Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nest Monitoring for Science: My Experience

Last year, I wrote an article for Yahoo Voices about my work with Nestwatch, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science program.  I've been doing Nestwatch for a few years now.  I just finished monitoring a dove's nest on my neighbor's porch light.  I've also done several killdeer and hummingbird nests.  Here is what I wrote last year:

Killdeer nest I monitored 

I have been monitoring nests and reporting them though the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Nestwatch program for a couple of years now. Each year, I have to be "re-certified" for the program by taking the online training and quiz again. To do this program, you don't need special skills or knowledge, just a love and concern for birds and an interest in science. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has several "citizen science" programs that center around birds such as "Feeder Watch" and "Celebrate Urban Birds".
Where I live, hummingbirds nest in the courtyard of my apartment building, so I usually monitor all of those. Plus, I monitor any other nests I find on my regular routes, such as at Lake Murray where I often walk. I've tried monitoring other nests in my area, but I've found that unless I can visit them at least twice a week, it's not worth monitoring them because the data I enter might not be helpful to the scientists. The program usually wants people to visit their reported nests at least twice a week or on a regular basis.
So far, I've monitored about ten Anna's hummingbird nests, three or four killdeer nesting sites, one mallard duck nest, two osprey nesting attempts, two raven nesting attempts, and three red-tailed hawk nesting attempts. What I love about nest monitoring is watching the babies growing up and getting to know them. I especially love watching killdeer nests. Technically, killdeer are considered fledged once they leave the nesting area, but I still monitor them until they can fly (if I can find them as they often move around). The same goes for ducklings. I think it's important for scientists to know exactly when these birds feather and fly even though they're not in a nest. I also monitor the hummingbird babies as long as they're still being fed by their mother.
It's not all fun, though. Watching nests can be sad because predators sometimes eat the eggs and babies. I've lost two hummingbird nests; at least one, for sure, to crows. Crows have also gotten one entire killdeer nest and probably were the cause of a missing egg of another one. Gulls got many of the ducklings of the mallard nest I monitored. So, one has to be prepared for these things. I just hope that all the data I enter is helpful to scientists.
This article is based on my personal experiences, but here are some helpful links about the Nestwatch program and some of the birds I've mentioned:

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