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Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

Get answers to questions about project participation and using this website.

Account Information

  • How do I update my contact information?
  • Please keep your contact information current so that we can reach you about your data if questions arise. To do so:

    • Update your online profile by logging in and then clicking on your username in the top right or go directly to “My Account”. Here you can also update your email address and reset your password if needed. Please note that changing the email or mailing address on your account here will not change it in the Cornell Lab’s membership system (if applicable). If you are a Cornell Lab member, you will need to contact the membership department separately. You can reach them by telephone (800) 843-2473 or e-mail the office at clomembership@cornell.edu.
    • To manage your eNews subscriptions use this form. You’ll receive an email with a link to confirm you’re opting in to the eNews. If your email has changed, you can simply subscribe with your new address. If you wish to unsubscribe, you should find a link at the bottom of eNews sent by any of the Cornell Lab departments. Please note that only you can opt in or out of our eNews; we cannot add or change your email address on file for you.
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  • My username and/or password doesn’t work. Why am I getting an error message?
  • If your username and password won’t work, first use the “forgot username” button on the sign in page to get a reminder email.

    If your username is correct but your password isn’t working, you will need to use the “forgot password?” button on the sign in page to reset your password. Once your password is successfully reset, be sure to manually type in your username and password the next time you sign in – don’t let your browser automatically fill in those fields for you. Once you’ve manually typed in your new password, your browser may show a pop-up message asking if you want to save or update this new password. Click “yes” or “save” if you would like those login fields to be automatically populated with your username and new password in the future.

    As a reminder, because the Cornell Lab website all use the same log-in system, changing your password on NestWatch will also change the password for all other Cornell Lab websites (e.g., eBird, FeederWatch, Bird Academy, etc.).

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  • What should I do if I can’t remember my username and/or password?
  • Click “forgot username” or “forgot password” on the sign in page on our website, or in the mobile app, and an email will be sent to the email address we have on file for that account, containing either your username(s), or a link to reset your password, respectively. If you do not receive the email within a few minutes, please take these steps.

    Please note, usernames are permanent and cannot be changed or updated.

    If you think the email address in your account might be outdated, contact us.

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  • I never received the password reset or username reminder email
  • If you do not receive the emailed instructions within a few minutes, please check your email’s spam or junk folder. In rare cases, it may take up to an hour to arrive. Additionally, some email providers have a junk filter that prevents spam from ever reaching your inbox – to combat this, try adding our email address, nestwatch@cornell.edu, to your contact list and request the email again.

    If after trying these things the email still does not arrive to your inbox, please fill out the Contact Us form. Your account’s email address may have a typo or you may be checking an email address that is different than the email that is stored in our database.

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  • Do I have to sign out between sessions?
  • If you do not sign out, our website (and other Cornell Lab websites, such as Project FeederWatch and eBird) will remember you, and automatically sign you in. However, if you’re using a public computer or have other household members that have their own Cornell Lab accounts, we recommend that you sign out so that no one else accidentally submits data under your account by mistake. Similarly, signing out is not necessary if you participate in another Cornell Lab project and need to switch between project websites.

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  • Can I delete my NestWatch account?
  • Your NestWatch data “live” in your account, so deleting your account would also delete all of the data that you have submitted. Data associated with your account from previous years is kept preserved in our database. This is because we use your data for scientific purposes and the data are now part of the collective history of nesting birds. It’s important not to erase historical data unless absolutely necessary.

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Creating a Safe Space for Birds

  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?

    • In our Right Bird, Right House tool, you’ll be able to sort by your region and local habitat to find a list of birds that have been known to nest in a human-made structure in your area. Most species listed are cavity-nesting birds, but we’ve also included birds that will use nesting cones, platforms, and other structures. Click on a species page to view a link to the PDF construction plan, special tips specific to that bird species, and important placement information such as orientation, proper habitat, spacing between boxes, etc.
    • In books. Your public library or local bookstore should have a few books on nest boxes.
    • See also:
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  • Can I used recycled materials to build a nest box?
  • When providing nest boxes for birds, it is best to mimic their natural cavity as best as we can. That means using untreated and unpainted wood, ensuring there is proper ventilation and drainage, and sometimes choosing proper entrance hole sizes. Though using recycled materials is a good idea in theory, we do not recommend using them for bird houses for several reasons:

    • Thin materials like recycled plastic jugs, cardboard cartons, and other similar items do not regulate temperatures well. Many plastic and metal houses, or even thin wooden houses (like decorative ones made of balsa wood) are thin and can either heat up too much or will not keep the birds warm enough in cold spring weather. Wood that is around ¾” thick (sold as “1” thick boards) is ideal because it can insulate against most temperatures. Though, it’s good to keep in mind that nothing is immune to the very extremes.
    • Many recycled materials are flimsy, and have tendency to break or fall apart. Plastic can bend and change shape, and cardboard or other paper-based materials can disintegrate in wet weather. If there were strong winds or rain, that structure may not hold up.
    • When recycling wood from a different project, consider how that wood was used and what it was treated with. For example, you would want to check that it is the proper dimensions and thickness, that the wood was not pressure-treated for insects or fungi, and that it is not painted or stained.
    • It’s important to consider what the recycled materials are made of, what they once contained, and how those materials may affect the delicate nestlings. Fumes, harmful chemicals, and residues can often remain for long periods of time. This is also why we do not recommend using wood that has been treated with fungicides, pesticides, or other chemicals that are designed to prevent structural damage.

    We created a helpful webpage with Features of a Good Birdhouse here which offers general tips for nest boxes, and we have our Right Bird, Right House tool here, which also has species-specific tips on how to build and install the box. Even if you don’t plan to build a box, these links may help you whittle down your buying choices.

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  • How do I install a box on a pole?
  • Installing a nest box on a pole (versus attaching it to a tree trunk) is one of the best ways to protect your nest, because this set-up most easily allows you to add more effective predator guards. Cone and stovepipe baffles installed on a pole below the nest box can help prevent climbing predators from reaching the box, such as snakes, raccoons, chipmunks, mice, and more.

    Please always be sure to check with utility companies before you dig.

    To install a nest box on a pole, check out this instructional PDF. The supplies can be purchased for a relatively affordable price at most hardware stores. You can also watch this video that we produced to go along with our curriculum Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box for middle school students, which walks you though the same instructions.

    Note that these instructions are best suited for smaller nest boxes. If you are looking to install a larger box on a pole, such as one for owls, then it may be best to contact a professional construction company for help installing a larger diameter pole, which usually needs to be installed several feet into the ground for stability.

    If using a pole is not feasible, check out our blog to learn more about a newer predator guard design that has been shown to be effective when installed below tree-mounted boxes.

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  • Where can I download construction plans for predator guards?
  • Recent research using NestWatch data suggests that, on average, nests in boxes with predator guards had success rates 6.7% higher than nests in boxes without guards. And while all types of guards were correlated with improved nesting success, birds nesting in boxes with cone-type baffles, stovepipe baffles, or entrance hole extenders (also called “wooden block hole guards”) were most likely to result in successful nesting.

    You can find construction plans for these guards at the bottom of our Dealing with Predators page. Click on the name of the guard type to open a PDF construction plan.

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Getting Started with NestWatch

  • How do I get started with NestWatch?
  • Participating in NestWatch is easy:

    1. Read our Code of Conduct and take the quick online quiz to get certified
    2. Find nests
    3. Record data
    4. Submit data online or with the mobile app

    You will need to create an account here (or sign in with your Cornell Lab username and password if you already have one), and then navigate to the Your Data home page to start entering data. Use the “show instructions” button just below the “Your Data” title, or check out this FAQ for more detailed information on how to add nesting data to your account. You can also review the NestWatch data structure here.

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  • Who can participate?
  • Anyone can participate, although children monitoring nests should always be accompanied by an adult. The only requirement is that participants find an active bird nest, record the breeding activity, and enter data through the “Your Data” page on this website.  Any bird nest, anywhere in the world is eligible to be monitored for NestWatch!

    • Teachers: Does your schoolyard have the potential for birds to nest? If so, you could add the nest monitoring project as a special activity to your natural sciences courses. Download Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box, our curriculum that guides students through building a nest box, learning about the nesting cycle, and analyzing data. Aimed at grades 5-8, activities meet Common Core standards. Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box is also available for download in Spanish.
    • Businesses: Does your company have space for nest boxes? Do you have birds nesting on the building? Add NestWatch to your corporate stewardship program and demonstrate your environmental responsibility.
    • Non-profits: Do you or your volunteers conduct nest monitoring as part of your regular activities? NestWatch is a long-term, stable repository for your organization’s data.
    • Individuals: From your backyard to your local park, you can monitor a nest anywhere in the world!
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  • How much time will this project require?
  • The time you devote to the project is entirely up to you. You may want to search for nests for a few days, for only a couple of hours, or periodically over the course of the season—many birds build more than one nest. However, you should keep in mind that if you do find a nest and want to follow it through the nesting season, you will need to give a bit more of your time, possibly a few hours spread over several weeks. Although we accept nest records from nests that have been visited only once, we encourage you to make multiple visits (once every 3-4 days at most) to the same nest, as this provides us with additional valuable information.

    For a typical songbird nest, this means you would only need to make about 10 visits to the nest in total, and only spend about 60 seconds or less during each nest check. From the egg stage to the fledging stage of a single nest this might mean less than an hour of your time over the entire nesting attempt, but the total time required will depend on how many nests you choose to monitor.

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  • What kind of nests can I report?
  • NestWatch can take data on any nest for any bird species in the world. You can monitor nest boxes, open cup nests, ground nests, or any other that you can observe safely.

    A few tips: Before looking in a nest box, you should always give it a few taps to encourage the adult to leave the box. If the box has a panel that opens, you can look directly at its contents. If the box was not designed to be opened, you can try using a flashlight or borescope to see inside. Please also exercise caution if you need to use a ladder.

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  • How can I identify what kinds of birds are in my backyard?
  • The best way to start is to learn to identify the types of birds in your yard during the spring and summer (fall or winter plumage identification can come later). The birds in your yard may just be passing through to their breeding grounds, or they may actually stay to nest in your neighborhood.

    You may wish to purchase a bird identification field guide specific to your region to learn the typical birds in your area. These books include color photographs or drawings, and descriptions of the birds you may find in your back yard. Another great tool is the free Merlin Bird ID app, also by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin makes identifying birds fast and easy; answer five easy questions, upload a photo, or record sound to generate a list of likely species. Learn more and find out how to download Merlin from this webpage.

    If you happen to find a nest and are unsure of the species that built it, check out the Common Nesting Birds tool on our website. You can also purchase a guide to local nests, such as A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison.  If you’re still having trouble, follow our guidelines for taking a photograph, and send it to us at nestwatch@cornell.edu. Get two or three angles of the nest, include the eggs in at least one shot if you can, be sure to tell us where you saw it (your general region/state/province is fine), and what the surrounding habitat was like (e.g., in a forest, open field, beach, near a large body of water, etc.).

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  • How do I download the NestWatch app?
  • On an iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device:

    • While using your iPhone/iPad, use this link to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.
    • Alternatively, open the “App Store” from your Apple device. Search for “NestWatch” by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, find the app in the results list, then tap “Get.” The app should begin installing – you’ll see the “Get” button change to “Open” when the installation is finished.
    • If you still can’t see the app, or if there is no “Open” button, you may have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that is running an older iOS version. Click here to view the current software requirements for iOS devices. You can check your device’s iOS version by going to Settings → General → About.  On the About page, look for the version number. The version number often has one or two decimals (e.g. 13.3.3, or 14.1). To update your iOS, just go to Settings → General → Software Update.

    On an Android device:

    • While using your device, use this link to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.
    • Alternatively, on your Android device, go to the Play Store app. Tap the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner to search. Type “NestWatch” into the search bar and start the search. Find “NestWatch” by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the results list and then tap “Install.”
    • If you are unable to find the app in the Play Store, your device may be running an older version of the Android operating system. Click here to view the current software requirements for Android devices. You can check your Android operating system version by going to: Settings → About Phone or About Device. The Android version number is usually a number without decimals (e.g. Android 11).

    If your device does not allow you to update your iOS or Android system, then the device hardware may be too outdated to run the NestWatch app. Please note that updates are meant to keep up with security improvements and are the surest way to have a safe and secure experience on your device. If this is the case, you may instead need to enter your data online on NestWatch.org. Sign in here to get started.

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  • I’m new. How do I enter data for a nest I found?
  • Here’s a simple break-down of how to enter data.

    If you are entering data on our website:

    • First, sign in to (or create) your account at NestWatch.org
    • Next, go to Your Data home page and click “Add new nest site.” Tell us where you found the nest, either by typing in the latitude and longitude, or entering the nearest mailing address. Once the marker is placed, scroll down to name the site and fill out the rest of the nest site details, such as where the nest was found and what the surrounding habitat is like.
    • When you’re done, you should see the option to “Start a new nesting attempt.” This is where you will record all of your nest visits to this particular nest. Enter as much information as you can for your visit(s). You can either fill out your nest visits after each nest check, or all at once at the end – it’s up to you. You will have the option to submit data in “Single Entry Mode” or “Table Entry mode” – table entry mode will allow you to see all of the nest visits you have submitted so far.
    • After the young in this nest have left the nest, click “Summarize nesting attempt” to tell us the nest outcome and other important information. Again, fill this section out to the best of your ability- it’s ok to leave some fields blank.
    • When you’re done, click “end nesting attempt” to close out the attempt. Then, you’ll have the option to start a new attempt for the next clutch of eggs, if applicable.

    Find more tips in our Data Entry Tutorial Videos, or the green “show instructions” button near the top of Your Data home page.

    If you are entering data on the app:

    • When you’re signed in to the NestWatch mobile app and on the “Home” screen, look along the bottom of the page and tap “Add nest.”
    • Choose the location either by entering the coordinates manually or using the marker. If using the marker, you can also use the “Enter precision mode” toggle to drag the map underneath the marker to record a nest site that is not near to your current position.
    • Next name the nest, fill out as many nest site details as you can, and then tap the “Create nest” button at the bottom of the screen.
    • On the next page, tap “Start attempt” to begin recording data for a nest. You will be brought to a page to fill out the data for your first nest visit. Tap “Submit” when you’re done.
    • For each subsequent nest visit, tap “My nests” at the bottom of the app homepage, select your nest site, and then tap “Add visit.” When the nest attempt is finished (the young have fledged), tap “End attempt” on that same page to tell us the outcome of the nest.
    • After you have ended your attempt, the nest site page will show the options to “Start attempt” or “Archive nest” Learn more about when you should archive nests.

    Note: Each nesting attempt should record one clutch of eggs, from start to finish. Some nest sites will have multiple nest attempts listed, from more than one species. For more information, read the definitions between a Nest Site, Nest Attempt, and Nest Visit here, and view our data structure here.

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  • Can I record inactive or old nests?
  • NestWatch needs records of “actively used” nests, which correspond to nests that contain eggs or nestlings, or nests under active construction. We can also accept “absence data” in the form of observations of empty nest boxes, if you would like to report these.

    However, older nests from previous seasons should not be reported if they were not monitored at the time they were active (e.g., if you find an old nest in fall or winter) because it would not be possible to know the details of clutch size, number of young, or dates of key events. We do encourage reporting old nests if data were collected on them at the time they were active. You can enter these directly into the website or contact us regarding our Bulk Upload option if you have >100 historic nest attempts.

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  • When can I use an existing site for a new nest attempt, and when should I create a new nest site?
  • Identical nests where the same exact nest site location can be used for multiple attempts include:

    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved or adjusted
    • nests in the same fork of the same tree branch
    • nests in the same clump of grass (where a “clump” is something with a diameter of not more than 6″)
    • nests in different nest boxes, when one box is replaced on the same pole by a different box of the same approximate size
    • A second nest built on top of the first by the same (or a different) species

    If a nest is not in the exact, identical location as a previous nest, then a new nest site should be created. Cases where you should create distinct or new sites include:

    • nests in the same nest box, but the box has been moved any distance away from its original location
    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved, but the height of the box has been raised by 12 inches or more
    • there are two nests on different forks of the same tree branch
    • nests in two different cavities in the same snag, but at different heights in the trunk
    • nests in two cavities in the same snag at the same height, but on different sides of the trunk
    • nests in two clumps of grass that are 12 inches apart or more
    • nests on the same rafter in a barn, and are 12 inches apart or more
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  • How can I tell my data were saved?
  • When entering data on our website, your data are saved continuously. However, if you have a poor internet connection, we recommend double-checking the “Save” button on the bottom left of your Nest Attempt page. It should look yellow and read “all data saved.” Otherwise, you’ll see a green “save” button. It’s always good to check this before navigating away from the page. Once it says “all data saved” you can navigate away or close the webpage.

    On the app, your data are similarly saved to your phone when you finish adding the nest visit data. To make sure this gets properly uploaded to the database, be sure to “sync” your data if you are prompted (e.g., if you have been in a low-service area and return to better service, you might see a prompt). To sync, open the app menu and check the “Unsynced Data” option.

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  • Why can’t I delete some of my nest sites?
  • You may have already entered nest attempts (data) for that nest site. In order to delete the nest site you must first delete all nest attempts associated with that site.

    Read here for instructions on how to delete erroneous nest data.

    Alternatively, if your nest site does not have any data on it, and you still don’t see the delete button on the Site Summary page, then double check whether that nest site has been added to a group. Click the “Manage Your Groups” button on Your Data home page to see all of your groups. Make sure the nest site you wish to delete does not have a checkmark next to it for any of the groups you’ve created. A nest site cannot be deleted if it is part of a group.

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  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Taking photos in moderation is not a problem for nesting birds, and as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, disturbance remains low. Photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits to less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to stress the birds.

    You can add up to three photos to each nest visit that you report to NestWatch. You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Read the full terms and conditions here. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • I’m part of a monitoring group – how can we get all of our data on the same account?
  • Currently, the easiest way for members of the same group to report data is to simply share one username and password – every person logs in to the same account to enter data (either via the website or our mobile app). All monitors would then be able to see the same data, and multiple people can enter data for the same nest if needed (for example, if a different volunteer checks the same box every week), but this also gives everyone the ability to the change password, the email address, and any data. This option may be best suited for small groups.

    Alternatively, your group members could collect their own data on paper and send these data to one person dedicated to entering all of the data on the online account. This would work best in situations where certain volunteers are responsible for certain boxes throughout the season.

    If you have more questions about group data entry, please feel free to reach out to nestwatch@cornell.edu.

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Monitoring Nests

Get answers to questions about nest monitoring in general, nest boxes, and the NestWatch protocol.

General

  • Can my visits to the nest harm the birds or interfere with the nesting attempt?
  • This is unlikely if you are cautious while moving around the nest, and if you follow our Code of Conduct.

    Nest predation by crows, jays, chipmunks, weasels, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, snakes, small rodents, cats, and birds of prey is a common cause of nest failure. Observers often fear that increased predation may result from the observer leaving a track or scent-trail to nests. However, a two-year investigation of this possibility by the British Trust for Ornithology showed that nests visited frequently by humans had similar success rates as other nests left undisturbed between laying and fledging. Predation that is unrelated to human observers is common and consistent with the normal high annual mortality of songbird species. However, you should still do your best to avoid bringing attention to the nest, trampling vegetation surrounding a nest, or monitoring in inclement weather.

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  • What kind of nests can I report?
  • NestWatch can take data on any nest for any bird species in the world. You can monitor nest boxes, open cup nests, ground nests, or any other that you can observe safely.

    A few tips: Before looking in a nest box, you should always give it a few taps to encourage the adult to leave the box. If the box has a panel that opens, you can look directly at its contents. If the box was not designed to be opened, you can try using a flashlight or borescope to see inside. Please also exercise caution if you need to use a ladder.

    link
  • How can I identify what kinds of birds are in my backyard?
  • The best way to start is to learn to identify the types of birds in your yard during the spring and summer (fall or winter plumage identification can come later). The birds in your yard may just be passing through to their breeding grounds, or they may actually stay to nest in your neighborhood.

    You may wish to purchase a bird identification field guide specific to your region to learn the typical birds in your area. These books include color photographs or drawings, and descriptions of the birds you may find in your back yard. Another great tool is the free Merlin Bird ID app, also by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin makes identifying birds fast and easy; answer five easy questions, upload a photo, or record sound to generate a list of likely species. Learn more and find out how to download Merlin from this webpage.

    If you happen to find a nest and are unsure of the species that built it, check out the Common Nesting Birds tool on our website. You can also purchase a guide to local nests, such as A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison.  If you’re still having trouble, follow our guidelines for taking a photograph, and send it to us at nestwatch@cornell.edu. Get two or three angles of the nest, include the eggs in at least one shot if you can, be sure to tell us where you saw it (your general region/state/province is fine), and what the surrounding habitat was like (e.g., in a forest, open field, beach, near a large body of water, etc.).

    link
  • Can I record inactive or old nests?
  • NestWatch needs records of “actively used” nests, which correspond to nests that contain eggs or nestlings, or nests under active construction. We can also accept “absence data” in the form of observations of empty nest boxes, if you would like to report these.

    However, older nests from previous seasons should not be reported if they were not monitored at the time they were active (e.g., if you find an old nest in fall or winter) because it would not be possible to know the details of clutch size, number of young, or dates of key events. We do encourage reporting old nests if data were collected on them at the time they were active. You can enter these directly into the website or contact us regarding our Bulk Upload option if you have >100 historic nest attempts.

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  • What is the difference between a nest site, nest visit, and nest attempt?
  • All three of these terms refer to the NestWatch data entry process:

    • A nest site is the physical location of the nest. A nest site can contain multiple attempts and can represent a cup nest, a nest box, or any other nest structure. When you create a nest site, you will be asked to choose a description of the nest and describe its general surroundings.
    • A nest visit is a single event where you visit the nest and collect data about the nesting attempt, such as number of eggs, number of live young, etc. present on that day. Visits should last no longer than 60 seconds and occur only once every 3 to 4 days at most.
    • A nest attempt describes a nest from egg laying to fledging (or another fate) and represents the totality of your nest visits. You should create a new nest attempt in NestWatch each time a pair begins a new clutch. Once the nest fledges or fails and you are done recording nest visits, you should summarize the attempt by entering the outcome and other summary information, and then click “End This Attempt” to close it out. Once you have done this, you will again have the option to “Add an Attempt” to that nest site, which will allow you to create additional attempts to report on subsequent nests built at that nest site.

    Note: Many nest sites representing an open cup nest have only one nest attempt recorded, and then may never be used again. However, nest boxes are often used repeatedly, and it is particularly important for nest box monitors to separately record each nesting within the same nest box as a unique attempt. Do not record nest visits indefinitely under a single attempt unless you are keeping track of empty nests. Nest attempts that contain data from more than one nesting would be inaccurate, and therefore, much more difficult to interpret. If you have questions about when it is appropriate to begin a new nesting attempt, please contact us.

    Please use this webpage to view our data structure and scroll down for more definitions.

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  • How do I estimate first egg, hatch, and fledge dates?
  • We define these dates as:

    • First Egg Date – Estimated date when the first egg was laid for each nest attempt.
    • Hatch Date – Estimated date that the first egg hatched for each nest attempt.
    • Fledge Date – Estimated date that the first nestling left the nest, for each nest attempt.

    Since it is difficult to record a complete nesting chronology, we ask participants to provide estimates on first egg, hatch, and fledge dates for their attempt summary output. In the case of virtually all songbirds, you can calculate a first egg date by backdating using the assumption that one egg is laid per day.

    Suppose you encountered 2 eggs in the nest on May 10 and you visit the same nest again on May 13 and discover 4 eggs. Counting backward one egg/day, we know the first egg was laid on May 9. The second egg was laid on May 10, the third on May 11, and the fourth and last egg on May 12. Once the clutch is complete, the female will start incubating after the ultimate (last) or penultimate (second to last) egg is laid. This backdating method does not work if the number of eggs is not observed to increase. For example, hummingbirds and doves typically lay 2 eggs, and it is easy to miss the egg-laying period. It would not be correct to assume that if you find a nest with 2 eggs, you should count backwards one day; you would need to see the egg count increase in order to estimate first egg date. The more eggs a bird lays, the easier it becomes to estimate the first egg date.

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  • What are brood parasites?
  • Brood parasites are birds that lay eggs in other species’ nests.

    North America’s most common brood parasite is the Brown-headed Cowbird (Shiny Cowbird and Bronzed Cowbird occur in localized areas of the southernmost United States and Caribbean). These native birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, who then incubate their eggs and raise the cowbirds as their own. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay as many as 36 eggs in a season. Over 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds. Host parents often accept the cowbird egg, but different species react in different ways. Some destroy the egg by pecking or removing it, others build a new layer over the bottom of the original nest to restart their nesting process, and some expel the cowbird nestlings from the nest.

    It’s important to note that Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America and therefore protected under federal law, meaning that their eggs should not be removed from nests unless the monitor holds special federal permits (some states have programs in place to protect endangered species). You can learn more about Brown-headed Cowbirds here.

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  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Taking photos in moderation is not a problem for nesting birds, and as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, disturbance remains low. Photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits to less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to stress the birds.

    You can add up to three photos to each nest visit that you report to NestWatch. You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Read the full terms and conditions here. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • Can I water my planter while a nest is in it?
  • Generally, we recommend against watering planters when they contain an active nest. Water can reduce the temperature of eggs rapidly, and damp nest material is a less effective insulator. Nestlings are also susceptible to changes in temperature. If a bird nests in your planter, we suggest using watering tools that deliver water directly to the roots. These are often made of glass or plastic and look like a sphere with a long tube attached. You can fill the device with water, stick it in the soil, and the water slowly releases into the soil below the surface. This keeps water from pooling and potentially reaching the nest contents, and also reduces the number of times you need to disturb the nest since the devices don’t need to be refilled every day.  Win-win!

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  • How can I submit photos of a nest?
  • There is a button on each nest attempt page on the website that reads “Add Photos.” Click this to choose the nest visit date and upload your photo. Up to three photos can be attached to each nest visit you have recorded.

    If you’re using the app, you will have the ability to add photos when you fill out your nest visit data. You can also add a photo to your visit after you’ve entered your nest visit data by using the “Edit” toggle at the top of the nest attempt page in the app and then tapping on a row in the “Observations” table to edit data for that specific visit.

    You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery. Use the “Upload your photo or video” tab along the top of the gallery to upload your photo. You can then sign in, or you can choose to submit as a guest.  

    Note: You should always prioritize the safety of the birds over taking a good photograph of a nest. Remember to keep nest visits under a minute in length, and do not keep parents off the nest during bad weather or when predators are nearby.

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  • I can’t see the contents of the nest. What should I do?
  • If you can’t see whether there are eggs or young in a nest, we have a few options to consider. The ideal method depends on your situation.

    If you simply can’t see into the nest, or can’t make an accurate count, then when reporting your data, you can enter “u” instead of a number for eggs and young. This translates to “at least one” in our database, meaning that you knew there were eggs or young present, but weren’t sure of the exact number. If you know there are zero eggs or young, enter “0”. If you can’t tell whether there are eggs or young present, leave the field blank, and make a note if you like.

    If the nest is too high, then consider the following:

    • If it is less than about six feet off the ground, you may be able to see the contents using a stepladder. Stay alert and be very careful. Breeding birds most often protect their nest by diving at potential predators like you. Do not let them break your concentration! A small angled mirror may help see deeper into nest boxes too, and of course, remember to keep your visit to less than one minute.
    • If the nest is not accessible using a ladder but is still less than 15 feet off the ground, you can try using a long pole with a mirror attached to it or a borescope. You could also use a telescoping smartphone mount (i.e., a “selfie stick”). Some models can extend up to 32 feet (10 meters) and most allow you to adjust the angle of the camera. The devices usually use Bluetooth technology, or your camera’s timer, and work with a wide variety of smartphone models.
    • When all else fails, and the nest is simply out of reach, we recommend you do not attempt to look at the contents directly. Your safety and the safety of the nest should be your first priority. However, if you see birds close to the nest, watch their behavior through binoculars or a scope. If you see them bring twigs or food, it means that they are building a nest or feeding young, respectively. Such observations make up a nest record and can be reported. Review the nine stages of the nesting cycle to help guide your observations, and enter data using “u” if applicable.
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Nest Box Care

  • Should I clean out my nest box?
  • Some monitors opt to clean the box out after every brood, but it’s imperative that this is done when there is absolutely no sign of breeding activity in the box; if you’re ever unsure whether the box is being actively used, it’s best to wait until another day to clean it out. It’s also perfectly fine to wait until fall to clean out nest boxes. This blog post may offer more insights.

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  • What do I do with the nest after the birds have fledged?
  • During the breeding season, we recommend leaving the nesting material in the box—the parents may decide to raise another brood. At the end of the season, you can remove the nesting material and scrub the inside with a mild detergent and water. If your nest is soiled with fecal matter, we recommend removing the nest and cleaning the nest box out with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Some monitors opt to clean the box out after every brood, but it’s imperative that this is done when there is absolutely no sign of breeding activity in the box; if you’re ever unsure whether the box is being actively used, it’s best to wait until another day to clean it out.

    You can leave your box up over the winter and allow it to be used as a roosting place for birds, mice, or squirrels. Some monitors elect to seal off their birdhouses to prevent unwanted winter tenants. Others render the boxes unusable by propping the door open.

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  • What should I do with unhatched eggs or dead young in the nest?
  • Eggs can fail to hatch for a variety of reasons: infertility, environmental conditions like weather or chemical use, or physical damage to the eggshell. There is also an increase in the chance of infertile eggs as the breeding season progresses—it takes a lot of energy to create and lay the eggs, and sometimes this can mean smaller clutch sizes and decreased chances of hatching in later nests. Likewise, young can die in the nest for several reasons. NestWatchers often ask what should be done with unhatched eggs or dead young, especially in cases when the nest is likely to be used again (e.g., a nest box, a nest on your porch).

    Once the nest is “inactive”—that is, there are no viable eggs or live young—it is safe, and legal, to clean out a nest. We recommend disposing of those eggs, deceased young, and/or nest materials (e.g., if you’re cleaning out a nest box) in a place where they won’t attract insects to the nest area. If there are dead nestlings or unhatched eggs in an “active” nest (one that also contains living eggs or young) then it’s best to leave them in the nest until the other young fledge to reduce disturbance. If you suspect a clutch will not hatch, we recommend waiting four weeks past the expected hatch date before removing the eggs. This allows for a possible delay in incubation, as well as variation in incubation period lengths. It is illegal to handle or remove a native bird’s nest while it is still active, and we have had several reports of monitors that assume their nest has been abandoned, only to find later that eggs have hatched, meaning that the adult was tending to the nest all the while. Once you’re sure eggs won’t hatch, you can remove dead eggs from the nest and remove soiled nesting material as needed.

    Unfortunately, many birds’ nests are unsuccessful in the wild, and even when monitors do everything possible to help increase those chances, there are still some things beyond our control. Rest assured this is one of the reasons why birds lay so many eggs and can have multiple broods per year—they are compensating for the inevitable losses they will endure.

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  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?

    • In our Right Bird, Right House tool, you’ll be able to sort by your region and local habitat to find a list of birds that have been known to nest in a human-made structure in your area. Most species listed are cavity-nesting birds, but we’ve also included birds that will use nesting cones, platforms, and other structures. Click on a species page to view a link to the PDF construction plan, special tips specific to that bird species, and important placement information such as orientation, proper habitat, spacing between boxes, etc.
    • In books. Your public library or local bookstore should have a few books on nest boxes.
    • See also:
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  • Can I used recycled materials to build a nest box?
  • When providing nest boxes for birds, it is best to mimic their natural cavity as best as we can. That means using untreated and unpainted wood, ensuring there is proper ventilation and drainage, and sometimes choosing proper entrance hole sizes. Though using recycled materials is a good idea in theory, we do not recommend using them for bird houses for several reasons:

    • Thin materials like recycled plastic jugs, cardboard cartons, and other similar items do not regulate temperatures well. Many plastic and metal houses, or even thin wooden houses (like decorative ones made of balsa wood) are thin and can either heat up too much or will not keep the birds warm enough in cold spring weather. Wood that is around ¾” thick (sold as “1” thick boards) is ideal because it can insulate against most temperatures. Though, it’s good to keep in mind that nothing is immune to the very extremes.
    • Many recycled materials are flimsy, and have tendency to break or fall apart. Plastic can bend and change shape, and cardboard or other paper-based materials can disintegrate in wet weather. If there were strong winds or rain, that structure may not hold up.
    • When recycling wood from a different project, consider how that wood was used and what it was treated with. For example, you would want to check that it is the proper dimensions and thickness, that the wood was not pressure-treated for insects or fungi, and that it is not painted or stained.
    • It’s important to consider what the recycled materials are made of, what they once contained, and how those materials may affect the delicate nestlings. Fumes, harmful chemicals, and residues can often remain for long periods of time. This is also why we do not recommend using wood that has been treated with fungicides, pesticides, or other chemicals that are designed to prevent structural damage.

    We created a helpful webpage with Features of a Good Birdhouse here which offers general tips for nest boxes, and we have our Right Bird, Right House tool here, which also has species-specific tips on how to build and install the box. Even if you don’t plan to build a box, these links may help you whittle down your buying choices.

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  • Should I use treated wood or paint on a nest box?
  • There are no conclusive studies that determine whether residual fumes from paint or pressure treatment can harm the birds. In the absence of evidence however, we recommend using untreated, unpainted wood to construct boxes (cedar, white pine, and yellow pine are good rot-resistant choices). Pressure-treated wood has been imbued with a combination of pesticide and fungicide, and therefore, should be avoided as a nest box material; instead, you can extend the life of your nest box by gluing all the joints before nailing them. Be sure to choose a non-toxic glue if possible and let the glue dry completely before installing the nest box.

    In hot climates, where daytime temperatures regularly exceed 95°F, some nest box monitors choose to paint the exterior of boxes so that they stay cooler. If your box has proper ventilation and a roof that extends two inches over the sides, this will help shade the box and protect it from the elements, reducing the need for paint. However, some additional cooling may be gained by painting the roof and exterior walls a light color (white is preferred for Purple Martin houses, but opt for tan, gray, or dull green for other cavity-nesting species as these are less conspicuous to predators). If paint is deemed necessary by the monitor, then it should only be applied to the exterior. Even zero- and low-VOC latex paint formulas can release fumes for months or even years, so if you paint, plan to do so in the fall, which will give fumes time to dissipate throughout the winter.

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  • Where can I download construction plans for predator guards?
  • Recent research using NestWatch data suggests that, on average, nests in boxes with predator guards had success rates 6.7% higher than nests in boxes without guards. And while all types of guards were correlated with improved nesting success, birds nesting in boxes with cone-type baffles, stovepipe baffles, or entrance hole extenders (also called “wooden block hole guards”) were most likely to result in successful nesting.

    You can find construction plans for these guards at the bottom of our Dealing with Predators page. Click on the name of the guard type to open a PDF construction plan.

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Predators

  • How can I tell if a predator has raided my box?
  • This is a common question we receive during the breeding season, so we created a Nest Box Troubleshooting Guide for nest box monitors.

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  • How can I discourage predators from accessing my nest boxes?
  • The best way to guard against predators is to mount the box on a smooth, slippery pole and to install a predator guard or baffle on that pole. Galvanized pipe or PVC pipe are both slippery, smooth surfaces that most predators will have difficulty climbing. Trees, wooden fence posts, and fence posts intended for wire fence won’t stop most predators, as all of these provide toe-holds for climbers, or rough surfaces for snakes. Adding a predator guard or baffle will help prevent most predators from accessing your nest box. Learn more about predator guards and download construction plans for them from our Dealing with Predators page. Also, be sure your nest box is not set up next to a tree or similar object that allows predators to access the box from overhead or adjacent surfaces.

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  • What should I do if another bird interferes with a nest I’m watching?
  • If another bird takes over the nest, while the original birds had eggs or young in the nest, there is a special way to report this to NestWatch:

    • Summarize the original bird’s nest and choose the outcome “Failure due to takeover by another bird” and record the species if you know it. Finish summarizing the nest and end the attempt.
    • Start a new attempt for the bird species that took over. You can enter data as normal for this new nest. If the bird is non-native and you wish to manage the nest, please select the appropriate outcome when summarizing this new attempt (“Invasive Species Management”). Otherwise, native competitors must be allowed to nest as normal.

    Both native and non-native species have been known to take over nests of other birds. The most common non-native nest usurpers in North America are House Sparrows and European Starlings. We have more information and tips for legally managing these species here.

    Native birds, on the other hand, are protected by federal law in North America; it is illegal to disturb the nest or eggs of any native bird species. Though it may not be pleasant to observe, nests and eggs of native species should not be tampered with, including the native Brown-headed Cowbird. House Wrens, for example, are native yet commonly puncture eggs of other cavity-nesting species. For this reason, some nest box landlords prefer not to host House Wrens. If you prefer not to attract House Wrens, make sure your nest boxes are far from shrubs or woods, or add more boxes to help reduce competition.

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  • How do I install a box on a pole?
  • Installing a nest box on a pole (versus attaching it to a tree trunk) is one of the best ways to protect your nest, because this set-up most easily allows you to add more effective predator guards. Cone and stovepipe baffles installed on a pole below the nest box can help prevent climbing predators from reaching the box, such as snakes, raccoons, chipmunks, mice, and more.

    Please always be sure to check with utility companies before you dig.

    To install a nest box on a pole, check out this instructional PDF. The supplies can be purchased for a relatively affordable price at most hardware stores. You can also watch this video that we produced to go along with our curriculum Thinking Outside the (Nest) Box for middle school students, which walks you though the same instructions.

