Watch A Nest

I think we should all take a vacation in spring. There is so much change each day that I feel we miss all the action sitting inside at work. Like a conductor cues musicians in an orchestra, the longer days and warmer weather bring on returning blooms, seasonal songs and new life.

One of the spring happenings that can be a joy to watch are bird nests. The nesting season is in full swing for both returning migratory birds and our year round residents. At Audubon, there is always a sense of curiosity and drama during the nesting season.

When the birds start their spring songs each year I find myself wondering: What day will the first clutch of Canada Geese eggs hatch? (It was May 2 this year.) Will a House Sparrow build a nest in Liberty’s enclosure again this year? On what ledge around the building will the Eastern Phoebes build their nest? Now that the dead snag fell over, will there be another Downy Woodpecker nest visible along the Blue Trail?

Our 63 nest boxes on our property provide opportunities for cavity nesting birds such as eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice and house wrens. The nest boxes also provide a learning experience for all the students who visit on fieldtrips and the visitors who have the patience to watch.

Scientists watch and monitor bird nests to track bird survivability rates and to better understand bird species. If you are curious about nests in your backyard or already watching a bird nest you may be able to help scientists.

Below is an excerpt of a press release from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology wants more information about nests through a citizen-science project, NestWatch.

Over the past 30 years, tree swallows, barn swallows, purple martins, and eastern phoebes have dropped in number. The cause remains unknown, though scientists believe it may be linked in part to declines in the insects that birds eat.

Anyone who loves watching birds can help scientists study and understand their plight by participating in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch citizen-science project (NestWatch.org).

“Every year, thousands of volunteers from across the United States monitor bird nests to help researchers track changes in bird populations,” says Dr. Jason Martin, NestWatch project coordinator. “By keeping track of how many eggs birds lay and how many young they raise, anyone can contribute valuable data that may help lead to the conservation of these species.”

“Recent population declines in North America’s aerial insectivores are a growing concern,” said Dr. Amanda Rodewald, director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Conservation efforts to halt or reverse these worrisome trends are unlikely to succeed until we fully understand the causes of decline. One thing limiting our ability to identify factors driving population declines is a lack of information on reproduction.”

The nests of many birds are easy to find and observe. Tree Swallows readily use nest boxes. Barn Swallows often plaster their nests onto beams inside barns and under bridges. Purple Martins use large communal nesting houses, and Eastern Phoebes frequently nest under porch eaves and in garages.

Participating in NestWatch is free and easy. Information on where and when to look for nests and how to properly monitor them is available at NestWatch.org. NestWatch accepts observations for all nesting birds, so information about any species is welcome.

For more information about NestWatch contact Pat Leonard, 607-254-2137, pel27@cornell.edu.

Some habitat improvements are large investments of time, money and knowledge. Providing a nest box to cavity nesting birds or monitoring a nest for science is a small investment on our part but makes a big difference in the life of the bird and brings joy and a sense of wonder to the people that watch the nest.

Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, a quarter-mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa. For more information, call 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.