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Project NestWatch: Frequently Asked Questions

Who can participate?

Anyone in Canada! Just find an active bird nest, record the breeding activity, and report it through the online Data Entry page on this website. If you're a teacher interested in getting your class involved in Project NestWatch, contact

Can I report nests from any species?

Yes, nesting records for any species can be entered. The goal of Project NestWatch is to build a database of information on all birds that nest in Canada.

Can I record inactive nests?

No. Project NestWatch is only for active nests. An active nest is one that contains eggs or nestlings, or a nest under construction. Older nests from previous seasons should not be reported. Nests that are active, and fail (e.g., due to predation or abandonment) should be recorded.

Can I enter data for birds in nest boxes?

Yes. Before opening a nest box, remember to give it a few taps, to allow the female to leave the box. If the box has a panel that opens, you can look directly at its contents. If the box was not designed to be opened, try using a flashlight for viewing; if you can't see the contents properly, do not submit the data. Remember to be very careful if you need to use a stepladder to access the box.

How much time will this project take me?

You decide how much time to devote to the project. You may want to search for nests for a few days, or only for a couple of hours. If you find a nest and want to follow it through the nesting season, you will likely need to commit a few hours over two to four weeks. Project NestWatch does accept data on nests that have only been visited once, but we encourage you to make multiple visits (three to five days apart) to the same nest, as this provides us with valuable additional information.

Can my visits to the nest harm the birds or interfere with the nesting attempt?

This is unlikely, as long as you are careful around the nest. Observers often fear that checking nests will lead to increased chances of predation or nest failure, but research has shown that nest monitoring generally has no negative impact on breeding success for solitary nesting birds. Be sure to minimize your disturbance by following the Nest Monitoring Code of Conduct.

Some studies on the impact of nest monitoring on breeding success:

  1. Ibáñez-Álamo, J. D., Sanllorente, O. and Soler, M. (2012) The impact of researcher disturbance on nest predation rates: a meta-analysis. Ibis 154, 5-14.
  2. Götmark, F. (1992) The effects of investigator disturbance on nesting birds. Current Ornithology 9, 63-104.
  3. Mayer-Gross, H., Crick, H.Q.P. and Greenwood, J.J.D. (1997) The effect of observers visiting the nests of passerines: an experimental study. Bird Study 44, 53-65.

The nest is too high and I cannot see the contents. Do you have any suggestions?

Yes, but the ideal method depends on the height of the nest. If it is less than about two metres off the ground, you may be able to see the contents using a stepladder or ladder. Stay alert and be very careful. Breeding birds most often protect their nest by diving at potential predators. Do not let them break your concentration!

If the nest is not accessible by ladder but is less than 4 or 5 metres off the ground, you can try using a long pole with a mirror attached to it.

If the nest is more than 5 metres above ground or is not readily accessible (e.g., in a swamp), do not attempt to monitor the nest. Your safety and the safety of the nest should be your first priority. However, if you see birds close to the nest, watch their behaviour. If you see them bring twigs or food, they could be building a nest or feeding young. Such observations can tell you what stage the nest is at and can be reported in a nest record.

What are the data used for?

Project NestWatch participants make valuable contributions to long-term bird population monitoring efforts, and also help document the effects of environmental changes, such as climate change, on breeding birds (e.g., changes in nesting dates, nesting success, or distribution). Nest record data gathered since the end of the 1950s through regional nest record schemes are used by scientists from universities and government agencies, amateur naturalists, nature writers, etc.

I already sent my nest records to a regional scheme. What should I do?

Nothing more. Data should only be submitted once. If you have already sent them to a regional scheme, please do not enter them into Project NestWatch.

What should I do if I see a young bird that has fallen out of the nest?

Examine the situation carefully before taking any action. The general rule is to leave the bird alone and hope for the best. Attempts to save a bird can do more harm than good. Some young birds wander a short distance from the nest in the last days before fledging, and if parents are around, they will continue to care for them. Look at the wing feathers to see is they are well developed. If so, it is best to leave the bird where you found it, unless there is an immediate risk such as a cat nearby, in which case you may try to find a secure place on a higher branch near where you found the bird.

If the bird is younger (e.g., flight feathers not fully developed), you could attempt to place it back in its nest, if the nest is not too high. Then, leave the nest alone. If you want to watch for the parents' return, do so from a distance.

What you should not do:

  • Don't wait around the nest to see if the parents will come back. If you are visible, they will not come back.
  • Don't try to feed the bird. A diet that is not perfectly adapted could harm or kill the young.
  • Don't give water. Young birds do not drink in nature, but receive their water from the food they eat.

Is there a fee to participate?

No. Anyone who finds an active bird nest in Canada is invited to participate for free in Project NestWatch. Participants may however decide to support the project through a Bird Studies Canada membership.

What is Bird Studies Canada?

Bird Studies Canada advances the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats. We are a national not-for-profit organization. Becoming a Bird Studies Canada member offers numerous benefits, including newsletter subscriptions, opportunities to participate in any of our programs free of charge, and a charitable tax receipt for the full amount of your membership. Your contribution will help keep common birds common and conserve species at risk.

To become a member, call 1-888-448-BIRD(2473), email, send a payment by mail (P.O. Box 160, Port Rowan, Ontario, N0E 1M0), or use our secure online membership signup page.

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