What do YOU do when you want to hang out with friends? Maybe you head to the local bar or have dinner with the neighbors. Perhaps I’m different, but I relax on my deck and figure out who’s hanging out in the trees.
If you’re a regular reader of our page, you might remember that I first told you about Neighborhood Nestwatch last year. It’s a citizen science program that lets me do one of my favorite things—bird watching—in the name of science.
Neighborhood Nestwatch is a multi-year study conducted by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and assisted by local organizations, such as the Fernbank Museum of Natural History here in Atlanta. To recap, Nestwatch allows citizens to help scientists answer two specific questions: how successful are backyard bird nests? And how long do backyard birds live?
The program focuses on 10 bird species in five different regions of the U.S., and compares how successful they are in urban, suburban and rural backyards. When participants submit resight data, it helps scientists determine how long birds live within their yards and nearby surroundings. Additionally, nest monitoring allows them to “learn about the ability of birds to reproduce within a complex land use gradient,” according to the Neighborhood Nestwatch website.
While the Nestwatch database is a work in progress, scientists have already begun to study results and plan to answer a “host of pertinent ecological questions ranging from the impacts of West Nile virus to the annual survival of catbirds.” For more information about the study, or to see if your region is included, please visit the Neighborhood Nestwatch website.
The Usual Suspects
Last summer, the Neighborhood Nestwatch field technician who came to my house successfully caught and banded two birds, a northern cardinal and a Carolina wren. I’ve been keeping track of those little guys, and they do come around pretty regularly. Each bird has a total of three bands (one aluminum and two colored) to help me identify them.
This summer, however, the field technician actually banded a whopping 10 birds in one morning! That was such a fun day—getting to see some of my favorite backyard birds up close. The scientists working in the program always make sure the birds are not harmed or stressed.
Each bird was safely removed from the nets, weighed, measured, banded and released back into the yard. The species we recorded included northern cardinals, tufted titmice, song sparrows and Carolina chickadees. Since early summer, six of the 10 birds have returned to my feeders. The others either haven’t come around, or are perhaps are practicing with their invisibility cloaks!
Sadly, I had no nests in my own yard this year, although I know they are close by. I’ve seen many species of juveniles at the feeders, including cardinals, Eastern bluebirds and Carolina wrens. One of my favorite things about Nestwatch is that it forces me to pay attention! I notice not only the birds in the study, but all the species—whether they are making our neighborhood their permanent home or just passing through. Recently, I’ve even had some stunning American goldfinches.
Nestwatch research is ongoing, and scientists will be working with the data for years to come. For now, I input resight data into a designated website for the Smithsonian to review. Many of my banded birds return frequently and they are very spoiled with good food in my yard!
Although I am having tons of fun with this (can’t you tell?), I also feel that I’m making a positive impact. We—ALL OF US—can do SOMETHING to help birds and other wildlife. Many common birds are threatened because of climate change and human impact. Studying them can not only help scientists figure out what is wrong and how to help birds, but also connect us with our backyard friends to become aware of how we affect them.
If you want to help our feathered friends, taking action is easy and fun! You can put up a nesting box, a bird bath (which is needed year-round for drinking and bathing), and feeders. If you’ve ever had a problem with birds striking glass, you can purchase simple bird safety stickers to put on windows and glass doors. Planting native fruit and berry-bearing bushes, as well as trees, on your property will also help our feathered friends.
For more specific information on birding, I highly recommend finding a local store that specializes in wild birds. Or maybe you want to be a citizen scientist too. Simply search online—there are many opportunities to get involved!