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Nest Monitoring Code of Conduct

In Canada, birds mostly breed during the warmer months of the year. For many species, if an individual loses a clutch, it won't nest again until the following season.

To avoid jeopardizing nesting success, all observers must approach nests with care and caution. By following the code of conduct below, you will reduce the risk of attracting predators to a nest; causing unintentional harm to a nest; or causing adults to desert a nest.

Searching for nests

  1. Be careful of your movements - some birds, like Killdeer and Song Sparrows, build their nests on or near the ground, so be careful where you step. Also, be careful when moving through dense foliage so as not to dislodge a nest.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings - are there any nest predators nearby? If so, do not approach a known or suspected nest site.
  3. Be observant of bird behaviour - are there birds around you that sound distressed? If so, you may be close to their nest. Do not stay in the area; back off, keeping your eye on the adult(s) until the distress calls cease and you can watch from a distance. Normally, once the adult(s) no longer feel threatened by your presence they will resume their activities, and they may show you the nest location. Don't stay in the area too long. If you are unable to locate the nest, try again another day.

Monitoring nests

Choose an appropriate time

Always consider the following factors when planning your nest visits:

  1. Time of day: It is best not to flush birds or disturb nests early in the morning or close to dusk.
  2. Weather: Eggs and young are most vulnerable during weather extremes, so avoid visiting nests in adverse weather such as cold, heavy rain, or extreme heat.
  3. Nesting stage: Avoid disturbing nests early in the nesting cycle (i.e., during nest building and laying) when birds are more likely to abandon a nest. If you find a nest during the laying stage, make sure your visit is brief and try not to flush the female to check the nest.
  4. Do not check nests when young are close to fledging. Avoid approaching nests when young are fully feathered. If you startle young that are close to fledging, they may jump out of the nest. The chances of prematurely-fledged young surviving are low. Observe the nest from a distance at this stage.

Watch for potential predators

Before approaching a nest, make sure you are not being watched or followed by nest predators such as cats, American Crows, or Blue Jays, which are all known to predate eggs and young in nests. Be aware of Brown-headed Cowbirds as well. Wait until predators leave the area, or return at another time to check the nest.

Observe from a distance first

Try to gather information on a nest from a distance first. Find a spot from which you can observe the nest without disturbing the adults. In general, you should watch from no closer than 15 m from the nest; the birds' behaviour will indicate whether you are far enough away. From an appropriate vantage point, try to determine whether an adult is on the nest. It is best to check a nest when the adult is absent. You can often gather other valuable information on the nesting stage by watching from a distance.

Minimize the length of your visit

Be organized and prepared with all necessary equipment, your data sheet, etc. before approaching a nest. It is also very important to know exactly where the nest is when you return to check it. Remember that nests that are easily visible in early spring may become more difficult to see as the season progresses and foliage becomes denser.

Do not spend more than 1 minute checking the nest. Nest site and habitat descriptions should either be done from a distance, or after the nesting attempt is complete.

Minimize disturbance at the nest site

Approach nests casually (rather than directly and deliberately). Birds are then less likely to regard you as a predator. When possible, a sitting bird should not be given a sudden fright as it may accidentally knock eggs or young out of the nest. Nest boxes should be tapped first, and then tapped again with the lid raised, to allow the parent to slip away before looking into the box.

Damaged or trampled vegetation can expose a well-sheltered nest to rain, wind, or predators. If possible, avoid making tracks through dew-soaked grass. Choose a route to a known nest that disturbs as little vegetation and undergrowth as possible and avoid breaking branches. Try to approach the nest from a different direction on subsequent visits.

Ideally, there should only be one observer checking a nest, unless two are absolutely necessary (e.g., when using equipment such as a stepladder).

Do not leave a dead-end trail

When moving away from a nest, take a different route than the one you used to approach it, to reduce the risk of a predator finding the nest.

Do not handle eggs or young

Eggs and young are delicate, and can be easily cracked, chilled, or injured. Even in a nest box, displaced nestlings may not be able to crawl back into the nest cup. If an obscured view prevents you from accurately counting eggs or young, indicate that it is a minimum number in the visit comment box.

Respect private land

It is very important to gain permission from the landowner before searching for nests on private land, and to treat owners and their property with the utmost respect.

A note on the protection of migratory birds & species at risk

Under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, it is illegal to take, possess, buy, sell, disturb, or destroy the nests and eggs of migratory birds, except in cases where special permits have been acquired. In most cases, it is illegal for NestWatchers to touch or disturb nests and nest contents. If you wish to band birds or handle nest contents, permits are required.


Species at risk are further protected by federal and/or provincial laws and you may require a permit to monitor their nest(s). If you would like to monitor the nest of a species at risk, please contact us to determine if a permit is required.

Nest Monitoring Code of Conduct - Review

Searching for nests:

  1. Be careful of your movements
  2. Be aware of potential predators
  3. Be observant of bird behaviour

Monitoring nests:

  1. Choose an appropriate time to visit
  2. Watch for predators
  3. Observe from a distance first
  4. Minimize the length of your visit
  5. Minimize disturbance at the nest site
  6. Do not leave a dead-end trail
  7. Do not handle eggs or young
  8. Respect private land

Keep in mind!

If you're uncertain about whether you're causing disturbance to a nest, please err on the side of caution. Do not collect data at the expense of the birds

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott)
Semipalmated Sandpiper nest with newly hatched young (Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott)

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