How To NestWatch

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Photo © Al Tuttle

Nest Monitoring Protocol

There is always some risk of disturbing birds when monitoring their nests. By following the NestWatch protocol, which is based on the nationally recognized Breeding Biology Research and Monitoring Database (BBIRD) Field Protocol* and input from professional biologists, you will minimize this risk and ensure that your data achieves a high quality standard and will be comparable with data collected by other NestWatchers. Before starting, please also read the nest monitor’s Code of Conduct.

  1. Find a nest. Putting up a nest box is an easy way to start, but please consider monitoring open cup nests as well.
  2. Remember where the nest is located. It may be helpful to write a short description or draw a picture of the nest site in a field notebook. Do not use flagging unless absolutely necessary because this can attract predators. If you must use flagging to relocate a nest, use a small strip, place it at least 30 feet away, and take accurate notes on how to locate the nest from the flag.
  3. Create a new NestWatch nest site by going to “Your Data” and clicking the “Add New Nest Site” button. If the nest site has already been recorded during a previous nesting attempt, make sure that its description is up-to-date.
  4. Check the nest every 3-4 days, or at least once a week. Record the number of eggs and young observed during each visit, as well as other relevant observations such as the behavior of adult birds. Longer intervals between checks make it harder to determine the outcome of the nest, while shorter intervals increase risk of disturbance. Whenever possible, wait for the female to leave the nest on her own rather than scaring her off. Use a mirror attached to the end of a pole to see into nests that are higher than your head, or use binoculars to monitor nests at a distance.
  5. Visit the nest one last time after you are certain that it is empty to determine if any unhatched eggs or dead young remain.
  6. Record your observations online either after each nest visit or after the nesting attempt is complete by going to “Your Data” and clicking on the “Add/Edit Attempt” icon for that nest. If you prefer to enter your data at the end of the nesting attempt, please carefully record your observations in a notebook after each visit. Each nesting attempt should be recorded separately, even if a bird has a second nest in the same location as a previous attempt.
  7. Enter nest summary information by going to “Your Data”, clicking on the “Add/Edit Attempt” icon for that nest, and going to the “Summary” tab.

* Martin, T.E., C. Paine, C.J. Conway, W.M. Hochachka, P. Allen, and W. Jenkins. 1997. Breeding Biology Research and Monitoring Database (BBIRD) Field Protocol. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology