. Our holiday wish list: your data! Please enter your nesting attempts by the New Year. Thank you.

Try MerlinVision

Don’t you wish you could just snap a photo of a bird and have it automatically identified? Don’t worry, we all do. The good news is that you can help make this a reality, with the power of MerlinVision. All you do is click through bird photos and draw boxes around birds—no bird ID skills necessary! Sign in using your NestWatch account, and MerlinVision will also track your progress (it’s strangely addicting).

With MerlinVision, even beginner bird watchers can teach computers to identify birds. Try MerlinVision today!

Check Out BirdSpotter Photo Contest

Our friends at Project FeederWatch are hosting their annual BirdSpotter photo contest now through March 2. New photo challenges are posted biweekly.

If you participated in our Home Tweet Home photo contest, this might be your second chance at glory and great prizes from the Cornell Lab and the contest sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited. The contest is free and open to anyone; you do not have to be a FeederWatcher to submit a photo or vote. 

Visit BirdSpotter and browse through gorgeous photos now!

Real Millennials Wear Boots

We here at NestWatch know that the future belongs to young people, but we reject the maligning of millennials as “Generation Me.” We celebrate the many young people who are doing so much good work, and this month we are shining a light on a group of outstanding high school students.

The arid Caja del Rio area near Santa Fe, New Mexico, is perhaps better known to bird watchers for the charismatic Burrowing Owls that call it home. But Kevin Holladay of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is teaching these students about other cavity-dwelling birds in the landscape. So far, the students have installed boxes for Western and Mountain bluebirds, Bewick’s Wren, Northern Flicker, and American Kestrel, with plans to set up Western Screech-Owl boxes soon. They have also installed a few winter roost boxes.

All of New Mexico is historically under-represented in the NestWatch database, and more data from the arid west are needed! This nest box program is just getting started, and while they have no nesting results yet, we’re optimistic that by this time next year the Piñon-Juniper forest will be home to plenty of bold new fledglings exploring the sage.

Do you have stories of positive youth development to share? Tell us, so we can spread the word.

Prizes For Timely Data Entry

As the holiday season approaches, we’re asking NestWatchers to enter all their data before the busyness of the season sets in. If you’re still holding on to data sheets, be sure to enter them by December 31 if you’d like your information to be included in our annual report.

As a special incentive to get your data in early, we’re giving away prizes to participants. Anyone who enters data by December 9, 2016 will be automatically entered to win a set of bird note cards, and the more nests you report, the more chances you have to win. We are giving away 100 prizes this year, to spread the cheer! Thank you very much to all the NestWatchers who have submitted data so far this year.

The Most Perfect Thing

“I think that, if required on pain of death to name instantly the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on a bird’s egg.” –Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1862

How are eggs of different shapes made, and why are they the shape they are? When does the shell of an egg harden? Why do some eggs contain two yolks? How are the colors and patterns of an eggshell created, and why do they vary? And which end of an egg is laid first—the blunt end or the pointy end?

These are just some of the questions The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg answers, as the journey of a bird’s egg from creation and fertilization to its eventual hatching is examined, with current scientific knowledge placed within an historical context. Acclaimed ornithologist Tim Birkhead examines eggs ranging from the domestic chicken to the stunning eggs of the guillemot, revealing weird and wonderful facts about these miracles of nature. NestWatchers will find this new book to be an illuminating and engaging exploration of the science behind eggs and the history of humanity’s obsession with collecting them.

Welcome VINS!

Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) has recently joined our network of NestWatch Chapters. Located at the VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vermont, their mission is to motivate individuals and communities to care for the environment through education, research, and avian wildlife rehabilitation. 

Spearheaded by environmental educator, Anna Autilio, VINS is looking forward to expanding its opportunities for citizen-science participation. The institute plans to host citizen-science training days to introduce New Hampshire and Vermont residents to projects such as NestWatch that can be implemented in backyards and across communities. VINS has a rich history of involvement with birds through their rehabilitation efforts, and we are excited that the institute is embracing NestWatch and the stewardship of breeding birds. Read on to learn about getting involved with VINS.

Fit for Duty

Lee Pauser of the California Bluebird Recovery Program is at it again, sending us reports for 468 nests from 14 species for bulk upload this year. We’re not sure how one person manages to monitor 468 nests in a single year, but his Fitbit calculated that he walked at least 114 miles in May 2016! So, if you want to get your 10,000 steps a day, volunteer to monitor some nest box trails. 

We recognize that Lee is not the only person gathering large amounts of data. NestWatch simply wouldn’t work without all of the number-crunchers, trail-hikers, and bird-lovers like Lee out there roaming the countryside. Whether you are acting alone or as part of an organization, if you have a big data set, we’d like to hear from you. Please be in touch if you think you might have nesting data that we could put to use in our long-term, permanent database.

Cornell Students Study Nesting Birds

During the 2016 breeding season, NestWatch took four Cornell undergraduate students under its wing who were interested in learning about nesting birds. Their mission was to study questions of interest to the NestWatch community, particularly questions that would benefit from experimental field research.

As part of this work, which was funded by Engaged Cornell, we enlisted the help of the California Bluebird Recovery Program, New York State Bluebird Society, and the Texas Bluebird Society, three of the largest state bluebird organizations that have collaborated with NestWatch. We asked them, “What questions should our students address?”

Our partnering bluebird societies identified many questions, but three in particular seemed to rise to the top as being of broadest interest to the entire NestWatch community:

1. Does supplemental feeding increase the reproductive success of cavity-nesting birds?

2. Does removing old nests from boxes promote future reproduction?

3. How are changes in weather or regional climates (e.g., El Niño) related to nesting success?

Additionally, the students also contributed to the Sparrow Swap project, a citizen-science initiative managed by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. 

The preliminary results from 2016 will be presented in a poster on campus on October 28, but you can see it online now. Although still in the early stages, we plan to communicate the results of this and other work through a forthcoming NestWatch blog. Stay tuned for more!

More Bulk Uploads

NestWatch continues to import bulk data. This month, we added 219 nest records from Leaser Lake in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Leaser Lake Heritage Foundation members John Higgins and Mike McCartney approached us with a data set that included Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, House Wrens, Wood Ducks, and American Kestrels, among others. The nest boxes were installed as part of the Foundation’s environmental education initiative to connect local youth with the lake. In addition to nest boxes, youth have built turtle loafing platforms, conducted stream and plankton studies, and restored the lake’s riparian zone. 

Do you have an abundance of nest records? If you have >100 nest records (either historical or from this breeding season), please inquire about NestWatch’s Bulk Import Tool. We would love to add your records to our data set which currently includes over 311,000 nests! Contact us to find out more. 

Cap Open Pipes To Save Birds

Researchers Chuck Hathcock and Jeanne Fair of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have uncovered a potential threat to birds that could be quietly hiding on your property. It turns out that open pipes or bollards, such as you might find supporting a gate, are often investigated by cavity-nesting birds. These birds may be attracted to the open pipes as potential nesting sites; however, after entering, the birds cannot escape. 

Their analysis suggests that up to 27% of open pipes contained bird remains, mostly Western Bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds. Larger pipes contained bigger birds such as jays and kestrels. Fortunately, the solution is simple. If you have open bollards or gate posts on your property, just cap them! Caps can be ordered to match the pipe’s material, or for an inexpensive fix, simply place a big rock, piece of wire mesh, or other homemade “cap” on top of the post. With all of the threats facing birds today, rarely is there a solution as simple and easy as this.

This video shows one lucky Western Bluebird being rescued from an open bollard that it had fallen into.

A Bed of Thorns

When Frank Colver decided to relocate an old Say’s Phoebe nest from an unstable spot to a newly constructed nesting shelf, he jumped in pain and surprise when the nest pricked his bare hands.The exterior of the nest was lined with tiny, barbed spines from a Gander’s cholla cactus. 

During the breeding season, cacti fulfill an important ecological role for desert-dwelling birds. Birds such as Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, and Elf Owls create or utilize existing nest cavities, while other birds such as Harris’s Hawks build nesting platforms atop tall, sturdy cacti. Curve-billed Thrashers, Cactus Wrens, and Greater Roadrunners build their nests deep within a cactus’ thorny and protective embrace. 

In most cases, birds place their nests in a cactus rather than collecting thorns for their nests. In fact, we believe that Frank’s discovery is not only odd for Say’s Phoebes, but it is also uncommon for birds across the U.S. While thrashers are also known to include thorny twigs in their nests, we haven’t seen any examples with cactus spines.

Frank’s discovery is a mystery. Did the phoebe select the barbed spines to help hold the nest together? Were the spines meant to create a protective fortress around the soft interior of the nest? Or were they just a convenient source of nest material? Moreover, have other NestWatchers discovered nests that had spines incorporated as nesting material? If you have discovered a literal bed of thorns, we would love to know. Share your photos or email NestWatch

Hybrid Titmouse Nesting Success

Four years ago, we reported on a hybridization study undertaken by Ph.D. candidate Claire Curry. This month, we are happy to bring you a research update from Dr. Curry’s recently-published paper.

