The NestWatch Flock
Spring is just around the corner. It’s a busy time for birds as they get ready to find a mate, build a nest, and start a family. It’s a busy time for bird lovers as they have the chance to catch glimpses of migratory species still passing through our area on the way to their nesting region. I know it’s coming because this morning a starling landed on the window sill in my second story office, obviously searching for a nesting location.
I find bird nests of any size to be captivating. My wife and I were driving near the Mississippi River in early February and spotted a large, strange looking bird flying over I-90 just outside of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. At 70 mph, we quickly drew near enough to see it was a Bald Eagle clutching a six-foot long stick, laboring in the sky across the highway. Eagles make huge stick nests and add to them each year. It’s obvious this is what was happening.
Finding a bird’s nest is always interesting and somewhat amazing. A common sparrow can make a nest big enough for a good sized dog to find comfortable. A dove may make a successful nest from a dozen skinny twigs.
If you are a nest watcher and want to become more involved, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is asking bird watchers and nature-lovers who find a bird's nest of any species to share their observations with their free NestWatch citizen-science project. Participants report the location of a nest, the species using it, number of eggs laid, and other important milestones as the birds incubate, raise, and fledge their young. You can register for the project at NestWatch.org.
"There is still a lot we don't know, even about common species," says NestWatch project leader Robyn Bailey. "For example, why do some species have good and bad years in terms of their reproductive success?"
Participation in NestWatch helps birds by providing key data about such questions from places that would otherwise be inaccessible to scientists—backyards, farms, businesses, school grounds, and other nooks where birds nest. You might find a bird's nest in a bush or a tree but also in a hanging flower basket, on a windowsill, or in a birdhouse.
The Cornell Lab has been accepting information from the public on nesting birds for more than 50 years and continues to research how small, everyday actions (such as putting out bird food and protecting nest boxes with predator guards) can make life better for birds—and for the people who watch them.
"I just love NestWatch," says Donna Bragg, who has been participating in NestWatch for seven years. "It's great there is a way to actually keep track of what I see and have it put to use. It's been a fun learning experience for my whole family."
Signing up gains you access to information about how to watch a nest from construction to egg laying and through the hatching process without overly disrupting the birds. That’s important. Just blundering in can cause nest abandonment, relocation, or make it more susceptible to predators. Some species are much more tolerant than others when it comes to human “participation” in their lives.
Find out more about the project, sign up, and learn how to become a NestWatcher at NestWatch.org. And watch for the NestWatch "Home Tweet Home" photo contest coming in July!