NestWatch: Bridging Technology & Nature

04-26-12 0 By: Shelly Sutley, edited by Hayley Kubler

When we began building the nest boxes, we knew that in order to make an impact in nature we would need to make sure we were monitoring.  Monitoring doesn’t mean admiring the box or checking on it every once in a while!  It means collecting data that will help the birds in a tangible way.

When I first started monitoring, there weren’t a lot of options.  I was being bogged down by stacks of paperwork that I had to mail in to ornithologists.  While the data was useful, it was just too much work!  Due to my degree and my experience in the business world, I knew there had to be a better way.  I knew that nature and technology could go together, and hopefully make the process easier!  I searched the internet, and that was when I discovered NestWatch.  It was the answer to my prayers!

Nest Watch

www.nestwatch.org

What is NestWatch?

Well, according to their website it is “a nest-monitoring project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and funded by the National Science Foundation.” Impressive credentials!  But what’s really impressive is how easy it is for all of us every-day people to become scientists. Citizen scientists, that is! Ornithologists can’t be everywhere at once, so there are often holes in their data. We can easily fill them by setting up a nest box in our own backyards! It’s sort of like a map of houses, only it’s nest boxes! You put a marker on a map of where your box is and you can keep updating information a the birds nest and grow.

By using NestWatch, you or your children can learn about collecting data effectively.  We record what we see when we check our boxes, like where it’s placed, what sort of species is setting up house, the number of eggs, and how many fledglings.  While it may not seem like a big deal, recording one box, just think of all the data they collect from people just like you across the nation!  If everyone had just one box they monitored regularly, can you think of the data?

What do they do with the information?

Well, first off, it’s stored forever to help future scientists see how bird populations have changed.  By looking at these trends, ornithologists can see if the populations are taking a hit, and figure out something to do about it!  Otherwise, they are also able to use this data to prove that your boxes are making a difference.  They use this data to find out how changes in climate or land use hurt or help the songbirds in your area.  My friend Hayley Kubler told me that her father, a DNR employee, told her when she was young that tracking the health of these small animals is like taking the temperature of a habitat to find out if it is sick.  Having long term data like this is so important in our community.

As of right now, NestWatch is constantly evolving.  They are extremely helpful if you run into any issues and they want to make sure everything works!  If you take a look at the front page, the top eight states for nest counts are there.  What do you notice?  Wisconsin isn’t on the map!  We want to change that and we need your help.  Join the site.  Become a citizen scientist and record your nest box!  Be a part of the future of songbirds in Wisconsin!

Don’t just watch.  Monitor.  The birds depend on it!

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