    Note that these instructions are best suited for smaller nest boxes. If you are looking to install a larger box on a pole, such as one for owls, then it may be best to contact a professional construction company for help installing a larger diameter pole, which usually needs to be installed several feet into the ground for stability.

    If using a pole is not feasible, check out our blog to learn more about a newer predator guard design that has been shown to be effective when installed below tree-mounted boxes.

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  • Where can I download construction plans for predator guards?
  • Recent research using NestWatch data suggests that, on average, nests in boxes with predator guards had success rates 6.7% higher than nests in boxes without guards. And while all types of guards were correlated with improved nesting success, birds nesting in boxes with cone-type baffles, stovepipe baffles, or entrance hole extenders (also called “wooden block hole guards”) were most likely to result in successful nesting.

    You can find construction plans for these guards at the bottom of our Dealing with Predators page. Click on the name of the guard type to open a PDF construction plan.

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Problems

  • What should I do if I see a young bird out of the nest?
  • If you see a bird outside of its nest, the first thing to do is to determine whether it is a nestling or fledgling. Fledglings are fully feathered and alert, while nestlings often still have some bare skin showing. It is not uncommon for fledglings to look helpless, but once the bird has left the nest, it should be left alone – the parents are likely nearby. Contrary to popular belief, birds do not fly strongly as soon as they leave the nest. Fledglings often hop along the ground or among shrubs and are fed by their parents for a few weeks before becoming independent.

    If you find a nestling outside of a nest, however, please follow the advice on this webpage. If the bird is injured, then call a local certified Wildlife Rehabilitator or Wildlife Veterinarian.  In the meantime:

    • Do not wait near the nest or nestling to see if the parents will return. If you are too close, they will not come back. Watch from a distance if you wish.
    • Do not try to feed the bird yourself. An incorrect diet can cause deformities, disease, or even death. Moreover, young birds need to be fed several times every hour, all day long: you will not be able to keep up.
    • Do not force-feed them water. Young birds do not drink in nature—they receive their water from the food they eat.
    • Remember that the longer you stay with the young bird, the less likely it is to survive.

    In North America, federal laws prohibit handling and/or possessing wild birds without a federal permit, so do not keep or attempt to raise any wild birds that you find. Most often, this does more harm than good. Although it may be difficult to accept, a young birds’ best chance at survival is in the wild.

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  • What do I do about birds building a nest in an inappropriate place on my property?
  • The best advice is to stop this process as soon as it starts. Remove the nest materials by hand or with a hose, making sure not to injure any nearby wildlife. This should be done daily, or even multiple times a day, because this action is only appropriate in the beginning stages of nest building. If you are in North America, and nesting has already begun and eggs are present, the nest is protected by federal law, which prohibits injury or disturbance to wild birds, their eggs, and young.

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  • Why did my nest fail?
  • Nests can fail for a variety of reasons. Typically, unfavorable environmental conditions, chemical use, predator presence, and limits on food availability are the most common causes of nest mortality. Our Nest Box Troubleshooting Guide may also be helpful in determining a reason.

    Additionally:

    • Poor environmental conditions can cause nest failure. Though most nest boxes have adequate insulation and ventilation, they may meet their limits during extreme weather.
    • Cold or rainy weather can also impact insect populations that birds rely on – many songbird species feed young insects exclusively. Use of chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, or even herbicides can be a problem as well. These often affect more than just the target species; if you spray for insects, birds may ingest those insects coated with chemicals, spraying herbicides will often contaminate anything that touches that sprayed area, and even use of rodenticides has been shown to have negative effects on raptors, such as owls. It’s best not to use any of these chemicals if you wish to support a wildlife-friendly yard.
    • Starvation could occur under several situations, such as limited food availability due to adverse weather (reducing insect populations or other natural food sources) or if one parent disappears during the nestling stage. Though the other parent can sometimes make up for the for the loss by increasing their feeding rate, it’s also possible they may abandon the nest and start over.
    • Eggs can be non-viable for a variety of reasons: infertility, environmental conditions like weather or chemical use, or something that caused the eggs to be cracked. There is also an increase in the chance of infertile eggs as the breeding season progresses (in 2nd and 3rd broods) – it takes a lot of energy to create and lay the eggs.
    • There are many animals that predate bird nests, including racoons, cats, chipmunks and some other rodents, snakes, and even other birds. If you have a nest box, adding a predator guard can help increase nesting success. However, there is not much that can be done for open-cup nests, other than to follow the advice in our Code of Conduct to help avoid detection of the nest by predators.
    • Species competing for a nest box may usurp one that contains an active nest. House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native in North America and may kill nestlings and occasionally an adult bird. Find tips on how to deal with these species here.
    • On rare occasions, severe parasite infestations can render the young so weak they cannot survive. However, just because you find mites in the nest, doesn’t mean bad news for the nest. Check out our blog to learn more.
    • Genetic disorders and chemical poisoning may result in death of the birds, but these are difficult to diagnose without lab analysis.

    Unfortunately, many birds’ nests are unsuccessful in the wild, and even when monitors do everything possible to help increase those chances, there are still some things beyond our control. Rest assured this is one of the reasons why birds lay so many eggs and have multiple broods per year – they are accounting for these inevitable losses.

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  • What should I do with unhatched eggs or dead young in the nest?
  • Eggs can fail to hatch for a variety of reasons: infertility, environmental conditions like weather or chemical use, or physical damage to the eggshell. There is also an increase in the chance of infertile eggs as the breeding season progresses—it takes a lot of energy to create and lay the eggs, and sometimes this can mean smaller clutch sizes and decreased chances of hatching in later nests. Likewise, young can die in the nest for several reasons. NestWatchers often ask what should be done with unhatched eggs or dead young, especially in cases when the nest is likely to be used again (e.g., a nest box, a nest on your porch).

    Once the nest is “inactive”—that is, there are no viable eggs or live young—it is safe, and legal, to clean out a nest. We recommend disposing of those eggs, deceased young, and/or nest materials (e.g., if you’re cleaning out a nest box) in a place where they won’t attract insects to the nest area. If there are dead nestlings or unhatched eggs in an “active” nest (one that also contains living eggs or young) then it’s best to leave them in the nest until the other young fledge to reduce disturbance. If you suspect a clutch will not hatch, we recommend waiting four weeks past the expected hatch date before removing the eggs. This allows for a possible delay in incubation, as well as variation in incubation period lengths. It is illegal to handle or remove a native bird’s nest while it is still active, and we have had several reports of monitors that assume their nest has been abandoned, only to find later that eggs have hatched, meaning that the adult was tending to the nest all the while. Once you’re sure eggs won’t hatch, you can remove dead eggs from the nest and remove soiled nesting material as needed.

    Unfortunately, many birds’ nests are unsuccessful in the wild, and even when monitors do everything possible to help increase those chances, there are still some things beyond our control. Rest assured this is one of the reasons why birds lay so many eggs and can have multiple broods per year—they are compensating for the inevitable losses they will endure.

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  • What should I do if another bird interferes with a nest I’m watching?
  • If another bird takes over the nest, while the original birds had eggs or young in the nest, there is a special way to report this to NestWatch:

    • Summarize the original bird’s nest and choose the outcome “Failure due to takeover by another bird” and record the species if you know it. Finish summarizing the nest and end the attempt.
    • Start a new attempt for the bird species that took over. You can enter data as normal for this new nest. If the bird is non-native and you wish to manage the nest, please select the appropriate outcome when summarizing this new attempt (“Invasive Species Management”). Otherwise, native competitors must be allowed to nest as normal.

    Both native and non-native species have been known to take over nests of other birds. The most common non-native nest usurpers in North America are House Sparrows and European Starlings. We have more information and tips for legally managing these species here.

    Native birds, on the other hand, are protected by federal law in North America; it is illegal to disturb the nest or eggs of any native bird species. Though it may not be pleasant to observe, nests and eggs of native species should not be tampered with, including the native Brown-headed Cowbird. House Wrens, for example, are native yet commonly puncture eggs of other cavity-nesting species. For this reason, some nest box landlords prefer not to host House Wrens. If you prefer not to attract House Wrens, make sure your nest boxes are far from shrubs or woods, or add more boxes to help reduce competition.

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  • I haven’t seen an adult bird in a while. Is the nest abandoned?
  • You may see birds very frequently as they build their nests—they are constantly flying back and forth as they add more and more materials to their nest. However, once the nest is built, the adults often seem to disappear. This is because the female is now visiting the nest only once each day to lay an egg, and often in the early morning. Once the entire clutch is laid, one or both parents will begin incubating and will minimize activity around the nest to avoid detection by predators. Soon the eggs will hatch, and you’ll start seeing the adults moving around again; they’ll be flying back and forth constantly, only this time with food in their beaks.

    For a nest containing eggs, it’s best to allow four weeks to account for a possible delay in incubation as well as the typical incubation time (this may need to be extended by a week or two for species with longer incubation times, such as ducks). If you do not see any adults near the nest and there is no progress (no hatched eggs, etc.) after four (or more) weeks, the nest may have been abandoned.

    For a nest containing young, often nestlings may appear to be abandoned when they are actually not. When young are old enough, they don’t have to rely on their parents for warmth and the adults also don’t need to visit as often, and may only be stopping by very quickly to deliver food. The less activity there is at the nest (i.e. the parent visiting it and moving around nearby) the less likely it is to attract predators. We have several reports from participants who believe a nest is abandoned, only to find that the eggs hatch or young fledge in the normal span of time, which indicates that the parent(s) were tending the nest all the while.

    Typically, birds may abandon nests for a variety of reasons: they may have been disturbed too often, often by predators or human activity; something may have caused the eggs to be nonviable (infertility, environmental conditions, or a cracked eggshell); or the parents themselves could have run into trouble. Sometimes, if one parent dies, the other may abandon the nest, especially in species where they rely on each other to successfully feed and raise the chicks. Nests with young are rarely abandoned, and therefore, you should not intervene unless you are certain that both parents have been killed (or the main caregiver, for species in which only one parent cares for the young). Do not try to care for the egg/young yourself. In this case, the next step is to call a federally certified Wildlife Rehabilitator.

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  • Insects are in my box! What should I do?
  • In most cases, nothing.

    Ants are commonly found in nest boxes, but if you specifically have fire ants (most common in the southern US) then we have tips to discourage them on our Dealing with Predators page.

    Mites can also be found in nest boxes. Mites are ectoparasites, like some insects, ticks, and other small arthropods. There are beneficial mites (e.g., ones that eat dead skin off of birds’ feathers) and parasitic mites (e.g., those that feed on the blood of birds). In most cases, it’s best to leave them be. While we understand it can be distressing to find mites in your nest box, keep in mind that birds have evolved with the mites for millennia and have developed their own defenses to help guard against infestations. For example, House Wrens will sometimes add spider egg sacs to their nest materials, which is believed to help reduce mite infestations.

    Never add chemicals, insecticides, or diatomaceous earth into nests, even if the nests are not currently active, as even small residues could harm the delicate nestlings. Furthermore, we don’t know how eliminating such parasites can affect the immune strength of nestlings. You can learn more about mites on our blog.

    Often, insects or other arthropods that are found in nest boxes are harmless, though rarely mite or blowfly infestations may get bad enough to harm the nestlings. Recent research suggests that attempts by nest monitors to manage ectoparasites in their nests are not helpful to nestling survival, so it’s best to let things progress naturally.

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  • Can I water my planter while a nest is in it?
  • Generally, we recommend against watering planters when they contain an active nest. Water can reduce the temperature of eggs rapidly, and damp nest material is a less effective insulator. Nestlings are also susceptible to changes in temperature. If a bird nests in your planter, we suggest using watering tools that deliver water directly to the roots. These are often made of glass or plastic and look like a sphere with a long tube attached. You can fill the device with water, stick it in the soil, and the water slowly releases into the soil below the surface. This keeps water from pooling and potentially reaching the nest contents, and also reduces the number of times you need to disturb the nest since the devices don’t need to be refilled every day.  Win-win!

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  • Can I remove Brown-headed Cowbird eggs from a nest?
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America, and therefore protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the United States, and similar laws in Canada and Mexico. Tampering with their eggs or young is against these federal laws unless you hold a special permit.

    Keep in mind, this is the cowbird’s natural nesting strategy, and such brood parasitism occurs by many species all over the world. Brown-headed Cowbirds are not implicated as a major cause of decline in other bird species, except for a small few such as the Kirtland’s Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. However, biologists have implemented special cowbird trapping programs in specific breeding areas to help these threatened species.  Learn more about Brown-headed Cowbirds here.

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Bird Biology

Get answers to questions about nesting biology, bird behavior, what to expect, and common problems.

Bird ID Tips

  • How can I identify what kinds of birds are in my backyard?
  • The best way to start is to learn to identify the types of birds in your yard during the spring and summer (fall or winter plumage identification can come later). The birds in your yard may just be passing through to their breeding grounds, or they may actually stay to nest in your neighborhood.

