“Nest Cams” are all the rage these days. Amazing web cams around the country have been set up to allow people worldwide to observe the behavior of nesting great blue herons, bald eagles, hummingbirds, owls, and more. After the excitement of viewing this behavior on the web, you may want to head out to observe nesting birds in your own yard and beyond. Before you do so, though, learn a few tips to be sure you leave the birds happy and undisturbed as they go about their daily lives.
These tips are adapted from Cornell Ornithology Lab’s NestWatch Nest Monitor Code of Conduct. Click here to read it in its entirety.
- Take care not to startle birds as you approach. This can cause them to knock eggs or nestlings off the nest as they fly away, or even abandon a nest altogether. If a parent is on a nest, wait a few minutes to see if they leave on their own – that’s the best time to get a little closer and observe.
- Don’t handle birds, nests, or eggs. They’re fragile and easily damaged. Use binoculars or the zoom lens on your camera to get a close-up look. (Check out this cool motion-activated outdoor camera from Audubon.)
- The best time to visit nests up close is afternoon. Don’t visit nests first thing in the morning. Mornings can be chilly, and eggs or nestlings left uncovered by a disturbed parent bird can get cold and suffer damage. Don’t visit nests at dusk or at night, either. This is when females return for the night, and you don’t want to scare them off. (Owls are the exception here, as owls leave the nest in the evening.)
- Avoid nests entirely the first few days after eggs are laid, and again after the nestlings hatch. These are crucial times for successful nesting, and startling the parent birds at this time could cause them to desert the nest.
What if I find a fallen nest, egg, or baby bird? In most cases, it’s really best to let nature take its course with nesting birds. Nests knocked from trees by wind or storms may not have been securely built in the first place. Eggs fallen to the ground may be there for a reason – they could be infertile or belong to a different “nest-stealing” species. If you do want to help, though, here are some tips:
- If you find a fallen nest on the ground after a storm, with or without intact eggs, you can try placing it back up into a tree nearby. It’s possible the birds may return to it, but don’t be surprised if they simply move on and try again. Nature is very adaptable.
- If you find a fallen egg on the ground near a nest, you can pick up and place it back in the nest. Don’t worry about the myth that your scent will keep the birds from returning – birds have poorly developed senses of smell. Do be aware, though, that birds sometimes push eggs from their nests on purpose. If you continue to find them on the ground, just leave them there and let nature take its course.
- If you find a baby bird on the ground, don’t pick it up immediately; instead just observe it for a few minutes. It may be a fledgling, out of the nest and learning to fly. If it’s clearly a helpless nestling, you can pick up and put it back in the nest (again, your hands are fine), but remember that baby birds falling from nests are also a part of nature weeding out the weak to let the strongest survive.
Do you have nesting behavior in your yard yet? Tell us what you’re seeing and how you safely observe it in the comments below!