Nesting Protocol

Bird Nesting Success Project

The goal of this project is to determine the nesting success rates of urban/suburban nesting birds.  These success rates will then be compared among species and among different habitats in which the nests were located.


(1) Find an active nest.  “Active” nests are those nests that are currently being built or being used by a bird for raising young.  There are two primary ways to find nests: (1) look for the nests themselves among trees, shrubs, and buildings, and (2) watch birds.  Birds during nest building will be carrying nesting material (grass, sticks, mud, etc.) in their bills; birds during nestling feeding will be carrying food to the nest or fecal sacks away from the nest.  Method #2 is preferable because it will ensure that you have an active nest and it is not biased toward nest location.  If you find a nest with method #1, you will have to make sure that it is an active nest and not an abandoned nest from a previous year or a previous brood within the same year.  Feel free to find as many nests as you can; the more data the better!  If you trust the students, they can include data from nests around their houses as well.

(2) Once you find a nest, on the NEST HABITAT sheet you will need to give the nest a unique ID number (1, 2, 3…, or Robin1, Robin2, etc.), record the date, the species of bird, the state in which the nest was first found, and some habitat data for the nest.  Record the nesting state as: : “C = Construction” if the nest is still under construction or “B = Brood” if there are currently eggs and/or nestlings in the nest. If there are currently eggs and/or nestlings, you will record how many of each exist when you found the nest.  Habitat data to record include: type of substrate on which the nest is located (deciduous shrub/tree, evergreen shrub/tree, building, other), height of the nest (from ground to top of nest cup, to the nearest 0.01 m), distance to nearest building (to nearest m) and what type of building that is (house, school, business, other), and inside or outside city limits.  If inside, record size of the city in terms of number of people.  If you answer “other” for any of the above, write down the description in the comments section of the datasheet.

(3) After you find the nest, you will need to check the nest daily or, if you can’t do it every day, then as frequently as possible.  To check nests, we suggest using a small hand mirror that you mount on the end of some kind of handle: broom handle, length of pvc pipe, etc.   After checking the nest, on the NEST CHECK sheet, record the date, the current state of the nest as: “Construction” if the nest is still under construction, “Brood” if there are currently eggs and/or nestlings in the nest, “Fledged” if the nest is empty but the last time you saw the nest the nestlings were large and had flight feathers, or “Depredated” if the nest is empty but the last time you saw the nest the eggs/young were not ready to leave the nest.  If you recorded “Brood”, then you also need to record the number of eggs and nestlings under the “# Eggs” and “# Nestlings” columns.  If there are just eggs, then record a 0 for the # nestlings, if there are just nestlings, record a 0 for the number of eggs.  In the comments section of the sheet, you can record the state of the nestlings, whether you are unsure what happened to the empty nest, etc.  For instance, if you notice that the nestlings are starting to get their flight feathers, etc. you can record that information.  You will record all of the nest check data for a single nest on the same sheet, and only data from that nest will go on that sheet.  Identify the nest using its unique ID number.

(4)  When you have finished collecting all of your data, please send one of us legible copies of your data sheets.  Our contact information is below.  If you have any questions, contact us by phone or email!

Eric Bollinger, 217-581-6653, / Paul Switzer, 217-581-6951,

Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern IllinoisUniversity, Charleston, IL  61920