    You may wish to purchase a bird identification field guide specific to your region to learn the typical birds in your area. These books include color photographs or drawings, and descriptions of the birds you may find in your back yard. Another great tool is the free Merlin Bird ID app, also by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Merlin makes identifying birds fast and easy; answer five easy questions, upload a photo, or record sound to generate a list of likely species. Learn more and find out how to download Merlin from this webpage.

    If you happen to find a nest and are unsure of the species that built it, check out the Common Nesting Birds tool on our website. You can also purchase a guide to local nests, such as A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison.  If you’re still having trouble, follow our guidelines for taking a photograph, and send it to us at nestwatch@cornell.edu. Get two or three angles of the nest, include the eggs in at least one shot if you can, be sure to tell us where you saw it (your general region/state/province is fine), and what the surrounding habitat was like (e.g., in a forest, open field, beach, near a large body of water, etc.).

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  • What are brood parasites?
  • Brood parasites are birds that lay eggs in other species’ nests.

    North America’s most common brood parasite is the Brown-headed Cowbird (Shiny Cowbird and Bronzed Cowbird occur in localized areas of the southernmost United States and Caribbean). These native birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, who then incubate their eggs and raise the cowbirds as their own. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay as many as 36 eggs in a season. Over 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds. Host parents often accept the cowbird egg, but different species react in different ways. Some destroy the egg by pecking or removing it, others build a new layer over the bottom of the original nest to restart their nesting process, and some expel the cowbird nestlings from the nest.

    It’s important to note that Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America and therefore protected under federal law, meaning that their eggs should not be removed from nests unless the monitor holds special federal permits (some states have programs in place to protect endangered species). You can learn more about Brown-headed Cowbirds here.

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Nesting Biology

  • How long is the incubation period for my backyard birds? How long until the young ones leave the nest?
  • The length of time varies from species to species. This webpage shows average clutch size, incubation and nestling period for a number of backyard birds. Note, these are averages, and actual numbers vary depending on location and time of year. You can also use our Common Nesting Birds page or All About Birds to determine the average incubation or nestling period of birds.

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  • How do I estimate first egg, hatch, and fledge dates?
  • We define these dates as:

    • First Egg Date – Estimated date when the first egg was laid for each nest attempt.
    • Hatch Date – Estimated date that the first egg hatched for each nest attempt.
    • Fledge Date – Estimated date that the first nestling left the nest, for each nest attempt.

    Since it is difficult to record a complete nesting chronology, we ask participants to provide estimates on first egg, hatch, and fledge dates for their attempt summary output. In the case of virtually all songbirds, you can calculate a first egg date by backdating using the assumption that one egg is laid per day.

    Suppose you encountered 2 eggs in the nest on May 10 and you visit the same nest again on May 13 and discover 4 eggs. Counting backward one egg/day, we know the first egg was laid on May 9. The second egg was laid on May 10, the third on May 11, and the fourth and last egg on May 12. Once the clutch is complete, the female will start incubating after the ultimate (last) or penultimate (second to last) egg is laid. This backdating method does not work if the number of eggs is not observed to increase. For example, hummingbirds and doves typically lay 2 eggs, and it is easy to miss the egg-laying period. It would not be correct to assume that if you find a nest with 2 eggs, you should count backwards one day; you would need to see the egg count increase in order to estimate first egg date. The more eggs a bird lays, the easier it becomes to estimate the first egg date.

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  • What are brood parasites?
  • Brood parasites are birds that lay eggs in other species’ nests.

    North America’s most common brood parasite is the Brown-headed Cowbird (Shiny Cowbird and Bronzed Cowbird occur in localized areas of the southernmost United States and Caribbean). These native birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, who then incubate their eggs and raise the cowbirds as their own. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay as many as 36 eggs in a season. Over 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds. Host parents often accept the cowbird egg, but different species react in different ways. Some destroy the egg by pecking or removing it, others build a new layer over the bottom of the original nest to restart their nesting process, and some expel the cowbird nestlings from the nest.

    It’s important to note that Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America and therefore protected under federal law, meaning that their eggs should not be removed from nests unless the monitor holds special federal permits (some states have programs in place to protect endangered species). You can learn more about Brown-headed Cowbirds here.

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  • Can I remove Brown-headed Cowbird eggs from a nest?
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America, and therefore protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the United States, and similar laws in Canada and Mexico. Tampering with their eggs or young is against these federal laws unless you hold a special permit.

    Keep in mind, this is the cowbird’s natural nesting strategy, and such brood parasitism occurs by many species all over the world. Brown-headed Cowbirds are not implicated as a major cause of decline in other bird species, except for a small few such as the Kirtland’s Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. However, biologists have implemented special cowbird trapping programs in specific breeding areas to help these threatened species.  Learn more about Brown-headed Cowbirds here.

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  • Where can I learn more about the nesting habits of birds?
  • Check out the species pages on our Common Nesting Birds tool to view typical clutch sizes, average incubation and brooding times, photos of nests and eggs, seasonal timing of nesting for each species, and more!

    You can also find nesting information for birds in the Life History section of the species pages listed on All About Birds.

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Data Entry

Get answers to questions about recording data on our website and using our smartphone app.

Data Entry Protocol

  • I’m new. How do I enter data for a nest I found?
  • Here’s a simple break-down of how to enter data.

    If you are entering data on our website:

    • First, sign in to (or create) your account at NestWatch.org
    • Next, go to Your Data home page and click “Add new nest site.” Tell us where you found the nest, either by typing in the latitude and longitude, or entering the nearest mailing address. Once the marker is placed, scroll down to name the site and fill out the rest of the nest site details, such as where the nest was found and what the surrounding habitat is like.
    • When you’re done, you should see the option to “Start a new nesting attempt.” This is where you will record all of your nest visits to this particular nest. Enter as much information as you can for your visit(s). You can either fill out your nest visits after each nest check, or all at once at the end – it’s up to you. You will have the option to submit data in “Single Entry Mode” or “Table Entry mode” – table entry mode will allow you to see all of the nest visits you have submitted so far.
    • After the young in this nest have left the nest, click “Summarize nesting attempt” to tell us the nest outcome and other important information. Again, fill this section out to the best of your ability- it’s ok to leave some fields blank.
    • When you’re done, click “end nesting attempt” to close out the attempt. Then, you’ll have the option to start a new attempt for the next clutch of eggs, if applicable.

    Find more tips in our Data Entry Tutorial Videos, or the green “show instructions” button near the top of Your Data home page.

    If you are entering data on the app:

    • When you’re signed in to the NestWatch mobile app and on the “Home” screen, look along the bottom of the page and tap “Add nest.”
    • Choose the location either by entering the coordinates manually or using the marker. If using the marker, you can also use the “Enter precision mode” toggle to drag the map underneath the marker to record a nest site that is not near to your current position.
    • Next name the nest, fill out as many nest site details as you can, and then tap the “Create nest” button at the bottom of the screen.
    • On the next page, tap “Start attempt” to begin recording data for a nest. You will be brought to a page to fill out the data for your first nest visit. Tap “Submit” when you’re done.
    • For each subsequent nest visit, tap “My nests” at the bottom of the app homepage, select your nest site, and then tap “Add visit.” When the nest attempt is finished (the young have fledged), tap “End attempt” on that same page to tell us the outcome of the nest.
    • After you have ended your attempt, the nest site page will show the options to “Start attempt” or “Archive nest” Learn more about when you should archive nests.

    Note: Each nesting attempt should record one clutch of eggs, from start to finish. Some nest sites will have multiple nest attempts listed, from more than one species. For more information, read the definitions between a Nest Site, Nest Attempt, and Nest Visit here, and view our data structure here.

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  • What are some common data entry mistakes?
  • Sometimes, monitors make mistakes when entering data. Read on to avoid some common pitfalls:

    • Creating a new nest site for every year/breeding season. You are already entering dates for each of your nest visits, so you can re-use the same nest site year after year, as long as that box/site has not been moved or taken down.
    • Recording too many visits. Nest checks should be made every 3-4 days at most. For a typical songbird nest, this equates to about 10 checks per nest attempt. Read more tips in our Code of Conduct. If you have a camera on a nest, it is okay to report once a day as long as the birds are not disturbed.
    • Making a new attempt for every nest visit. Some monitors have mistakenly started a new nesting attempt for each time they visit the nest, rather than adding all their nest visits under one nesting attempt. Remember, the nest attempt should be a record of one clutch of eggs from start to finish. Review the data structure here.
    • Adding data from more than one clutch of eggs in a single nest attempt. Do not add data from more than one clutch to your nest attempt record. For example, if your first clutch of eggs disappears before they hatch, and then on your next nest visit you see several eggs, you should summarize the attempt with the appropriate outcome for that first clutch (a failed attempt). Then, start a new nest attempt to report on the new clutch, even if you think the new clutch has been laid by the same bird. Similarly, do not add together multiple nests into one attempt (e.g., 4 eggs in Box 1 plus 5 eggs in Box 2 = 9 eggs). In NestWatch, each nest gets reported separately.
    • Entering the first egg date. A few people have entered the wrong date in the nest summary when asked for the “First Egg Laid Date.” If you accidentally put down the first day of incubation, you can easily count back to the day the first egg was laid, because birds generally lay one egg per day, and incubate almost immediately after the last egg is laid. Remember, this question is about the first date on which an egg was laid, NOT the first date which you saw an egg (e.g., you might not see the eggs until well after the first egg is laid).
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  • How can I archive a nest site?
  • Nest sites can be archived when they are no longer in use, or if the nest box itself has been moved (a new nest site should be created when a nest box is moved more than 12 inches in any direction). Archiving a nest site removes it from your nest site map and yet ensures that the data recorded for that nest site remains in our database.

    To archive a nest site, find the nest site under your Nest Site List and click “Manage Location.” On the following page, you’ll see an option to “Archive this nest.” You can always view or un-archive nest sites by using the “Manage archived nests” button on your data homepage.

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  • What is the difference between a nest site, nest visit, and nest attempt?
  • All three of these terms refer to the NestWatch data entry process:

    • A nest site is the physical location of the nest. A nest site can contain multiple attempts and can represent a cup nest, a nest box, or any other nest structure. When you create a nest site, you will be asked to choose a description of the nest and describe its general surroundings.
    • A nest visit is a single event where you visit the nest and collect data about the nesting attempt, such as number of eggs, number of live young, etc. present on that day. Visits should last no longer than 60 seconds and occur only once every 3 to 4 days at most.
    • A nest attempt describes a nest from egg laying to fledging (or another fate) and represents the totality of your nest visits. You should create a new nest attempt in NestWatch each time a pair begins a new clutch. Once the nest fledges or fails and you are done recording nest visits, you should summarize the attempt by entering the outcome and other summary information, and then click “End This Attempt” to close it out. Once you have done this, you will again have the option to “Add an Attempt” to that nest site, which will allow you to create additional attempts to report on subsequent nests built at that nest site.

    Note: Many nest sites representing an open cup nest have only one nest attempt recorded, and then may never be used again. However, nest boxes are often used repeatedly, and it is particularly important for nest box monitors to separately record each nesting within the same nest box as a unique attempt. Do not record nest visits indefinitely under a single attempt unless you are keeping track of empty nests. Nest attempts that contain data from more than one nesting would be inaccurate, and therefore, much more difficult to interpret. If you have questions about when it is appropriate to begin a new nesting attempt, please contact us.

    Please use this webpage to view our data structure and scroll down for more definitions.

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  • How do I estimate first egg, hatch, and fledge dates?
  • We define these dates as:

    • First Egg Date – Estimated date when the first egg was laid for each nest attempt.
    • Hatch Date – Estimated date that the first egg hatched for each nest attempt.
    • Fledge Date – Estimated date that the first nestling left the nest, for each nest attempt.

    Since it is difficult to record a complete nesting chronology, we ask participants to provide estimates on first egg, hatch, and fledge dates for their attempt summary output. In the case of virtually all songbirds, you can calculate a first egg date by backdating using the assumption that one egg is laid per day.

    Suppose you encountered 2 eggs in the nest on May 10 and you visit the same nest again on May 13 and discover 4 eggs. Counting backward one egg/day, we know the first egg was laid on May 9. The second egg was laid on May 10, the third on May 11, and the fourth and last egg on May 12. Once the clutch is complete, the female will start incubating after the ultimate (last) or penultimate (second to last) egg is laid. This backdating method does not work if the number of eggs is not observed to increase. For example, hummingbirds and doves typically lay 2 eggs, and it is easy to miss the egg-laying period. It would not be correct to assume that if you find a nest with 2 eggs, you should count backwards one day; you would need to see the egg count increase in order to estimate first egg date. The more eggs a bird lays, the easier it becomes to estimate the first egg date.

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  • What’s the difference between “observed” and “estimated” dates in data entry?
  • Usually, first egg, hatch, and fledge dates are estimated—relatively few monitors catch them occurring on the actual day. These dates should only be marked “observed” if you saw them happening or there is little chance for them to be wrong. For example, if you checked the nest one day and it was empty, and then you checked again the next day and found an egg in it, “observed” would be appropriate for your first-egg date entry. Since we know most songbirds lay one egg per day, and you know it was not there the day before, it’s unlikely that egg was laid any other day. For this reason, if you visit the nest during the egg-laying period and observe the number of eggs increasing, you can usually estimate the first-egg date by counting backwards one egg per day.

    For hatching date, “observed” would be appropriate if you checked the box and saw both hatched and unhatched eggs, with small young that have obviously just hatched, or are in the middle of hatching. Broken eggshells are normally seen at this time too, though parents often take them away shortly after the nestling frees itself. Note that sometimes one or more eggs won’t hatch, so if you see both eggs and nestlings in the nest, but don’t see birds actively hatching, you will want to confirm whether those remaining eggs hatched on your next check. If the eggs remain in the nest, then they are likely nonviable, and you should use “estimated” for the hatch day.

    For the fledge date, an “observed” date would be appropriate if you watched the young leave the nest (either in person or via a nest camera). Otherwise, it’s best to use “estimated” dates. Be sure to follow the NestWatch Code of Conduct, which states that it’s best to hold off checking the nest near the expected fledging date, as this could cause the birds to fledge prematurely.

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  • When can I use an existing site for a new nest attempt, and when should I create a new nest site?
  • Identical nests where the same exact nest site location can be used for multiple attempts include:

    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved or adjusted
    • nests in the same fork of the same tree branch
    • nests in the same clump of grass (where a “clump” is something with a diameter of not more than 6″)
    • nests in different nest boxes, when one box is replaced on the same pole by a different box of the same approximate size
    • A second nest built on top of the first by the same (or a different) species

    If a nest is not in the exact, identical location as a previous nest, then a new nest site should be created. Cases where you should create distinct or new sites include:

    • nests in the same nest box, but the box has been moved any distance away from its original location
    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved, but the height of the box has been raised by 12 inches or more
    • there are two nests on different forks of the same tree branch
    • nests in two different cavities in the same snag, but at different heights in the trunk
    • nests in two cavities in the same snag at the same height, but on different sides of the trunk
    • nests in two clumps of grass that are 12 inches apart or more
    • nests on the same rafter in a barn, and are 12 inches apart or more
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  • How can I tell my data were saved?
  • When entering data on our website, your data are saved continuously. However, if you have a poor internet connection, we recommend double-checking the “Save” button on the bottom left of your Nest Attempt page. It should look yellow and read “all data saved.” Otherwise, you’ll see a green “save” button. It’s always good to check this before navigating away from the page. Once it says “all data saved” you can navigate away or close the webpage.

    On the app, your data are similarly saved to your phone when you finish adding the nest visit data. To make sure this gets properly uploaded to the database, be sure to “sync” your data if you are prompted (e.g., if you have been in a low-service area and return to better service, you might see a prompt). To sync, open the app menu and check the “Unsynced Data” option.

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  • How do I edit an attempt after it has been finalized?
  • The NestWatch app shows only the latest nesting attempt that has been entered on each Nest Site. So, for example, if you ended one attempt and then immediately started another attempt, you would no longer be able to see or edit the first attempt.

    If you need to edit the nest fate, nest totals (clutch size, unhatched eggs, live young, or fledglings), or any other data for a nest you have already summarized, please follow the instructions below:

    • Log in to Your Data home page.
    • Open your Nest Site List, find the relevant nest site, and select “View Site Summary.” You will see all of the nest attempts that you’ve added to that site.
    • Find the nest attempt you wish to edit (the most recent attempts are listed at the top) and select the “Edit attempt” option. This will bring you to the nest attempt page containing the data entry table.
    • Above the table, select the button, “Reopen attempt for editing.”
    • Make any edits you wish, and then scroll to the bottom of the data entry table and select “Summarize this nesting attempt.” Make any edits needed and then select “End this nesting attempt” to save and exit.
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  • How can I delete my nest site, nesting attempt, or nest visit?
  • First, note that your data live in your account, so deleting any data from your account will also delete it in our database. Only delete this data if it is erroneous – there is no way to recover deleted data. If you simply wish to remove old or unused nest sites from your map, please use the archive option. Archiving nests saves the data in our database but allows for a cleaner map view.

    To delete a nest visit, you’ll see a red circle with a “minus” sign next to each row of data on your nesting attempt page when you’re in table entry mode. Click this red button to delete that row of data.

    To delete a nesting attempt, all nest visits must first be deleted. When all nest visits have been deleted, you’ll see a red “delete attempt” button appear on the bottom right of the nesting attempt page. Alternatively, you can click the green “Nest Site List” button above the map on your data homepage and click “View Site Summary” under the correct nest site. Then, navigate to the correct nesting attempt. If there are no nest visits listed for that nesting attempt, you’ll see the option to “delete attempt” underneath the “edit attempt” button. Otherwise, click “Edit attempt” to delete the erroneous nest visits.

    To delete a nest site, all nesting attempts must be first be deleted. Once all nesting data is deleted from the nest site, find the nest site listed under the green “Nest Site List” button and click “View Site Summary”. On the next page, you should see an option to “delete this site” on the top left.

    Note that deleting data must be done on our website. Delete options are not yet available on our mobile app.

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  • Why can’t I delete some of my nest sites?
  • You may have already entered nest attempts (data) for that nest site. In order to delete the nest site you must first delete all nest attempts associated with that site.

    Read here for instructions on how to delete erroneous nest data.

    Alternatively, if your nest site does not have any data on it, and you still don’t see the delete button on the Site Summary page, then double check whether that nest site has been added to a group. Click the “Manage Your Groups” button on Your Data home page to see all of your groups. Make sure the nest site you wish to delete does not have a checkmark next to it for any of the groups you’ve created. A nest site cannot be deleted if it is part of a group.

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  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Taking photos in moderation is not a problem for nesting birds, and as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, disturbance remains low. Photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits to less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to stress the birds.

    You can add up to three photos to each nest visit that you report to NestWatch. You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Read the full terms and conditions here. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • How can I submit photos of a nest?
  • There is a button on each nest attempt page on the website that reads “Add Photos.” Click this to choose the nest visit date and upload your photo. Up to three photos can be attached to each nest visit you have recorded.

    If you’re using the app, you will have the ability to add photos when you fill out your nest visit data. You can also add a photo to your visit after you’ve entered your nest visit data by using the “Edit” toggle at the top of the nest attempt page in the app and then tapping on a row in the “Observations” table to edit data for that specific visit.

    You can also submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery. Use the “Upload your photo or video” tab along the top of the gallery to upload your photo. You can then sign in, or you can choose to submit as a guest.  

    Note: You should always prioritize the safety of the birds over taking a good photograph of a nest. Remember to keep nest visits under a minute in length, and do not keep parents off the nest during bad weather or when predators are nearby.

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  • What are groups?
  • Groups are a tool we have developed for nest monitors to organize nest sites by similar locations, trails, dates, species, or any category you can think of. To manage your groups, log in to Your Data home page. From there, click the “Manage Your Groups” button on the far right-hand side of the page above the map. You can create a group and add nests to it, or delete nests from a group (or delete the entire group).

    You can filter your nest sites by group using the filters in your Nest Site List, or the filter buttons below the map. This will reduce visual clutter when you only need to see certain nests.

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  • I’m part of a monitoring group – how can we get all of our data on the same account?
  • Currently, the easiest way for members of the same group to report data is to simply share one username and password – every person logs in to the same account to enter data (either via the website or our mobile app). All monitors would then be able to see the same data, and multiple people can enter data for the same nest if needed (for example, if a different volunteer checks the same box every week), but this also gives everyone the ability to the change password, the email address, and any data. This option may be best suited for small groups.

    Alternatively, your group members could collect their own data on paper and send these data to one person dedicated to entering all of the data on the online account. This would work best in situations where certain volunteers are responsible for certain boxes throughout the season.

    If you have more questions about group data entry, please feel free to reach out to nestwatch@cornell.edu.

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  • Do I need to add a final nest visit to my attempt?
  • Adding a final nest visit to your attempt showing there are zero live young in the nest is a great way to help confirm your nest outcome. This shows that the nest was indeed empty and the nest is again inactive.

    Note: you should only be reporting the number of eggs and young that are inside the nest (or nest box), so if you see fledglings out on your lawn but none in the nest itself, the appropriate nest visit entry would record “0” young.

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Entering Lots of Data

  • I visited the nest site 50 times; do I have to enter all of my visits?
  • Visiting the nest this often is not necessary and causes too much disturbance at the nest site. As a general rule, 8-10 visits over the course of a nesting attempt will provide meaningful data; a minimum of 3 visits spread across the nesting attempt is strongly encouraged. For more information on reducing disturbance at your nests, please review the Code of Conduct.

    If you are reporting on events using a nest camera, you can report one nest check per day. Reporting more frequently (e.g., multiple times a day) is not necessary.

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  • Do I have to enter ALL of my nest attempt data?
  • Some data is better than no data! If you or your organization lacks the time to enter all nest sites and nest attempts, please feel free to enter a subset of your nesting records as long as you randomly select these sites. It is important that we have a random selection of your nest sites, not just the successful sites or the failed sites. For example, assume you have 30 nest sites total, and of these, 10 were successful, 10 failed, and 10 had an unknown outcome. If you only have time to enter half of these, a random sample would select 5 or so from each group (give or take). In this example, it would bias the database if you only submitted the 10 successful nests. Even though it is not as pleasant to report, data on failed nest attempts is just as important as the successful nests, as it gives us a much more accurate picture of what is actually happening.

    If you have >100 nest attempts that you would like to enter but don’t have time, consider trying our Bulk Import Tool.

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  • Why do you require such detailed data rather than just trail summaries?
  • Some monitors collect only trail summaries, that is, total eggs/nestlings/fledglings summed across all of the nests that they monitor, rather than nest-by-nest data. The reason why we need detailed data is complex, but here is an example that might help explain.

    Imagine that you have 12 apple trees in your yard producing a total sum of 120 apples. If each of the 12 trees had about 10 apples, you might conclude that it was a very bad year, but that all of your trees were healthy. If all 120 apples were on one tree, then you would undoubtedly come to a different conclusion—perhaps hypothesizing that something was killing off your other trees. Summary data for an entire orchard (or trail) would not allow us to make this distinction and yet it is a distinction that is critically important for managing the future of the orchard.

    If we are to become good predictors of, say, bluebird population trends into the future, we need to know how many pairs are reproducing successfully, what their clutch sizes are, how much they vary from one individual or year to the next, and how the number of pairs fluctuates over time. For any study of nest survival, we must have detailed data on each individual nest attempt.

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  • I don’t have time to enter any visits at all; is my nest summary data still valuable?
  • For each nest site, you have the option of reporting your visits to the nest, in addition to a summary of the entire nest attempt (preferred), all of which can be done on the Nest Attempt page. However, if time is a factor, you may choose to enter just the summary information. While the visit information is more powerful for our analyses, the summary information is very quick and easy to enter, is still usable by researchers, and still allows you to export it for your records.

    To enter just the summary information, create a nest site and start a new nesting attempt. Scroll to the bottom of the Nest Attempt page and click “Summarize this nesting attempt.” Enter as much data as you can, and be sure to click “End Nesting Attempt” when you’re finished. Repeat this for each nest attempt summary you’d like to report to NestWatch. Please note, NestWatch data needs to be separated by each clutch of eggs—we cannot accommodate trail totals, season totals, or similar aggregate data. Learn why here.

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  • I have a lot of old nest records. Is there any way to upload them to NestWatch?
  • Yes, we have a bulk import tool that can help. If you have >100 nest attempts that are suitable for NestWatch entry, meaning they are digital and include at least some of the same fields we collect, then please fill out this form and we will contact you regarding your data. We will work with you to determine if we can upload your data and help format the data for importing into a NestWatch account.

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  • I have many nest sites to enter. Is there a way to speed this process up?
  • If your nests or nest boxes have a lot of similar characteristics to your other nest sites (habitat, height, orientation, etc.), you can copy over the information from an existing site’s location (not available on mobile app).

    1. Navigate to Your Data home page. Add the first site and choose the location either by using the map, latitude/longitude, or street address options. Enter as much nest site information as you can. Save this site.
    2. Return to Your Data homepage to add another site, and find the location on the map. This time, choose the option to “Copy the description of an existing site,” which is located on the far right of the Site Description section, just under the map. Select the nest site whose information you want to copy, name the new site, and click “Save”. Afterwards, you can always edit the individual site locations and descriptions from the Your Data homepage by clicking “Manage Location” under the relevant nest site listed in your Nest Site List.
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NestWatch Mobile App

  • How do I download the NestWatch app?
  • On an iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device:

    • While using your iPhone/iPad, use this link to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.
    • Alternatively, open the “App Store” from your Apple device. Search for “NestWatch” by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, find the app in the results list, then tap “Get.” The app should begin installing – you’ll see the “Get” button change to “Open” when the installation is finished.
    • If you still can’t see the app, or if there is no “Open” button, you may have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that is running an older iOS version. Click here to view the current software requirements for iOS devices. You can check your device’s iOS version by going to Settings → General → About.  On the About page, look for the version number. The version number often has one or two decimals (e.g. 13.3.3, or 14.1). To update your iOS, just go to Settings → General → Software Update.

    On an Android device:

    • While using your device, use this link to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.
    • Alternatively, on your Android device, go to the Play Store app. Tap the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner to search. Type “NestWatch” into the search bar and start the search. Find “NestWatch” by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the results list and then tap “Install.”
    • If you are unable to find the app in the Play Store, your device may be running an older version of the Android operating system. Click here to view the current software requirements for Android devices. You can check your Android operating system version by going to: Settings → About Phone or About Device. The Android version number is usually a number without decimals (e.g. Android 11).

    If your device does not allow you to update your iOS or Android system, then the device hardware may be too outdated to run the NestWatch app. Please note that updates are meant to keep up with security improvements and are the surest way to have a safe and secure experience on your device. If this is the case, you may instead need to enter your data online on NestWatch.org. Sign in here to get started.

    link
  • I’m new. How do I enter data for a nest I found?
  • Here’s a simple break-down of how to enter data.

    If you are entering data on our website:

    • First, sign in to (or create) your account at NestWatch.org
    • Next, go to Your Data home page and click “Add new nest site.” Tell us where you found the nest, either by typing in the latitude and longitude, or entering the nearest mailing address. Once the marker is placed, scroll down to name the site and fill out the rest of the nest site details, such as where the nest was found and what the surrounding habitat is like.
    • When you’re done, you should see the option to “Start a new nesting attempt.” This is where you will record all of your nest visits to this particular nest. Enter as much information as you can for your visit(s). You can either fill out your nest visits after each nest check, or all at once at the end – it’s up to you. You will have the option to submit data in “Single Entry Mode” or “Table Entry mode” – table entry mode will allow you to see all of the nest visits you have submitted so far.
    • After the young in this nest have left the nest, click “Summarize nesting attempt” to tell us the nest outcome and other important information. Again, fill this section out to the best of your ability- it’s ok to leave some fields blank.
    • When you’re done, click “end nesting attempt” to close out the attempt. Then, you’ll have the option to start a new attempt for the next clutch of eggs, if applicable.

    Find more tips in our Data Entry Tutorial Videos, or the green “show instructions” button near the top of Your Data home page.

    If you are entering data on the app:

    • When you’re signed in to the NestWatch mobile app and on the “Home” screen, look along the bottom of the page and tap “Add nest.”
    • Choose the location either by entering the coordinates manually or using the marker. If using the marker, you can also use the “Enter precision mode” toggle to drag the map underneath the marker to record a nest site that is not near to your current position.
    • Next name the nest, fill out as many nest site details as you can, and then tap the “Create nest” button at the bottom of the screen.
    • On the next page, tap “Start attempt” to begin recording data for a nest. You will be brought to a page to fill out the data for your first nest visit. Tap “Submit” when you’re done.
    • For each subsequent nest visit, tap “My nests” at the bottom of the app homepage, select your nest site, and then tap “Add visit.” When the nest attempt is finished (the young have fledged), tap “End attempt” on that same page to tell us the outcome of the nest.
    • After you have ended your attempt, the nest site page will show the options to “Start attempt” or “Archive nest” Learn more about when you should archive nests.

    Note: Each nesting attempt should record one clutch of eggs, from start to finish. Some nest sites will have multiple nest attempts listed, from more than one species. For more information, read the definitions between a Nest Site, Nest Attempt, and Nest Visit here, and view our data structure here.

    link
  • What are the current operating system requirements for the NestWatch mobile app?
  • Android devices need an operating system of at least Android 7. You can check your Android operating system version by going to: Settings → About Phone or About Device. The Android version number is usually a number without decimals (e.g. Android 11).

    iOS devices need an operating system of at least iOS 12.0. You can check your device’s iOS version by going to Settings → General → About.  On the About page, look for the version number. The version number often has one or two decimals (e.g. 13.3.3, or 14.1).

    You can usually update your device’s operating system from the settings. If your device does not allow you to update your iOS or Android system, then the device hardware may be too outdated to run the NestWatch app. Please note that updates are meant to keep up with security improvements and are the surest way to have a safe and secure experience on your device. If this is the case, you may instead need to enter your data online on NestWatch.org. Sign in here to get started.

    link
  • How do I update the NestWatch app?
  • If you have Automatic Updates turned on for your device, the app will update automatically. To learn how to check your device’s Automatic Update settings, use this link for your iOS device or this link for your Android device.

    To check whether you need to update the NestWatch app, tap this link on your iOS device or this link on your Android device.

    If you already have the newest version of our app, the button should say “Open.” If you need to update, it will say “Update.” Alternatively, your device’s app store may have an “updates” section – if the NestWatch app is listed in that section, use the options provided on that page to install the latest update.

    link
  • If I enter data on the app, will it show up on the website (and vice versa?)
  • Yes, if you sign into the app and the website with the same username and password, the data you have entered will show up on both your mobile device and your computer. If you were offline while entering data on the app, be sure to check for unsynced data in your app menu and manually sync that data when your app comes back online, if needed.

    link
  • I am monitoring nest boxes as part of a group. Can we all enter data through the app?
  • Yes, though everyone who is monitoring will need to log into the app with the same username and password. In other words, multiple people can sign into the app with the same account at the same time.  Please be aware however, that if people are entering data simultaneously, you may not see a complete view of the data until the app fully syncs to the server.

    Learn more about the ways you can participate as a group here.

    link
  • Why does the app ask for my location and network access?
  • The app asks for the following permissions:

    • My Location: The NestWatch app uses GPS to tag nest site locations. If you wish to create a nest site in the app, or use the map, your location needs to be enabled.
    • Full network access: The NestWatch app needs network access in order to sync your nest data to our servers and to keep your data up to date across platforms. In other words, if you edit your data on the website it will be reflected on the app, and vice versa.
    • Camera and Photos: The app requests permission to access the camera and local photo albums/pictures so that you can take and store photos with the app and also display the photos in your nest attempt(s) shown in the app.
    link
  • Can I upload my nest photos to the app?
  • Yes. While submitting data for a nest visit, you will see the option to add a photo. You can either take a photo, or choose a photo from your device to attach to your nest visit.

    link
  • What are unsynced data?
  • If you think certain data points from your nest visit (especially photos) were not saved, look in the “Unsynced data” section of the app menu. If your signal is weak and data can’t be uploaded because your cell coverage is unreliable, the app will save data here and wait for you to reconnect to Wi-Fi. This greatly reduces the possibility of any lost data.

    Once you’re connected to a network again, go back to the unsynced data section, and tap the icon with two arrows to sync the data.

    If you have any errors, use the “copy” button to copy debug information, paste it in an email, and then send the email to us at nestwatch@cornell.edu, along with a description of the problem. The debug information will look like a bunch of code, and it will help our programmers to diagnose the problem.

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  • Will the NestWatch app work without internet or cell service?
  • Yes. If you frequently find yourself without internet or cellular service, NestWatch can work offline.

    The app will automatically go into offline mode if you do not have Wi-Fi or cellular service available. To trigger the app to work in offline mode, go to your device settings and turn on airplane mode. This turns off your device’s connectivity.

    When you use the app while you are in airplane mode, the app will show you that you are offline with a red message at the top of the nest site screen, notifying you that the nest details you have entered remotely remain unsynced. To get out of offline mode, turn off your phone’s airplane mode setting, or return to a place that has strong network connectivity. Note, when you are in airplane mode, your device will not receive calls or text messages. The next time you are connected to a network, open the NestWatch app so that the data will sync to the NestWatch server. You can also check for unsynced data in the app menu and prompt a manual sync if necessary.

    link
  • When should I use offline mode?
  • You should use offline mode if you are in an area with limited or no cellular service or internet connectivity. If you have low connectivity, you might find that the map is taking a long time to load, and so it might be faster to use offline mode. To trigger offline mode, turn on Airplane Mode in your device settings.

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  • How do I edit my data on the app?
  • To make edits to your nest site or to edit any nest visit information, select the ‘My Nests’ icon at the bottom of the app screen, then choose your nest site to edit its most recent nesting attempt. From the nest attempt overview page, tap the “Edit” toggle at the top, and all editable fields will appear highlighted below. Tap any of the highlighted areas to make edits, and then when you are done, tap the “edit” toggle again to exit from Edit Mode.

    Please note that some data cannot be edited on the app, and so you must log in to the NestWatch website in order to make those edits.  Additionally, if you need to make edits to a previous nesting attempt for any nest site, you will also need to do so on the website. The app displays only the most recent nest attempt for each nest site.

    link
  • How do I delete a nest site and/or nest attempt on the app?
  • Currently, the app does not have the ability to delete nest sites and/or nest attempts. To delete a nest site and attempt, you will need to go to the NestWatch Data home page on our website. Sign in with the same username and password you used for the app and follow these instructions.

    A friendly reminder: please do not create “test” nest sites or nest attempts. Our database is not designed to accept fake nesting data, and so any fake data should be deleted from your account.

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NestWatch Website

  • I’m new. How do I enter data for a nest I found?
  • Here’s a simple break-down of how to enter data.

    If you are entering data on our website:

    • First, sign in to (or create) your account at NestWatch.org
    • Next, go to Your Data home page and click “Add new nest site.” Tell us where you found the nest, either by typing in the latitude and longitude, or entering the nearest mailing address. Once the marker is placed, scroll down to name the site and fill out the rest of the nest site details, such as where the nest was found and what the surrounding habitat is like.
    • When you’re done, you should see the option to “Start a new nesting attempt.” This is where you will record all of your nest visits to this particular nest. Enter as much information as you can for your visit(s). You can either fill out your nest visits after each nest check, or all at once at the end – it’s up to you. You will have the option to submit data in “Single Entry Mode” or “Table Entry mode” – table entry mode will allow you to see all of the nest visits you have submitted so far.
    • After the young in this nest have left the nest, click “Summarize nesting attempt” to tell us the nest outcome and other important information. Again, fill this section out to the best of your ability- it’s ok to leave some fields blank.
    • When you’re done, click “end nesting attempt” to close out the attempt. Then, you’ll have the option to start a new attempt for the next clutch of eggs, if applicable.

    Find more tips in our Data Entry Tutorial Videos, or the green “show instructions” button near the top of Your Data home page.

    If you are entering data on the app:

    • When you’re signed in to the NestWatch mobile app and on the “Home” screen, look along the bottom of the page and tap “Add nest.”
    • Choose the location either by entering the coordinates manually or using the marker. If using the marker, you can also use the “Enter precision mode” toggle to drag the map underneath the marker to record a nest site that is not near to your current position.
    • Next name the nest, fill out as many nest site details as you can, and then tap the “Create nest” button at the bottom of the screen.
    • On the next page, tap “Start attempt” to begin recording data for a nest. You will be brought to a page to fill out the data for your first nest visit. Tap “Submit” when you’re done.
    • For each subsequent nest visit, tap “My nests” at the bottom of the app homepage, select your nest site, and then tap “Add visit.” When the nest attempt is finished (the young have fledged), tap “End attempt” on that same page to tell us the outcome of the nest.
    • After you have ended your attempt, the nest site page will show the options to “Start attempt” or “Archive nest” Learn more about when you should archive nests.

    Note: Each nesting attempt should record one clutch of eggs, from start to finish. Some nest sites will have multiple nest attempts listed, from more than one species. For more information, read the definitions between a Nest Site, Nest Attempt, and Nest Visit here, and view our data structure here.

    link
  • If I enter data on the app, will it show up on the website (and vice versa?)
  • Yes, if you sign into the app and the website with the same username and password, the data you have entered will show up on both your mobile device and your computer. If you were offline while entering data on the app, be sure to check for unsynced data in your app menu and manually sync that data when your app comes back online, if needed.

    link
  • Why won’t my mobile app data sync to my online account?
  • If your data aren’t syncing to your online account, your device may not have a strong internet connection. Wait until you are connected to a strong WiFi signal, or strong cellular service and open the app to prompt the syncing feature. Alternatively, open the app menu and check the “Unsynced Data” section – if there are data present here, you should see an option to manually sync that data.

    link
  • My username and/or password doesn’t work. Why am I getting an error message?
  • If your username and password won’t work, first use the “forgot username” button on the sign in page to get a reminder email.