Where two closely-related species overlap in range, there is the potential for them to interbreed and form hybrids. Sometimes species hybridize (e.g., Black-capped and Carolina chickadees), but sometimes they don’t (e.g., American and Fish crows). Why? Claire and her colleagues set out to address this question using the Black-crested and Tufted titmouse hybrid zones in Texas and Oklahoma.

Using data from 195 nests submitted by NestWatchers in the Texas hybrid zone, Claire investigated whether there were any differences in nesting success of Black-crested, Tufted, or hybrid titmice. Hybrids of many species tend to have lower nesting success, but Claire found no differences in clutch size, brood size, or nesting success among the three types. This suggests that poor reproductive fitness is not the reason that Black-crested and Tufted titmice remain separate populations.

Claire’s research also investigated behavior, such as preference for song and plumage types, which show more promise in figuring out where these two distinct populations may diverge from each other. According to Claire, “The NestWatch data provided a useful view of the status of hybrid reproductive fitness. More data are needed from the Oklahoma hybrid zone, where the lack of NestWatchers makes understanding their nesting success in this area difficulty to study.”

Home Tweet Home Winners

Betty Smith (via Facebook) said it best: “I wish I could vote for each of the photos, knowing behind each one are people who love and care about birds!” That was exactly our sentiment as we combed through 670 submissions, reading your stories and sharing in your discoveries. You all deserve a prize and a resounding, “thank you!”

But, a contest has to have winners, and the votes are in. Here are your 2016 Home Tweet Home official winners:

  • Anna’s Hummingbird by Eric Pittman—Judges’ Choice; Nests & Eggs category winner
  • American Kestrel by Rodney Wright—People’s Choice; Cutest Baby category winner
  • Tree Swallows by Kim Caruso—Eye Witness category winner
  • Least Terns by William Page Pully—Feeding Time category winner
  • Congratulations to all of the winners! Thank you so much for participating. See all award winners and honorable mentions in our gallery of honorees.

    Help Test Our New App

    The NestWatch app is under construction, and we’re looking for a few interested NestWatchers to join a small group of beta testers. We are seeking people of diverse backgrounds who have Android and iOS devices to help us test the app before it goes public. Whether you are rural or urban, new or experienced, or just like testing new technology, email us to get on the list. Testing will commence in September.

    Helping Behavior in Eastern Bluebirds

    In contrast to Western Bluebirds, Eastern Bluebirds rarely have helpers at the nest. However, this breeding season NestWatch received two independent, confirmed reports of juvenile Eastern Bluebirds feeding their (presumed) younger siblings.

    Glenda Simmons of Tallahassee, Florida, submitted a photo of a juvenile feeding its younger sibling. Glenda observed the behavior for six days and noted, “The first time I witnessed this I thought, perhaps it was a one-time event, since the mealworms happened to be close by. But then I saw the juvenile fly to the ground, where he plucked a spider from the grass and took it back to feed the nestlings inside the box.”

    The second report came from Wild Birds Unlimited in Yorktown, Virginia. The store livestreams a nest cam and reported two juvenile Eastern Bluebirds feeding their younger siblings on a regular basis. You can see from their video that the juveniles aren’t just entering the nest to steal food from the nestlings, like this cunning juvenile Violet-green Swallow.

    Research on helpers in breeding populations of Eastern Bluebirds is sparse. Anecdotal reports suggest that juveniles may be more of a hindrance than a help. Juvenile helpers can interfere with adults feeding the nestlings and they often do not adequately “prepare” the foods, i.e., some insects are still wriggling upon delivery!

    Have you observed Eastern Bluebird helpers? Be sure to share your stories and images with us; we’d love to learn more about this phenomenon.

    Farewell, Western Scrub-Jay!

    We have an important update for you those of you living in the Western Scrub-Jay’s range: this species was recently split into two distinct species. Perhaps you have noticed differences between the “coastal” form (now the California Scrub-Jay) and the “interior” form (now Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay); the California Scrub-Jay is darker and described as having a bold personality, while the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay is paler, has a thinner bill, and tends to be more shy and inconspicuous.

    The American Ornithologists’ Union has been considering this split for several years. The split became official after genetic research demonstrated that the two species rarely interbreed where they come into contact with each other in western Nevada. In most of California, and all of Oregon and Washington, you will be reporting California Scrub-Jays from now on. If you live in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, or Texas, then Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are the scrub-jays you’re seeing.

    What do you need to do?
    In most cases, nothing. As always, NestWatch will only show you geographically-relevant species when you are entering your nests, so unless you live in the small range of overlap in western Nevada, your species menu will highlight the appropriate choice. We will soon be updating historical nest records to reflect this change, so you do not need to edit previous records. We could really use photos of both species’ nests and eggs, so we’re asking everyone with photos to please share them with us.

    These Birds Have Grit

    Nest monitor Sharon Sorenson shared an interesting photo and question with us this month. She asked, “Why did a Tree Swallow nest contain 14 tiny mussel shells?”

    Tree Swallows may eat mollusk shells for the grit, which helps them grind up their food in a muscular part of the stomach called the gizzard (a function performed by teeth in mammals). But many other bird species obtain grit from sand, small stones, and other similar items. So why do swallows prefer mollusk shells as a form of grit? Perhaps it is because they contain calcium and other minerals, and maybe a tasty morsel as well.

    It is not well-known how swallows eliminate the grit, but given that these shells were heavily soiled when found, and parents usually carry away fecal sacs, we suppose that they must have been cast up as indigestible material.

    We’ll never know all the secrets of birds, but we love trying! Keep asking puzzling questions, and we’ll answer them if we can.

    Nest Box Occupancy & Habitat Quality

    The state motto of California is “Eureka! I have found it!” Perhaps that’s what a Western Bluebird thinks when it finds that perfect nest box in a good habitat. New research from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, conducted in California’s oak woodlands, reveals that five species of cavity-nesting birds—Western Bluebird, House Wren, Oak Titmouse, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Violet-green Swallow—divvy up the nesting habitat according to their specific vegetation preferences and, in the process, improve nesting success.

    The researchers found that nest box occupancy rates were a good indicator of nesting success, which has management implications for the declining Oak Titmouse population. This work furthers our understanding of habitat preferences and the role that humans can play in the distribution of nest boxes. Read a brief summary of the research here.

    The State of North America’s Birds

    The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in collaboration with many partners throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, recently released a comprehensive report on the 1,154 species jointly managed by these 3 nations. The report concludes that at least one-third of all North American bird species need urgent conservation action. The report is the first-ever vulnerability assessment for all birds from the tundra to the tropical forests. Download the report to see how your region stacks up.

    Share Nesting Photos to Win!

    Where can you see a pile of Wood Duck babies napping in a sunbeam? Or witness the bravery of a mother Mallard risking her life to save her young? These and many other must-see moments are pouring into our annual Home Tweet Home photo contest. Who will be this year’s cutest baby? Which “eye witness” moment will win your vote? Take part in the annual photo contest by submitting your photos, and by voting for your favorites. 

    Photographers who enter the contest this year will get a free Lab of Ornithology wall calendar just for submitting (limit one calendar and four photo entries per person). Check back weekly to vote for your top choices in each of the four categories: (1) Cutest Baby, (2) Nests and Eggs, (3) Feeding Time, and (4) Eye Witness. The contest ends July 31, so there is still time to go out and photograph your favorite nest!

    Hooray For Hawaii!

    With the recent addition of House Finch and Japanese White-eye nests in Hawaii, NestWatchers have officially recorded nesting attempts in all 50 states! Mary Ann Bondy of Kihei, on the island of Maui, observed these two species and added them to our database. Mary Ann was thrilled to discover she was our first Hawaiian NestWatcher and pledged, “I will continue to keep my eye out for additional nests!”

    The Japanese White-eye is also a new species for NestWatch. And the House Finch, incidentally, has also just exceeded its previous high count from 2014. You never know which nest is going to make the difference.

    Another Tree Swallow Mega-Clutch!

    NestWatcher Ann Kent of Pennsylvania recently shared this photo of a 10-egg Tree Swallow clutch via our website! Tree Swallows typically lay four to seven eggs, with eight being the most you would expect to see.

    We’re not positive what’s going on in this nest, but the last time we reported such a large Tree Swallow clutch in 2014, it turned out that two females were successfully sharing a nest box. Could it be happening again?

    An Artist Portrays the Nesting Cycle

    Wildlife rehabilitator and artist, Julie Zickefoose’s newest endeavor, Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest, documents the daily growth of 17 different species from newly-emerged, naked hatchlings to fully-feathered rambunctious fledglings. The book features more than 400 watercolor paintings that illustrate the swift day-by-day growth of wild nestlings including Eastern Bluebirds, Chimney Swifts, Tufted Titmice, and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo—a bird that rapidly matures and fledges in just 8 days! 

    In addition to beautiful artwork, the text reads like a journal, personally connecting readers to each nest and bird family. NestWatchers will enjoy the careful and painstaking detail that Julie uses to capture these delicate creatures and will be sure to recognize the many stages of development from their own nest checks.

    Home Tweet Home Starts July 1

    Are you ready for a solid month of gorgeous photos of nests, eggs, and chicks? The annual NestWatch photo contest, Home Tweet Home, returns July 1 and runs throughout the month. This year’s contest features a new category, Eye Witness, in addition to our favorites: Nests & Eggs, Cutest Baby, and Feeding Time. Our newest category will highlight novel and/or interesting behaviors captured by observant (and lucky) citizen scientists. The Eye Witness category will feature documentary-style photographs, and we also encourage you to submit your nest cam captures (from your own cams; no Internet screenshots please). This category is meant to feature scientifically interesting or rarely-seen nesting behaviors and will be judged on technical interest rather than photographers’ skill.

    Review our photographer’s guidelines, grab your camera, and get out there! Prizes include a nest box with a camera pre-installed from Spy On a Bird, a gift certificate from Wild Birds Unlimited, new books from the Cornell Lab Publishing Group, and other great swag from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Also, everyone who enters a submission this year will get a free Lab calendar, “A Year With Birds,” just for participating! 

    The contest opens July 1; watch our website for contest entry instructions and official rules.

    NestWatcher Finds Surprise Nester in Birdhouse

    When Melissa Sherwood wrote to NestWatch asking if it was unusual for a Dark-eyed Junco to nest in a birdhouse, we initially thought it was a case of mistaken ID. We told her that juncos don’t nest in cavities, as they are known to be open-cup nesters (although they will nest in crevices or crannies near the ground).  

    As you may have guessed, she was vindicated. When she submitted the photographic evidence from her Washington home, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Never say never, even when it comes to a very common species.

    We searched the NestWatch database to see if anyone else had ever reported this phenomenon, and found an instance of a junco nesting in an open-fronted nest box (the kind designed for Carolina Wrens). We found no other instances in the literature, nor in the historic nest record cards that pre-date our NestWatch project. As far as we know, this is the first instance of Dark-eyed Juncos nesting in an enclosed birdhouse. 

    Interestingly, our search of the scientific literature revealed two historical mentions of Dark-eyed Juncos nesting in old woodpecker holes, but both sources were more than 100 years old! If cavity nesting is a small and rarely-observed part of their nesting repertoire, that makes Melissa Sherwood the first person in over a century to witness it!

    The Predator Next Door

    You might think that a nesting bird would want to be as far away from a predator as it could get and, generally speaking, that’s true. However, it could be very strategic to nest near a predator that is two or more steps above you in the food chain (i.e., your predators’ predator). In this way, some birds derive protection from larger, more aggressive species that keep generalist predators at bay. This phenomenon is called a protective nesting association. Here are two of our favorite examples of nest-protecting predators:

    Alligators and Wading Birds
    In the southeastern United States, researchers found that wading birds such as herons, egrets, ibises, storks, and spoonbills appear to seek out alligator-inhabited waters above which they can nest. The alligators keep away (or eat) nest predators such as opossums and raccoons, and they cannot climb trees to rob nests themselves. However, the alligators certainly claim any chicks that fall out of the nests from time to time, making it likely that they are also benefiting from their avian neighbors.

    Hawks and Hummingbirds
    Black-chinned Hummingbirds nesting in southeastern Arizona were found to cluster their nests around the nests of Northern Goshawks and Cooper’s Hawks. Both species of hawk prey on birds, but would not normally bother with something as small as a hummingbird. Researchers found that hummers that nested within 300 meters of the hawks were much more likely to successfully raise young than those that nested farther away.

    At least 92 such associations have been documented so far. It is unclear whether the recipients of the protection actively seek out these “protectors,” or if they are simply recognizing that an area has fewer nest predators. Either way, it can pay off to have a formidable carnivore for a neighbor…as long as you fly under the radar.

    Top 3 Signs Birds Are Nesting Nearby

    Observing birds at the nest is one of the most rewarding aspects of bird watching (along with contributing to science), but there is a skill to finding these hidden treasures. This spring, we’ve gathered our best clues to help you get in on the fun and find nests before the chicks fledge. NestWatch project leader Robyn Bailey shares her top three clues that a bird is nesting nearby.

    It Takes a Village

    When it comes to involving teens in bird watching, the women behind the Ohio Young Birders Club (OYBC) are leading the way. Darlene Sillick and her colleague Paula Ziebarth, both chapter coordinators in Ohio, are strong advocates for teen NestWatchers.

    In addition to teaching the field skills necessary to negotiate a nest box trail (e.g., reading a compass, installing boxes, and checking nests), Darlene and her team also teach math skills. They use the Pythagorean theorem to lay out equally-spaced grids of Tree Swallow nest boxes, to maximize nesting opportunities. The youth also engage in community service, such as helping a researcher rebuild his extensive nest box trail after it was destroyed by a storm. Young birders learn plenty of natural history along the way as they help with Purple Martins, Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, Tufted Titmice, House Wrens, Prothonotary Warblers, and other species.

    Darlene, Paula, and other advisors of the Ohio Young Birders Club don’t just focus on watching birds, they focus on helping birds. In this way, they are able to move teens from a hobby to a passion. Darlene tells us that she “gave her life to bluebirding and conservation.” But we think that she gives much more than her own time…she gives the next generation the hope and practical skills that it takes to face numerous environmental challenges with a can-do attitude. She is mentoring young scientists who will have the enduring optimism which is required of conservation professionals.

    It takes a village to raise the next generation of conservationists. We can all provide something—the car, the Saturday afternoon, the tools, the pizza—to help young people on this path.

    Click here to learn more about how you can become a teen mentor, or to enroll your teen in a local young birders club.

    Teen’s 5 Tips to Connect Kids With Birds

    by Alec Wyatt, teen NestWatcher

    As a lifelong naturalist and a birder since grade school, adults often ask me what they can do to get other kids outside and interested in birds. During my time leading younger children in elementary schools, bird walks, and community projects, I have discovered a few ways to bring birding into children’s lives.

    1. Engage their senses
    The modern devices that pervade our lives—smartphones, tablets, and computers—provide quick access to unlimited information, but they typically stimulate only our visual and auditory senses. Capture kids’ attention by showing them how to appreciate the sight of a bird in nature, the sound of a song or a call, the smell of a natural environment, and the feeling of a banded bird or a feather in the hand.

    2. Provide the tools
    Let children immerse themselves in discovery by offering them the tools of the trade. Teach young naturalists to use binoculars or a spotting scope. Providing a notebook and a set of pencils allows children to record their own thoughts and observations and preserves their experiences for future appreciation.

    3. Bridge the technology gap
    Technology does not need to be a barrier between children and nature; rather, it can facilitate a transition from a “plugged-in” lifestyle to a lifetime love of birds. Smartphone applications such as the Merlin app can introduce beginners to bird identification, and soon there will even be a free NestWatch app (coming late 2016).

    4. Partner with parents
    Children’s community programs, nest box monitoring classes, and introductory birding courses can captivate adults, too. Consider inviting parents and guardians to accompany children on outdoor activities such as bird walks. Collaborating with adults in children’s discovery of birds ensures kids get more support in their endeavors and more time outside watching birds.

    5. Give kids responsibility
    For older children, having individual responsibility makes the experience of studying birds more personal and engaging. Children can study nest boxes, monitor bird feeders, or count local birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count in February each year. When their contributions to science are encouraged by adults, young birders feel that their interest is valued. When children find value in birds, we gain another generation of advocates for bird conservation.

    School will be out soon! Get more resources for engaging young birders from eBird.

    Twinning In White-Throated Sparrows

    Two years ago, NestWatch brought you the story of twin Eastern Bluebirds discovered by participant Gerald Clark. We’ve recently learned that researchers have since found a new species for which twinning is now known to occur.

    Adam Betuel observed the first documented case of twinning in White-throated Sparrows, a bird which breeds in the boreal forests of North America. Interestingly, White-throated Sparrows have two color morphs: tan and white. Morph type is important in White-throated Sparrows because individuals of one color type almost exclusively mate with the other color type. At the time of the discovery, Adam was working on his Ph.D., and conducting field research at the Cranberry Lake Biological Research Station (Adirondacks, New York). He focused on parental care, begging behavior, and nest success of the White-throated Sparrows. Part of Adam’s project involved the collection and inspection of any remaining unhatched eggs, to investigate why they didn’t hatch. During the dissection of a rather large egg, he discovered a pair of embryos—twins! Molecular analysis revealed that one embryo was a female white morph and the other was a male tan morph, indicating that the twins were fraternal rather than identical.

