NestWatch brings citizen scientists together to monitor area birds

Dwight Sipler

As part of our 2008 Thinking Green series, WSKG featured stories from a collaboration of northeast public radio stations.

What could be cuter than baby birds all atwitter in the nest? But amid the oohs and aahs are real data about the rhythms of bird biology and how they may be changing as the result of human activity. Combine the wow factor of the former with the scientific value of the latter and you have NestWatch - a new, free citizen science project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and funded by the National Science Foundation. Participants visit nests during spring and summer to collect simple information about location, habitat, species, number of eggs, and number of young in the nest. Then they submit their observations online.

NestWatch introduces birding and simple methods of scientific inquiry to families, children, retired adults-people of all ages and skills, says project leader Tina Phillips. It's easy and fun. It helps people reconnect with nature in their own yard, nearby park, or nature preserve.

Peter Marra from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo says, Each and every observation is important because it helps scientists measure the impact of such things as climate change and habitat destruction. Without citizens across the country collecting this information for us it would be almost impossible to track these large-scale destructive processes.

The NestCams companion site has been revamped and is now up and running. Live cameras show the nesting activities of Barn Owls, Wood Ducks, and Northern Flickers in Texas and California. More cameras will be going online across the country in the weeks ahead at

All NestWatch materials and instructions are available online at, including directions on how to find nests and how to monitor them without disturbing the birds.

One of the most exciting things about NestWatch, says Phillips, is that we'll be able to take in data from as far back as 1900! Anyone who's been keeping nest records on their own will now have a way to put that important information to use. With all this information from NestWatchers, scientists will be able to track changes in reproductive timing and fledging success which may be linked to climate change.