    If your username is correct but your password isn’t working, you will need to use the “forgot password?” button on the sign in page to reset your password. Once your password is successfully reset, be sure to manually type in your username and password the next time you sign in – don’t let your browser automatically fill in those fields for you. Once you’ve manually typed in your new password, your browser may show a pop-up message asking if you want to save or update this new password. Click “yes” or “save” if you would like those login fields to be automatically populated with your username and new password in the future.

    As a reminder, because the Cornell Lab website all use the same log-in system, changing your password on NestWatch will also change the password for all other Cornell Lab websites (e.g., eBird, FeederWatch, Bird Academy, etc.).

    link
  • What should I do if I can’t remember my username and/or password?
  • Click “forgot username” or “forgot password” on the sign in page on our website, or in the mobile app, and an email will be sent to the email address we have on file for that account, containing either your username(s), or a link to reset your password, respectively. If you do not receive the email within a few minutes, please take these steps.

    Please note, usernames are permanent and cannot be changed or updated.

    If you think the email address in your account might be outdated, contact us.

    link
  • Do I have to sign out between sessions?
  • If you do not sign out, our website (and other Cornell Lab websites, such as Project FeederWatch and eBird) will remember you, and automatically sign you in. However, if you’re using a public computer or have other household members that have their own Cornell Lab accounts, we recommend that you sign out so that no one else accidentally submits data under your account by mistake. Similarly, signing out is not necessary if you participate in another Cornell Lab project and need to switch between project websites.

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  • How can I download my data into a spreadsheet on my computer
  • Navigate to Your Data home page. You’ll find options for specifying which data you want to export just below your Quick Summary section. Download your personal nest site descriptions, breeding data, and species summaries, organized by group or by year, as an Excel or .CSV spreadsheet.

    link
  • How can I tell my data were saved?
  • When entering data on our website, your data are saved continuously. However, if you have a poor internet connection, we recommend double-checking the “Save” button on the bottom left of your Nest Attempt page. It should look yellow and read “all data saved.” Otherwise, you’ll see a green “save” button. It’s always good to check this before navigating away from the page. Once it says “all data saved” you can navigate away or close the webpage.

    On the app, your data are similarly saved to your phone when you finish adding the nest visit data. To make sure this gets properly uploaded to the database, be sure to “sync” your data if you are prompted (e.g., if you have been in a low-service area and return to better service, you might see a prompt). To sync, open the app menu and check the “Unsynced Data” option.

    link
  • Why is NestWatch preventing me from naming my nest site?
  • You should be able to name each nest site you create. However, there are several things that can prevent this from working correctly:

    1. You may already have a nest site with that name. Try using a different name.
    2. Your session may have timed out or you need to update the app. Log out of the app (Menu → Log out), check for updates (apply them, if available), relaunch the app, log in, and try again. See this FAQ about how to update your device.
    3. Your device may not have the minimum required operating system to support the app. Click here to view the current software requirements for Android and iOS devices.
    link
  • Why can’t I delete some of my nest sites?
  • You may have already entered nest attempts (data) for that nest site. In order to delete the nest site you must first delete all nest attempts associated with that site.

    Read here for instructions on how to delete erroneous nest data.

    Alternatively, if your nest site does not have any data on it, and you still don’t see the delete button on the Site Summary page, then double check whether that nest site has been added to a group. Click the “Manage Your Groups” button on Your Data home page to see all of your groups. Make sure the nest site you wish to delete does not have a checkmark next to it for any of the groups you’ve created. A nest site cannot be deleted if it is part of a group.

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Troubleshooting the NestWatch App

  • Why won’t my mobile app data sync to my online account?
  • If your data aren’t syncing to your online account, your device may not have a strong internet connection. Wait until you are connected to a strong WiFi signal, or strong cellular service and open the app to prompt the syncing feature. Alternatively, open the app menu and check the “Unsynced Data” section – if there are data present here, you should see an option to manually sync that data.

    link
  • My username and/or password doesn’t work. Why am I getting an error message?
  • If your username and password won’t work, first use the “forgot username” button on the sign in page to get a reminder email.

    If your username is correct but your password isn’t working, you will need to use the “forgot password?” button on the sign in page to reset your password. Once your password is successfully reset, be sure to manually type in your username and password the next time you sign in – don’t let your browser automatically fill in those fields for you. Once you’ve manually typed in your new password, your browser may show a pop-up message asking if you want to save or update this new password. Click “yes” or “save” if you would like those login fields to be automatically populated with your username and new password in the future.

    As a reminder, because the Cornell Lab website all use the same log-in system, changing your password on NestWatch will also change the password for all other Cornell Lab websites (e.g., eBird, FeederWatch, Bird Academy, etc.).

    link
  • What should I do if I can’t remember my username and/or password?
  • Click “forgot username” or “forgot password” on the sign in page on our website, or in the mobile app, and an email will be sent to the email address we have on file for that account, containing either your username(s), or a link to reset your password, respectively. If you do not receive the email within a few minutes, please take these steps.

    Please note, usernames are permanent and cannot be changed or updated.

    If you think the email address in your account might be outdated, contact us.

    link
  • Why is the app draining my battery?
  • The app uses your device’s internal GPS. That service can drain some device batteries. You can go into your device’s settings and turn off the location feature temporarily to help fix this. Be aware though, you will not be able to locate nest sites with the map if you turn off the device’s location service.

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  • I can download the app and sign in, but why can’t I see any of my existing nest sites?
  • First, check that you are logged in with the correct username and password. Some people have more than one account and accidentally sign in to the wrong one. Use “forgot username” on the log in page to get an email with your usernames. Note that you may need to do this multiple times, if you have more than one email address associated with a Cornell Lab account. Remember, you can use the same username and password for all Cornell Lab projects and websites (e.g., eBird, FeederWatch, Birds of the World, Celebrate Urban Birds, Bird Academy, Merlin, etc.).

    If you are signed in correctly, then your phone or tablet may not have the minimal operating system required for the app to work properly. Click here to view the current software requirements for Android and iOS devices.

    link
  • My map will not load OR my map got stuck while loading. What should I do?
  • If the map partially loads, gets stuck, or refuses to load, you likely have some network connectivity, but not enough to transfer the map images. In this scenario, it is best to use the app in offline mode. To get offline, turn on your device’s airplane mode the maps will still not load, but the data entry portion should work more smoothly. Be aware, when you are in airplane mode, your device will not receive phone calls or text messages.

    link
  • The app is still showing I am in offline mode, how do I get back online?
  • Your device is likely still in airplane mode. Go to your device settings and turn off airplane mode. Make sure you are connected either to the internet (Wi-Fi) or to your cellular data service. Once you are connected, your data will sync.

    link
  • Why is NestWatch preventing me from naming my nest site?
  • You should be able to name each nest site you create. However, there are several things that can prevent this from working correctly:

    1. You may already have a nest site with that name. Try using a different name.
    2. Your session may have timed out or you need to update the app. Log out of the app (Menu → Log out), check for updates (apply them, if available), relaunch the app, log in, and try again. See this FAQ about how to update your device.
    3. Your device may not have the minimum required operating system to support the app. Click here to view the current software requirements for Android and iOS devices.
    link
  • I am having trouble using the app. How do I get help?
  • Please check the FAQs to see if they answer your question. If you don’t find an answer, please fill out the Contact Us form. Please include your phone’s make (iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S11, Google Pixel 4), its Android or iOS version, and the specific issue you are encountering. The more detail the better – include what buttons you selected, the error messages you’re seeing, and other such details, if applicable.

    Screenshots of the issue are always helpful. To take a screenshot on an iOS device, press the power and home screen button at the same time. On Android, press the power and volume down button at the same time. The screenshot should be stored in your photos, and can be shared from there, or attached to an email as you would attach any other photo. Some devices also have a screen recorder – if yours has one and you think it would be helpful to record the error you’re seeing, please feel free to send us the resulting video file (but keep it short, please).

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Understanding Data Downloads and Analysis

  • What is clutch size and why do we study it?
  • A clutch is the total eggs a bird lays per each nesting attempt. Some birds have more than one nesting attempt per year.  

    Clutch sizes differ not only among major taxonomic groups of birds and among species, but even within an individual. For instance, albatrosses, shearwaters, tropicbirds, and frigatebirds characteristically lay only one egg per clutch. Loons, goatsuckers, most pigeons, and hummingbirds lay two eggs per clutch, and most shorebirds lay four eggs per clutch. With the exception of shorebirds, practically all species that normally lay more than two eggs per clutch show marked variation in clutch size. Many factors appear to influence the number of eggs in a clutch. They include:

    • Age of the female. Within populations, the age of a female bird is related to the size of her clutch.
    • Temperature and time of season. Cold weather may reduce the size of a clutch; and clutches laid later in the breeding season may contain fewer eggs than clutches laid by the same individual earlier in the season.
    • Health of the female. If a female is unhealthy, her clutch size will probably be smaller than if she were in peak physical condition. Remember, she needs a lot of energy to produce each egg.
    • Food availability. Abundant food supplies can mean more eggs per clutch.
    • High population density. Females lay fewer eggs per clutch when breeding in colonies or other high population areas.
    • Geographic location. On average, within a species, birds lay smaller clutches when breeding at either lower latitudes or higher altitudes.

    The topic of clutch size variation has been a source of fascination for generations of bird biologists. We know there is variation in clutch size both within, and among, species. We want to know more about what factors might influence this variation in clutch size. For example, within a given species, does the number of eggs a female lays per clutch vary with latitude? With altitude? Why do birds that are colonial or nest at relatively high densities often lay fewer eggs than their solitary-nesting relatives? Why do small species tend to have larger clutches than large species? It is thought that birds lay about the number of eggs that will produce the maximum number of surviving offspring over the parents’ reproductive lifetime, but how do they regulate this? What ecological factors determine this number for different birds?

    Increasing our understanding of the biological and ecological factors that affect clutch size allows scientists and wildlife managers to make better-informed decisions about bird conservation.

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  • How does NestWatch estimate nest success?
  • Nest success can be very simply defined as the fraction of observed nests that fledge at least one offspring. For reasons outlined below, scientists usually prefer to estimate daily nest survival using data from participants who report data for each visit they make to the nest.

    Accurately estimating nest success is a critical goal of any nest monitoring program. True nest success is almost never the proportion of nests that fledged offspring, particularly for birds that do not nest in nest boxes. This is because nests are not all found at the same stage of nesting. You can imagine that a nest that is destroyed before the entire clutch is laid has a very low chance of being found, whereas a nest that survives until fledging is more likely to be noticed, both because it is around longer and because the parents become more conspicuous as they begin feeding and defending their brood. For this reason, nests that survive the longest are most likely to be found and nests that fail very early are often missed entirely! Since this detection bias means that we find more successful than unsuccessful nests, it becomes important to correct for the fact that our data will tend to overestimate nest success in a population.

    To eliminate this bias, most analysts use widely accepted methods to achieve accurate estimates of nest survival. Most modern methods are based on daily nest survival (i.e., the proportion of nests that survived from one period to the next, while the nests were under observation). The total number of nest-days of observation is called exposure days. In order for researchers to use exposure-based methods of analysis to estimate nest survival, we need to have a chronological record of each visit to the nest, which are reported as the nest visits.

    Modern analyses will also allow researchers to examine how factors such as habitat, seasonal effects, or experimental treatments affect the probability of nest success.

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  • How are data used?
  • Once entered on the NestWatch website or mobile app, data are added to the NestWatch database. From there, scientists can analyze datasets for their research without contacting participants. Data are primarily used for long-term monitoring of nesting birds and can be used to document the effects of climate change, noise and light pollution, or other factors affecting breeding birds. Data are also used to study factors that influence variation in things like clutch size. You can view a list of publications that have used NestWatch data here.

    NestWatch staff also compile your data annually and share it in the NestWatch Digest, an easy-to-read summary report. You can view previous volumes here.

    Anyone can download project-wide data on our website here, and personal data is always accessible at the bottom of the Your Data home page when you’re signed in. You can also use our Map Room to explore an interactive map of nest sites by species and year.

    View our Data Terms of Use here.

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  • How can I download my data into a spreadsheet on my computer
  • Navigate to Your Data home page. You’ll find options for specifying which data you want to export just below your Quick Summary section. Download your personal nest site descriptions, breeding data, and species summaries, organized by group or by year, as an Excel or .CSV spreadsheet.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology