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Photo © Al Tuttle

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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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology