Photo © Keith Williams

October 2016 News


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!


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.


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.


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.