    Twinning in wild birds is an extremely rare occurrence, and Adam was fortunate to study the phenomenon. Adam told us, “One of the components I liked the most about my research and about the topic of twinning is that it provides you a glimpse into the hidden world of bird breeding and nesting. Nests are all around us, but they can be hard to find. They hold so many secrets about bird behavior, growth, genetics, and life history. It always seemed like a privilege to be watching them tend to their nests or offspring…like I was catching a glimpse into a hidden world.”

    Adam is now continuing his enthusiasm for nesting birds as the Director of Conservation at the Atlanta Audubon Society, one of NestWatch’s newest regional chapters.

    What Can House Sparrows Teach Us?

    House Sparrows are a non-native species that compete for cavities with native birds throughout North America. While this ubiquity can make them a nuisance around nest boxes, it can also make them a really good study subject for learning about widespread problems like environmental toxins. The Sparrow Swap Project invites you to collaborate in citizen-science research with a two-fold mission: (1) find out if House Sparrow eggs can be used to map exposure to environmental contaminants, and (2) test whether swapping real eggs for wooden eggs can reduce sparrow disruptions to other nests.

    All you need to participate is a nest box that is currently attracting House Sparrows. You can participate in one of two ways:

  • COLLECT and SHIP EGGS: Simply contribute clutches of House Sparrow eggs to the specimen collection at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Eggs will be used to look for environmental contaminants that could pose risks to people and wildlife.
  • COLLECT, SWAP, and SHIP EGGS: Swap the House Sparrow eggs with replicas (provided) in order to distract females by incubating a faux clutch, AND also donate the real eggs to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. You’ll report on the effectiveness of the wooden eggs as a management strategy.
  • Visit Sparrow Swap to get more information and sign up today. Sparrow Swap is a project of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences; please send your questions directly to Sparrow Swap. NestWatch reminds you that only the eggs of non-native species may be collected without a permit. Do not send any eggs of birds other than House Sparrows, even if they did not hatch.

    Your Nest Could Be on the Big Screen!

    The natural history film company Archipelago Films needs your help! They are currently producing a film about the native plants, birds, and animals that exist in our own backyards. The film is intended to re-engage the public with nature, and foster coexistence between humans and the incredible wildlife we share our planet with.

    They’re asking you to keep an eye out for the nests of particular species and to contact them any time between now and Fall 2016 if you find a nest they might be able to film. Locations around New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are ideal, but they will travel for a really special nest! Target species include birds of prey including (but not limited to): Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barred Owl, and Barn Owl; also open-cup native songbirds such as Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. Additionally, the filmmakers are looking for Wood Duck nests. 

    Rest assured, the filmmakers are animal-lovers and conservationists, so the well-being and safety of birds and animals will always be paramount if your nest is “cast”!

    NestWatch Lessons in the Field 

    In October, we mentioned that NestWatch had received support from the Smith-Lever Act fund to design a curriculum focused on engaging youth in citizen science and nest box stewardship. Since then, this project has also received support from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, enabling NestWatch to source lumber that was grown and harvested with habitat and bird conservation taken into consideration.This month we hit the ground running with workshops at two Upstate New York communities.

    With the help of our 4-H partners, we were able to work with more than 50 participants to install 18 nest boxes intended for Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Black-capped Chickadees, and House Wrens. Youth learned about birds’ preferred habitat types through games and online interactives including our Right Bird, Right House tool. We also covered topics such as Features of a Good Birdhouse and proper nest box installation. NestWatch staff will return to our partner sites two more times this spring to engage youth with science concepts such as breeding bird biology, nest monitoring, data collection and analysis, and hands-on nest box construction. Participants will finish the third and final workshop with a nest box of their own and the resources to become citizen scientists.

    We are excited to be embarking on this new outreach initiative. Our goal is to engage youth with science and ecology with a focus on breeding birds. After all, what better gateway into science than nests, eggs, and baby birds? Look for the final product to be hosted on the NestWatch website, freely available to families and educators.

    Our Year-end Report Is Here

    We’re excited to kick off another nesting season with you. To get things started, we’re sharing our brand new annual report, the NestWatch Digest. In it, you’ll find data summaries and highlights from the 2015 nesting season. Click here to read the report.

    Oology & Ralph’s Talking Eggs

    Oology is the study of bird eggs, and it has a fascinating history in the United States. In Oology and Ralph’s Talking Eggs, author Carrol Henderson describes the history of one private egg collection, and situates it within the context of the larger field of study. The book tells the story of Iowa farmer Ralph Handsaker, an amateur oologist. As the author documents the massive collection for a museum, stories are revealed about each of the 800 egg sets.

    In a period when the credibility of a bird enthusiast was judged by the size of his egg collection and the number of rarities it contained, the book is at times poignant (e.g., the collection of Iowa’s last Marbled Godwit nest). However, some might call egg collecting the origins of modern bird watching, as it marked a transition from commercial interest to naturalist pursuit. Others might go so far as to deem it a precursor to citizen science, as most collections ended up in museums where they contributed to research. One thing is certain: every egg has a story to tell, and this book will have NestWatchers listening.

    Donate an old egg collection!
    If, like Ralph’s descendants, you find yourself with an old egg collection, consider donating it to a local museum or university, or inquire whether Cornell University’s Museum of Vertebrates can accept your collection. Although egg sets have no value on eBay (it’s illegal to sell birds, their eggs, or nests), the value of a collection is priceless to a museum.

    Poached: A Film On Eggs & Obsession

    Self-destructive habits, broken relationships, and raids by the British police. No, we’re not talking about the plot of a Sherlock Holmes novel—rather, a documentary about the hobby of illegal egg collecting, still practiced by a handful of underground enthusiasts (collecting eggs was outlawed more recently in Britain, in 1954).

    Obsessive specimen collection can wipe out a species, and yet this Victorian hobby still threatens modern birds in some parts of the world. This practice, motivated by neither food nor profit, is the subject of the new film Poached, a documentary that explores the addiction of illicit egg collecting in the UK. Our film review, plus the theatrical trailer, are available online.

    The beauty of eggs, the thrill of the hunt…this feature illuminates a dark hobby that is both obscure and antiquated. However, an army of bird-lovers, wildlife police, and one reformed-collector-turned-citizen-scientist won’t let these “eggers” go unchallenged. The award-winning film is available on iTunes (rated PG-13).

    Is it Legal? The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Clarified

    Every year, the public has questions about nesting birds, particularly those that are conspicuous or somehow compromised. Below, we recap some of these common questions and clarify which seemingly helpful interactions run afoul of the law.

  • I found an abandoned baby bird and took it home to raise it. It’s illegal, unless that baby bird is a House Sparrow, European Starling, or Rock Pigeon (can you really tell them apart as nestlings?). If the bird is unable to sit up or get around, and you can’t locate the original nest to put it back, it’s better to take it to a wildlife rehabilitator. If it can hop or walk, leave it alone; its parents are probably nearby.
  • A bird laid its eggs in an inconvenient place. Can I move the nest? It’s illegal to move a nest just because it’s inconvenient to you. If the nest is truly in a life-threatening place (e.g., in your car’s exhaust pipe), or it is damaged as a result of being somewhere inappropriate, please call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for advice.
  • A bird is starting to build a nest in an inconvenient place. Can I discourage it? Yes, you can discourage a bird that has just started building a nest, before it lays any eggs. The distinction from the previous question is that an inactive nest (no eggs or young) can be removed, but an active one cannot.
  • A nest in one of my nest boxes got wet, so I replaced it with a dry nest. This is technically illegal. A better solution would be to repair the nest box at your earliest opportunity so that it doesn’t leak. Use duct tape for a quick fix along a leaky seam.
  • I want to measure/weigh/mark birds in a nest. This is only legal if you have been granted a permit for scientific research.
  • This information is meant to help you understand the law and NestWatch protocol. It should not be construed as legal advice. Some activities may require a permit, which can be obtained by contacting your regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office.

    100 Years of Nest Protection

    The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between the United States and Canada for the Protection of Migratory Birds, thereby enacting the first international Migratory Bird Treaty. The follow-up Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and three other subsequent international treaties form the cornerstones of joint efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders. Despite its name, the act also protects non-migrating birds, their nests, eggs, and young, making it illegal to harvest, destroy, or harass them unless you hold a permit. Prior to the treaty, it was perfectly legal to harvest the eggs of every single bird in a nesting colony and sell them for profit.

    Celebrating the centennial of the first treaty allows us to honor those who have contributed to its success and to galvanize efforts to protect birds for generations to come. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has even included citizen science as part of its national framework for bringing awareness to this important milestone in North American bird conservation.

    How can you join the celebration? Here are some ideas:

  • Take to social media or your blog and spread the word about the centennial anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides media resources you can share.
  • Lead a bird or nest walk for youth or adult groups. Taking a moment to look at birds is an eye-opening experience for most people.
  • Host NestWatch training at your local library or community center.
  • Purchase a Duck Stamp, which in turn supports the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. This fund is used to acquire and improve millions of acres of wildlife habitat.
  • The MBTA and its corresponding treaties in Canada and Mexico are the most important protections we have in place for birds and their nests. To learn more about the history of these and other laws, peruse this timeline of events, created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Leave That Wreath!

    Putting up a wreath this year? Leave it up all spring, and you could get birds nesting in it next year. Whether the wreath is real or fake doesn’t seem to matter much to the birds. American Robins, House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos and Carolina Wrens are among the birds most likely to nest in a front door wreath. If a temporary wreath resident would not be welcome on your front door, be sure to relocate the wreath to a less conspicuous location before spring.

    Coming to the Small Screen

    NestWatch Project Leader Robyn Bailey and Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates bird curator Vanya Rohwer spent time in September with a TV crew to shoot a segment about bird nests for a program called “Awesome Planet” hosted by Philipe Cousteau, Jr. Despite the rain, Robyn showed off local nests to the film crew, while back in the museum, Vanya explored interesting nest specimens from around the world.

    The episode, focused on animal architecture, will also showcase engineering feats of bees and beavers. Look for it to air on your local Fox station on December 19 (check local listings for times). You can also watch it on Hulu beginning December 20.

    Fall Contest Winners

    We tallied all of the data submissions received by November 20, and awarded prizes to four lucky NestWatchers. There was even a surprise tie for “most species submitted.” And the winners of the Fall Data Entry Contest are:

    • Most nest attempts submitted: Al Gerber, with 337 nests
    • Most species monitored: Chrisula Stone and Warren Rofe tied, with 13 species each
    • Random drawing: Amy Myers, who submiited a Canada Goose nest

    Thanks to everyone who submitted data! If you haven’t finished submitting your data yet, there’s still time. There is no official deadline, but only those submissions received by the end of the year will make it into our 2015 summary report. Log in, submit, and be counted!

    Winter-Proofing Your Birdhouse

    by Karen Patricio, BirdSleuth student intern

    Some birds don’t mind using last spring’s nesting box as this winter’s roost box to keep warm during windy, cold nights. Roost boxes and birdhouses both provide shelter for birds, but roost boxes are not intended for building nests or raising young. They are meant to give cavity-dwelling birds protection from cold temperatures, precipitation, and predators. In his book Birds Asleep, Alexander Skutch describes how birds (particularly those given to nesting in cavities) may crowd together inside a nest box or other hole when temperatures are harsh and food is scarce.

    With some modifications, you can repurpose your spring birdhouses by turning them into winter shelters for your backyard birds! Here’s how:

    1. Before you get started, clean the birdhouse and repair any damage from the nesting season.
    2. Start winter-proofing your birdhouse by sealing the ventilation and drainage holes to keep warm air trapped inside. You can seal holes with rags, hay, foam weatherstripping, duct tape (on the outside), or any material that will prevent wind from entering.
    3. Some birdhouses are designed with a movable front panel with an entrance hole at the top. If possible, flip this front panel upside down so that the entrance is on the bottom to reduce heat loss (since hot air rises). If you can’t do that, don’t worry! Remember that any type of shelter, no matter how imperfect, is helpful on a freezing cold night.
    4. Lastly, place the shelter in a warm and safe location. Choose a spot that has long light exposure–the more sunlight the box sees in the afternoon, the longer it will stay warm in the evening.

    Position the house so that the entrance is facing away from prevailing winds to prevent gusts from blowing into the shelter. Also, be sure the placement is safe from predators by placing it high off the ground, or on a baffled pole. Now you have a winter roost box that can help your backyard birds stay warm during those long winter nights!

    What about birds that don’t use cavities? They will seek shelter in an evergreen tree, often huddling together on severe nights. Maintain evergreen trees on your property, and consider placing an old Christmas tree outside through the winter (until the needles drop).

    Thanks For Giving In 2015

    It’s that time of year when thankfulness is top of the mind, when you can express gratitude that is felt year round. We’d like to thank everyone who donated to NestWatch so far this year. We especially thank those who took advantage of last month’s special offer and received a free webinar on bird behavior.

    The most common donation to NestWatch is $25.00, and believe it or not, that is all it takes to make a real difference. When you donate to NestWatch, you can be assured that all donations are spent on furthering the program, not on overhead. Thanks for supporting NestWatch.

    Fire Up Your Feeders

    We know many NestWatchers provide supplemental food during the nesting season, but do you also feed birds during the winter? If so, please consider joining Project FeederWatch!

    What is Project FeederWatch?
    Project FeederWatch is a winterlong survey of birds that visit feeders. Participants periodically identify and count the birds at their feeders from November–April. With easy online data entry, you can immediately see all of your own counts and view colorful tables, graphs, and summaries.

    Anyone interested in birds can participate; you don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a bird feeder, a comfortable chair, a window, and an interest in the birds in your neighborhood.

    New participants will receive:

    • FeederWatch handbook & instructions
    • Full-color poster of common feeder birds
    • Bird-Watching Days calendar
    • Annual report, Winter Bird Highlights
    • Subscription to the Cornell Lab electronic newsletter

    Why should you participate?
    FeederWatch data help scientists track broad movements and long-term trends in abundance of winter feeder-bird populations. Explore the millions of FeederWatch sightings online. You can help contribute to a nearly 30-year dataset that helps us understand bird biology while learning about the feathered friends in your own backyard. Join online today! The FeederWatch season starts on November 14, but you can join at any time.

    Enter Your Data, Be Entered To Win

    If you have already entered your data for this year, thank you! You are automatically qualified for our Fall Data Entry Contest. Haven’t submitted data yet and want to be entered into the contest? Simply submit your data to NestWatch by November 20, and you will be eligible to win a prize pack just in time for the holidays.

    Qualified entries include a summarized nesting attempt from 2015. We will be giving away prizes to three lucky participants for (1) most nest attempts submitted, (2) most species monitored, and (3) a random winner with at least one completed nest attempt. We will notify our winners on Monday, November 23.

    Prize pack includes:

    • Into the Nest book by Laura Erickson & Marie Read
    • National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America
    • Cornell Lab of Ornithology mug
    • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s 2016 Calendar: A Year With Birds

    Be Counted!
    Coming late winter, we’ll be producing an expanded data summary report with tables, graphs, and maps of 2015 data. Please enter all data by December 31 to be included in the analysis. Not sure how to enter data? Our data entry tutorial videos can help newcomers get started.

    More California Nesting Data

    Last month we told you about a massive data upload from the California Bluebird Recovery Program (CBRP), and mentioned that another 2,000+ nests were on the way. Well, they’ve arrived…2,129 nest records to be exact. These nest records come to us from Lee Pauser, an active member of the CBRP, and a volunteer for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society’s Cavity Nesters Recovery Program.

    This recent addition to our bulk-imported data features 18 species and spans 14 years (that’s 6,796 fledglings!), resulting in very good coverage of the San Francisco Bay area. Lee also works with the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley to retrieve injured or abandoned Barn Owl nestlings for rehabilitation, and eventual release. (Severe droughts in the area can lead to starvation and nest abandonment.)

    If you or someone you know has old nest records that have not been permanently archived elsewhere, inquire about whether our Bulk Import Tool can work for you.

    New Project on Youth Engagement

    This month, NestWatch begins an exciting new project engaging youth in citizen science. With support from Smith-Lever Act funds, we’ll be working in two Upstate New York communities to build, install, and monitor nest boxes with youth and their parents.

    These youth workshops will be used as a model to create a national curriculum on nest-box stewardship and citizen science. The curriculum, which we will be developing with help from our 4-H partners, will eventually be hosted online and available to any educator for free. Our goal is to introduce concepts of science and ecology focused on cavity-nesting birds to young people.

    Donate by Oct. 13—Get a Free Webinar!

    For a limited time, anyone who donates to support NestWatch will receive a free webinar on “Understanding Bird Behavior” from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s distance learning program. This live, hour-long webinar will explore the world of bird behavior, looking at the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that birds communicate. You’ll learn to read a bit of bird body language and come away from the webinar with a new framework for understanding what birds might be “saying” and why.

    The online training session is being offered on October 14 at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. EST, and donors can pick which session they want to attend. A donation to NestWatch of any amount gets you a free seat in the class, a $12.99 value, plus other incentives at higher gift levels.

    Don’t wait! To take advantage of this offer, you must make a donation to NestWatch by October 13 using our online form, and indicate which time slot you’d like in the comments. We’ll send you email instructions on how to join the class.

    Owl About Birdhouses

    Did you know that most owls do not build a nest or gather any nest-lining materials? (The notable exceptions are the Short-eared Owl and the Snowy Owl, which build ground nests.) Most North American owls depend upon a cavity in a dead tree or broken-off trunk if they are cavity-nesters, or they repurpose the old nests of other raptors if they are platform nesters. Sometimes, an old barn or duck blind will fill the need. Building a nest box or nest platform for your local owls is a fun fall project that will outlast any jack-o’-lantern. Right now, pairs are searching for suitable nest cavities in advance of the breeding season and calling to establish territories.

    Eastern and Western screech-owls are commonly found in suburban neighborhoods with some tall trees, and in large cities with urban parks. Barred, Northern Saw-whet, and Boreal owls choose mature woodlands for their nesting sites, preferably near water. Barn Owls nest in open habitats, similar to bluebirds, and often choose agricultural areas. Great Horned and Great Gray owls will accept basket-style nesting platforms placed in the forest interior. Use our Right Bird, Right House tool to find out which owls nest in your region and habitat, plus tips for attracting them to your box or platform.

    Shh—Day Sleepers!
    Scientists still know very little about the breeding habits of owls, and their nocturnal ways make them difficult to study. You can help by installing a nest cam in your owl box and reporting your data to NestWatch. A nest cam helps you keep tabs on the owls without disturbing them during the day when they’re resting.

    Bienvenue, QuébecOiseaux!

    We recently welcomed our first Canadian chapter to NestWatch, the QuébecOiseaux chapter of Québec (oiseaux is French for “birds”). Because Québec is a predominantly French-speaking province, our new chapter will soon begin translating portions of the NestWatch website into French.

    Chapter coordinator Jean-Sébastien Guénette will be recruiting participants from Québec in the spring of 2016 for nest-monitoring studies, particularly focusing on Chimney Swifts, American Kestrels, Purple Martins, and Bank Swallows.

    As we develop multilingual support for our website, we are also seeking volunteers who would be willing to translate NestWatch materials into Spanish. Supporting multiple languages will help us broaden our impact and involve new audiences in NestWatch and nest monitoring. Potential volunteers are encouraged to contact us regarding their availability.

    Prizes for Timely Data Entry this Year

    Autumn is less than two weeks away, and that means most NestWatchers are wrapping things up for the season. It’s time to round up those data sheets and submit your nesting data to NestWatch. If you have already completed your data entry for the season, thank you!

    As a reminder, this year we’ll be giving away prizes to three lucky participants for (1) most nest attempts submitted, (2) most species monitored, and (3) a random winner with at least one nest attempt. Winners will be selected in November, with prizes shipped in time for the holidays. Our data entry tutorial videos can help newcomers get started.

    Massive Data Upload for California

    Since May, an epic data acquisition has been quietly taking shape. The California Bluebird Recovery Program (CBRP) reached out to NestWatch regarding a six-year data set that was collected from 2006–2011 involving two dozen species. Together, we have been working to prepare the data for upload using NestWatch’s bulk import tool. This acquisition of 17,914 nest records increases the number of California records by 200 percent!

    Dick Blaine, director of CBRP, said, “I am very pleased that data from the California Bluebird Recovery Program has been included in the NestWatch database and hope that it will be useful in the future for scientific research. I want to thank the NestWatch program for making the bulk upload tool available.”

    This acquisition brings the total number of bulk-imported nest records to 21,683 so far this year, with approximately 2,000 more nest records in the works (also from California). We are very excited about the partnership with CBRP and encourage California residents interested in joining CBRP to contact their county coordinator.

    Help Maintain Bird & Monarch Habitat

    You might have noticed that our Citizen Science Blog has been on a short summer “vacation,” but we’re back with another helpful post for you! This time our newest staff member, Chelsea Benson, writes about how to manage grassland habitat for both birds and the declining monarch butterfly.

    Open meadow and grassland habitat is home to an important ecological community. Many kinds of birds nest in grasslands, from bluebirds to goldfinches. So, how do you know when it’s safe to mow, especially if you’re trying to help other wildlife, like monarchs? Read the article to find out.

    This article refers to those grassy areas you may have set aside for wildlife, which has grown tall enough for critters to inhabit (as opposed to manicured lawns). If you don’t have such an area yet, consider carving out a chunk of lawn and converting it. Even a small patch is helpful for birds and pollinators.

    A New Chapter in Avian Studies

    The new avian biology textbook Nests, Eggs, & Incubation: New ideas about avian reproduction, published by Oxford University Press, includes a chapter from NestWatch project leader Robyn Bailey, co-authored with two other leading experts in the field, Caren Cooper (North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) and Dave Leech (The British Trust for Ornithology).

    This chapter highlights the historic role that citizen science—including nest record schemes like NestWatch—has played in shaping this field. Citizen scientists have contributed to our understanding of:

    • Reproductive biology and natural history
    • Patterns in brood parasitism
    • Timing of nest cycles
    • Complex patterns in clutch size
    • Breeding distribution and habitat selection

    The chapter also identifies future priorities which are uniquely suited for study using citizen-science methodologies, such as population modeling across the entire range of a species, as well as detection of rare phenomena. NestWatchers can be proud that their decades of contributions have been brought to light in this new ornithology text.

    NestWatch at Work

    A growing number of employers consider nest boxes, and nest monitoring, to be a fun way to attract nesting birds to their business campus, document successful stewardship, and give employees meaningful ways to contribute to corporate environmental responsibility in their communities. This month, we’re highlighting two very different companies that are NestWatching, and sharing some tips for starting your own corporate stewardship program.

    Sally Cannon is a processing/training coordinator for Bacardi Bottling Corporation, but she is also the Green Champion for the Jacksonville, Florida, campus. As part of Bacardi’s commitment to building a sustainable future, Sally and her colleagues started a bluebird trail in May 2014 and have since been contributing data to NestWatch. She and others have also recently begun planting milkweed to aid in the restoration of monarch butterflies (see sidebar for more on helping monarchs). This Jacksonville facility, with its 22 acres of native grasses and wildflowers, is a “Wildlife at Work” habitat certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council.

    Sharon Moore, a legal assistant for Bob Evans Farms, LLC, started up a bluebird trail at the company’s “Farm North” corporate headquarters in New Albany, Ohio, in March 2014. Sharon, an avid birder, got the idea when she spotted a pair of bluebirds while walking the farm trails one day. Two years later, she can proudly say that 66 fledglings have taken wing from the boxes on this “green” commercial property. Sharon checks the boxes every week and reports to NestWatch.

    Is your corporation interested in improving its value to wildlife? Here are some ideas to consider:

    The best way to document your successes, while also contributing to valuable research, is to participate in citizen science with us. Map and plan your habitat with YardMap, record nests with NestWatch, or plan a company-wide Great Backyard Bird Count. We’re all busy, but what better way to spend a lunch break than by checking on the birds once a week?

    Home Tweet Home Winners

    On August 3, NestWatch announced the winners of the Home Tweet Home photo contest which ran throughout July. With a total of 540 submissions, voters and judges certainly had their work cut out for them! And the winners are…

    Judges also selected 18 Honorable Mentions that stood out as exceptional submissions. See the gallery of honorees online. We thank everyone who submitted their best work, as well as those who took time to vote for photos.

    How To Report Nest Cam Data

    Nest cams are increasingly becoming a tool in the NestWatcher’s toolbox. Many people want to know how to report their nest cams information to NestWatch. With an abundance of footage and known egg-laying, hatch, and fledge dates, the data quality can be very high. But how much is too much?

    Just because you check your nest cams hourly doesn’t mean you need to report more than once a day. In fact, most nest-success analyses typically look at “daily survival rate” (which can then be extrapolated through the entire nest period). Increments of less than 24 hours are therefore not particularly needed.

    Simply keep a NestWatch data sheet at hand to remind yourself to collect the minimum amount of information, so you don’t have to go back through all your footage (or your memory) later. Nest cams can be particularly useful for learning about under-studied species, such as owls. If you don’t yet have a nest box camera, but would like to learn more, check out our slideshow on installing a nest box camera.

    Let’s Take a #Selfie

    We love how new technology is so rapidly adopted by bird watchers to further their passions. High-def security cameras now watch over nesting birds, remotely-controlled drones monitor seabird colonies from the air, and inexpensive adapters turn smartphones into high-powered cameras. All of these new toys help us monitor birds while keeping a safe distance, but the latest and greatest “accessory” is one that has really split public opinion.

    It’s called the “selfie stick,” a socially-provocative telescoping pole that remotely triggers your cell phone to take a picture of you and your friends (a.k.a., a “selfie”). Got a nest that is just out of reach? Selfie stick to the rescue! Snap a photo of the nest so you can count the eggs or nestlings. Some models can extend up to 32′ (10 m) and most allow for adjusting the angle of the camera. The devices use Bluetooth technology, or your camera’s timer, and work with a wide variety of smartphone models.

    We credit this idea to Jeff Kozma, who is researching Gray Flycatchers in Washington. Jeff shared his photos with our Home Tweet Home contest, so you can see for yourself how it works. NestWatchers often ask how to report nests that are too high to see into, and the compact, portable selfie stick is one tool that can potentially help with this problem—no more taking a ladder into the field! And if anyone judges you for owning one, just tell them, “It’s for research.”

    Annual Photo Contest Is Underway

    Our annual photography contest, Home Tweet Home, is underway. Submit up to four photos by July 31 for chances to win birdy prizes, like an HD nest-box camera, nest box, bird feeder, and swag from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You need not be a photographer to participate; visit the contest website and vote for your favorite photos. Share with your friends, and help determine the winners in each of the four categories: Beautiful Eggs, Best Nest, Cutest Baby, and Feeding Time. Winning entries will be announced in our August eNewsletter. Good luck to all of our Home Tweet Home contestants! See official rules for details.

    Should You Try a Window Nest Box?

    Stick-on window-view nest boxes are the latest trend in birdhouses, but is this a trend that will really stick around? You may be wondering if a window-view nest box is a smart choice for the birds or for you. No long-term studies have been done on these products, but this spring NestWatch staff placed four different models on our own windows to find out if birds would use them. Below are the results of our limited field trial.
    Three out of the four window nest boxes have stayed in place since the spring, plenty of time for a full nesting cycle or even two. Unfortunately, one box fell down about six weeks in, which would have been long enough for a bird to build a nest and lay eggs. It should be noted that the box which fell was the only one that did not have overhead cover.

    As for nests, no birds have nested in any of our boxes to date. All are as clean as the day they were installed; not a single feather exists as evidence that they were even inspected. Both field testers have “traditional” nest boxes mounted around our properties which were used by House Wren, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, Tree Swallow, and Downy Woodpecker (roosting only). Perhaps if these birds had no other options, they would have used the window boxes, but with other choices available, they did not.

    Does our experience mean that these boxes aren’t appropriate? Not necessarily. Some birds, like people, are just bolder than others, and may take to the boxes right away. Cissy Berner reports that Carolina Wrens have used the nest box pictured above every year since 2013. Under certain circumstances, they may provide a needed cavity where no other options exist. For example, if you are noticing birds trying to nest in unsafe nooks, these boxes could provide alternative sites. But if you have the space, you can’t go wrong with a pole-mounted traditional box equipped with a predator guard. Alternatively, a hanging-style model works well in small spaces.

    If you try it, choose a model that has the features of a good birdhouse, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mounting. Improper mounting can result in the box falling and possibly injuring birds, eggs, or even people. If you have experience with these boxes, good or bad, please tell us. Your diverse insights can only help us give better guidance in the future, and maybe even drive better product design.

    Our Photo Contest Returns July 1

    Our inaugural photo contest, called Home Tweet Home, was a huge success last year. We received 731 photos of 145 species, and many new people were introduced to NestWatch through the contest.

    This year the contest will run again throughout the month of July, so brush up on our photographer’s guidelines, grab your camera, and start photographing nests. Prizes this year will include nest box cameras from Birdhouse Spy Cam, the new book Into the Nest by Laura Erickson and Marie Read, and other great nest-centric prizes. The contest opens on July 1; watch our website for contest entry instructions and official rules.

    Hawaii, We Want Your Nests

    Do you live in the state of Hawaii? Do you know of any bird nests? If so, you can win a prize just for being the first person to submit a valid nest record from Hawaii. The winner will receive a two-disc audio guide to Hawaii’s birds and a Cornell Lab of Ornithology insulated cooler bag.

    Identify Bird Photos With New Tool

    Merlin, the Cornell Lab’s popular bird ID app, has spawned a new tool called Merlin Bird Photo ID, and you can help test it out! Just upload a photo, click on the bird’s bill, eye, and tail, and let computer vision help you ID the bird. It currently recognizes 400 common North American bird species. Because it’s powered by machine learning techniques, it gets “smarter” the more people use it. Try it now as a webpage, and help improve the accuracy so this new feature can be added to the Merlin Bird ID app. Try Merlin Bird Photo ID now.

    New Face at NestWatch

    We are so pleased to have a new team member on board! Meet Chelsea Benson, the new project assistant for NestWatch. Chelsea will also be supporting our sister project, Project FeederWatch. She will be responding to your emails and phone calls and helping to keep the website and social media pages up-to-date.

    Chelsea comes to us with a background in environmental education. Chelsea has worked with schools, community organizations, and local governments in her previous positions, and has taught a wide variety of environmental topics. She has even incorporated citizen science into regional events like the Hudson Valley Regional Envirothon, and day programming for Mud Creek Environmental Learning Center.

    Chelsea holds a dual B.A. in psychology and English, and an M.A. in Social Science, Environment, and Community. We know Chelsea will “hit the ground running” because she is also a distinguished track and field athlete. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing.

    We’re excited for Chelsea to bring her energy and enthusiasm to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where she’ll no doubt mobilize even more people to monitor bird nests (and bird feeders) for science. Welcome, Chelsea!

    Get Bluebird Artwork From NestWatch

    New this month, you can now download original artwork from NestWatch. This watercolor painting features an Eastern Bluebird pair feeding a fledgling at the nest box. For a small donation to NestWatch, this original artwork is available as a 1024 × 768 pixel download for your personal use. Use it as your computer or tablet background image, or print it and frame it.

    Artist Luke Seitz, a rising junior at Cornell, is an active participant in the Cornell Lab’s student birding team and a Bartels Science Illustration Intern. This artwork is not available anywhere else, and is our “thank you” gift for your support. Gifts of $25 or more will also receive printed posters featuring unique artwork of nesting birds sent to you by mail.

    Why Do You NestWatch?

    Why do you participate in citizen science? A research team from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden wants to know. They’re investigating what factors motivate citizen scientists, particularly NestWatchers, to contribute data, and would love your help. Give them some insight by taking their short survey. It takes fewer than five minutes and your answers are completely anonymous. Understanding why you contribute allows NestWatch and other citizen-science projects to better serve your needs while collecting scientific data. Thanks in advance for helping out!

    Welcome, BBGC Chapter

    This month we welcomed our first chapter from Virginia, called Brambleton Bluebird and Garden Club (BBGC). The BBGC is a growing community of nature lovers who have gradually been expanding their NestWatch contributions since 2012. The coordinators are planning to participate with outreach programs at local schools and within the community. Welcome aboard, BBGC!

    To find a NestWatch chapter near you, visit our online map.

    Who Is Jill Freeman?

    Sometimes we hear about NestWatchers who are doing an epic amount of monitoring—and it’s usually someone who has asked for very little or no credit. Jill Freeman of Colorado is one of those people, so when we heard about her, we knew we had to feature her with a short Q&A. Here it is:

    Q: How long have you been volunteering with the Colorado Bluebird Project?
    I have been involved with CBP since its inception, both as a member of the committee, and as the first appointed chair of the project. When we started receiving data sheets from other trail monitors from around the state, it just seemed appropriate that I do that data entry for CBP, and since I was already doing the data entry for my own project, and was familiar with the NestWatch program, I just thought that it made sense for me to do CBP’s, too.

    I also volunteer at the Cherokee Ranch and Castle Foundation (CRCF). I took over as Project Director of the Bluebird Nest Box Project in 2000. We have 200 boxes spread out over five trails, with a total of 10 volunteer monitors, myself included.

    Q: How many nest attempts have you submitted on behalf of these two projects?
    In the 2014 season I posted 550 nest attempts to NestWatch: 331 for CBP and 219 for CRCF.

    Q: What motivates you to volunteer your time?
    I love doing this work, both the monitoring, keeping the projects running, working with my monitor volunteers (which are all absolutely great—a special breed apart), and the data entry part. I enjoy seeing the broader picture emerging as the data entry begins to reveal the successes and/or struggles from other parts of the state.

    Q: What advice do you have for anyone who is struggling with data entry?
    I would encourage anyone that wishes to do their own data entry, and are struggling with it, or have any other problems with their trails, to contact us (CBP, their local chapter, or NestWatch HQ), because we are all here to help them with every step of the whole process.

    New Feature: Bulk Import!

    Do you have nest records that are too numerous to enter into NestWatch manually, or do you know someone who does? In a recent survey of NestWatchers, we found that the majority of respondents with old data sets would be likely to use a spreadsheet upload tool, if one existed.

    Enter the Bulk Import Tool! We have recently created a powerful tool that will enable us to accept thousands of nest records with the uploading of a single spreadsheet. But we need your help beta testing it to ensure that it is widely compatible. If you or someone you know has large amounts of data suitable for NestWatch, please contact us for more details.

    Researchers, wildlife refuges, conservation organizations, and others often maintain large nesting data sets, but don’t have the time or resources to enter them into our permanent, open-access database. That was certainly the case for Rachel Reklau of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (Illinois). Rachel graciously provided the very first test data set (3,769 nests spanning 14 years!) for the new feature, serving as the impetus for building a prototype.

    Your gift will help
    As we continue to refine this new feature, we need your help to reach its full potential. Even if you don’t have an old data set, you can still help us build it. Your donation of $30 or more is especially needed to help us promote this tool to new audiences. Every year, data are lost because of failure to plan for their final disposition. Computers crash, people retire, or the data are simply forgotten, but once lost, a precious spotlight into the past is forever darkened. You can help us ramp up our data-collecting capacity in a big way by contributing now!

    PBS Presents “The Nest”

    PBS NATURE recently aired a three-part documentary called Animal Homes, and part one, The Nest, offers an informative look at our favorite subject. The documentary is a great introduction to some pretty outstanding bird nests, both close to home and far afield. NestWatchers in the United States (and territories) can enjoy this program online for a limited time. You can also pre-order the DVD here, for your classroom, or for enjoying at home after a day of checking nests outside.

    Take a Tour of NestWatch History

    In this month’s Citizen Science Blog post, take a tour of the Cornell Lab’s 50-year history of nest monitoring in about 5 minutes. Click through an interactive timeline to see some of the highlights. Although the timeline only covers a fraction of the NestWatch publications, it is a good introduction to the breadth of topics to which citizen scientists have contributed. Think of it as speed science. Ready? Go!

    They Nested Where?!

    Sometimes it seems like birds have a sense of humor when they choose their nesting locations. Like this American Robin that nested on top of a toy backhoe, as if to get those really deep earthworms. If you find a cheeky nest, snap a picture, take a video, or capture it in artwork and send it in to the Celebrate Urban Birds Funky Nests in Funky Places challenge. You could win bird feeders, binoculars, or an iPad Mini! It’s not about being the best photographer; it’s about appreciating nature and having fun with it. So get outside, get creative, and capture those humorous nests that you see! Submissions are being accepted until June 15.

    Are Those Cowbirds in the Nest?

    The Brown-headed Cowbird is a North American brood parasite, meaning that it lays its eggs in the nests of other species, making no nest of its own. Reporting cowbird activity is important for understanding nesting success among a wide variety of “host” species (species that accept cowbird eggs). How can you recognize cowbird parasitism in nests you’re monitoring?

    In our detailed post, you can learn about the basics of Brown-headed Cowbird natural history, then read about the six signs that a cowbird may have parasitized a nest. You’ll also find photos to help you identify eggs and nestlings of cowbirds. Common species that NestWatchers report as parasitized include Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, American Robin, and, occasionally, box-nesting species.

    Cowbirds are a native species and incapable of reproducing without a host. We have tips for discouraging cowbirds, but the single best thing you can do as a NestWatcher is to not visit a nest if you see or hear cowbirds in the area. Wait until another time to check the nest to avoid alerting the cowbird to its presence. If you do find cowbirds in a nest you’re monitoring, we ask that you leave them be and report their presence to NestWatch.

    A Little Nest Egg

    If NestWatch has been useful to you personally in the last year, please consider making a small donation to help keep the project going. If everyone reading this newsletter gave just $1, we could stop fundraising for the year and use the extra time for doing science. Thank you for helping us grow by making a donation to NestWatch today.

    No Nest Required

    Spring is here, and with it, a flurry of nest-building activity. Birds will soon be inspecting nesting sites, collecting materials, and constructing the perfect nest. But did you know that for some species, the nest is totally unnecessary? Some birds get to skip all the hard work of construction and go straight to the egg-laying and incubation. Meet a few of these nestless species in our Citizen Science Blog.

    Celebrating 50 Years of Monitoring!

    Volunteers have been helping the Lab monitor nesting birds for 50 years, keeping tabs on open-cup nests and nest boxes alike. What started as the North American Nest Record Card Program in 1965, and later became The Birdhouse Network, is now known as NestWatch. But the goal of these projects hasn’t changed: collect quality data on nesting success across the country for use in “big picture” studies of bird reproduction.

    Our nest-monitoring data have been used in more than 130 scientific studies, yielding valuable information for scientists and land managers, such as:

    • When, where, and how many eggs are laid by certain species across a wide range
    • How to minimize the effects of forestry and agricultural practices on nesting birds
    • Revealing that some species, such as Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, are nesting earlier as spring temperatures have risen.

    Even after five decades, there’s still a lot learn. For example, data on the Eurasian Collared-Dove, a relative newcomer to North America, remain sketchy. We still don’t know how its presence affects our native Mourning Doves, or even how many times they can nest in one year. NestWatch needs more data to understand how and why species respond differently to large, continent-level changes in the environment.

    To encourage everyone to commit to monitoring at least one nest this year, and to celebrate 50 years of volunteer nest monitoring, we’ll be giving away prizes to three lucky participants for (1) most nest attempts submitted, (2) most species monitored, and (3) a random winner with at least one nest attempt. We will draw winners in late November, and prizes (TBD) will ship in time for the holidays. It’s our way of saying “Thank you” and kicking off a great 50th year.

    Time To Leave The Nest

    For the past six months, NestWatch has benefited immeasurably from the help of our intern, Melcolm Crutchfield. But all good things must come to an end, and it’s time for Melcolm to leave the nest. He has accepted a position with Americorps in Arizona. Please join us in thanking Melcolm for all of his hard work, and wishing him much success in his future endeavors.

    Welcome Tin Mountain Bird Society

    Tin Mountain Bird Society has recently joined the family of NestWatch Chapters. Based out of the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire, the Society’s mission is to provide meaningful experiences for birders and enlist support for bird conservation efforts in the White Mountains region. One of the main goals of the society is to support local and regional bird study efforts.

    To launch their involvement with NestWatch they will be installing 120 nest boxes this spring. Tin Mountain will also be providing hands-on training and nest monitoring opportunities, as well as involving its membership in other bird-related citizen-science projects. If you would like to get involved in the Society, visit their website to learn more.

    Go For The Gold

    Spring is right around the corner! And speaking of bird-friendly gardening, did you know you can attract more goldfinches to nest in your yard with the right plants? We shared our tips for growing a goldfinch-friendly habitat (complete with nesting materials, and one plant to avoid) with Birds & Blooms Magazine. Read the article now, and get ready for growing season. And for a little more spring training, read all about the nesting habits of American Goldfinch and Lesser Goldfinch on our website. Don’t you feel warmer already?

    Do Bird-Friendly Yards Attract Predators?

    As more bird enthusiasts replace their lawns with bird-friendly plantings like trees and shrubs, they might be concerned about attracting nest predators into the area. Though nest boxes can be equipped with predator guards, most open cup nests, like those of Northern Cardinals and American Robins, cannot be.

    Researchers from The Ohio State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology investigated whether there was a link between woody vegetation (i.e., trees and shrubs) and predator activity by conducting a study in several Ohio neighborhoods. The researchers surveyed for common nest predators in backyards, and looked for a relationship to the amount of woody vegetation. Common nest predators at the studied sites in Ohio included Eastern gray squirrel, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Blue Jay, and domestic cat (among others).

    What they found was unexpected. Even though many nest predators use woody vegetation, bird-friendly landscaping did not attract predators. Yards and neighborhoods with more mature trees and shrubs were no more likely to have high predator activity than yards without. Their findings suggest that increasing the amount of shrubbery and trees in suburban yards does not encourage increased activity of nest predators. So with that in mind, feel free to check out our tips for landscaping for nesting birds.

    Reference: Malpass, J.S., Rodewald, A.D., and Matthews, S.N. 2015. Woody cover does not promote activity of nest predators in residential yards. Landscape and Urban Planning 135: 32-39.

    Never Too Late to Participate

    Didn’t enter your data for 2014 yet? No worries, you can enter data any time for any year. But don’t wait too long—we’ll start analyzing nesting success data very soon. Head over to and finish submitting now!

    New NestWatch Lesson Plans

    Students Discover, a project of, has launched an ambitious initiative to recruit 10,000 teachers worldwide to participate in a five-year citizen-science initiative. Students Discover is bringing teachers and their students together to do original scientific research and make their own discoveries. But they need your help.

    If you are a teacher, check out their new NestWatch course packet. The free digital packet contains three science lessons about nesting birds, all aligned to Next Generation Science Standards. The lessons encourage authentic discovery through citizen-science participation in NestWatch.

    Share this link with any teachers you know and, together, let’s introduce more kids to NestWatch. These resources are designed to help you and your students learn about nesting birds, so no prior knowledge or experience is necessary. Get your free course packet now.

    How to Install a Nest Box Camera

    Whether you are a long-time citizen scientist or brand new to birds, nest cams can enhance your enjoyment of bird watching. With nest box cameras, you can witness interesting behaviors that cannot be seen outside of the nest box, while learning about the cycle of life unfolding in your backyard.

    But for many, the thought of installing a nest cam can seem daunting. That’s why we put together a helpful slideshow to get you started. Check out some of our insights before you get started on your project, for the best chance of success.

    Fun, friendly illustrations by Bartels Science Illustration Intern Anna Rettberg will walk you through the considerations involved when Installing a Nest Box Camera.