Photo © Al Tuttle

Frequently Asked Questions

Using NestWatch.org

Get answers to questions about project participation and using this website.

Account Info

Data Entry

  • I have a lot of old nest records. Is there any way to upload them to NestWatch?
  • Yes, we are currently piloting a new feature called the “bulk import tool.” If you have >100 nest attempts that are suitable for NestWatch entry, meaning they are digital and include at least some of the same fields we collect, then please fill out this form and we will contact you regarding your data. We will work with you to determine if we can upload your data, and help format the data for importing into a NestWatch account.

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  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Photos in moderation aren’t a problem for nesting birds, and, as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, nesting data won’t be compromised. First, photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so is illegal and can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos, and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to overstay your welcome and stress the birds.

    You can submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • How can I submit photos of a nest?
  • You can share photos on our Participant Photos page! By submitting photos to NestWatch, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will.

    • Note: You should always prioritize the safety of the birds over taking a good photograph of a nest. Remember to keep nest visits under a minute in length, and do not keep parents off the nest during bad weather or when predators are nearby.
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  • How do I estimate first egg, hatch, and fledge dates?
  • We define these dates as:
    First Egg Date – Estimated date when first egg was laid for each nest attempt.
    Hatch Date – Estimated date that first egg hatched for each nest attempt.
    Fledge Date – Estimated date that the first nestling left the nest, for each nest attempt.

    Since it is difficult to record a complete nesting chronology, we ask participants to provide estimates on first egg, hatch, and fledge dates for their attempt summary output. In the case of virtually all songbirds, you can calculate a first egg date by backdating using the assumption that one egg is laid per day.

    Suppose you encountered 2 eggs in the nest on May 10 and you visit the same nest again on May 13 and discover 4 eggs. Counting backward one egg/day, we know the first egg was laid on May 9. The second egg was laid on May 10, the third on May 11, and the fourth and last egg on may 12. Once the clutch is complete, the female will start incubating after the ultimate (last) or penultimate (second to last) egg is laid.

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  • Help I have many sites to enter!
  • If your nests or nest boxes have a lot of similar characteristics to other nest sites (habitat, height, orientation, etc.), you can copy over the information from an existing site’s location.

    1. Locate the first site either by using the map, lat/long, or street address tabs. Submit as much nest site information as you can. Submit this site.

    2. Locate the next site on the map. Choose the option to “Copy the description of an existing site” located on the far left of the Site Description section, just under the map. Select the nest site whose information you want to copy, name the new site, and click “Save”. Afterwards, you can always edit the individual site locations and descriptions by going to the “Manage Sites” tab.

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  • What are groups?
  • Groups are a tool we have developed for nest monitors to organize nest sites by similar locations, trails, dates, species, or any category you can think of. To manage your groups, log in and go to “Your Data.” From there, click the “Manage Your Groups” button on the far right-hand side of the page above the map. You can create a group and add nests to it, or delete nests from a group (or delete the entire group).

    You can filter your nest sites by group using the Nest Site List, or visually on the map. This will reduce visual clutter when you only need to see certain nests.

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  • What is meant by Multiple Nest Visits and Nest Summary?
  • Multiple Nest Visits refers to both the grid-like table located on the worksheet (available in Table Mode) that nest monitors use to record information about each visit they make to the nest site. After a nest is completed, it is recommended that monitors provide a summary of the nest attempt. This information includes the first egg, hatching, and fledging dates, as well as summary information such as maximum clutch size and the number of unhatched eggs, live young, and fledglings.

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  • Do I have to sign out between sessions?
  • You don’t have to sign out of our server, but doing so will prevent anyone else who might use your computer from accessing the server in your name. We recommend that you sign out if you are using a public computer, such as one in a library. Signing out is not necessary if you participate in another Lab project and need to switch between projects.

    You can sign out of the server by clicking the “Sign out” link found in the top right of the page.

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  • Why can’t I delete some of my nest sites?
  • You have already entered nest attempts for this site. In order to delete the nest site you must first delete all nest attempts associated with that site.

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  • How can I be sure the data I entered were saved?
  • When you click the submit button, your data are saved.

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  • Can I enter data for birds in nest boxes?
  • Yes! Remember that before looking in a nest box, you should always give it a few taps in order for the female to leave the box. If the box has a panel which opens, you can directly look at its contents. If the box was not designed to be opened, you can try using a flashlight to see inside. This method can be a little bit difficult so if you cannot see the contents properly, do not send in the data. We ask you be very careful if you need to use a ladder or stepladder!

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  • When can I use an existing site for a new nest attempt?
  • Identical nests where the same exact nest site location can be used for multiple attempts include:

    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved or adjusted
    • nests in the same fork of the same tree branch
    • nests in the same clump of grass (where a “clump” is something with a diameter of not more than 6″)
    • nests in different next boxes, when one box is replaced on the same pole by a different style box of the same approximate size
    • A second nest built on top of the first by the same species
    • A second nest built on top of the first by a different species
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  • When should I create a new nest site?
  • If a nest is not in the exact identical location as a previous nest, then a new nest site should be created. Distinct or new sites include cases such as when:

    • nests in the same nest box, but the box has been moved any distance in between nestings
    • nests in the same nest box, and the nest box hasn’t been moved, but the height of the box has been raised by two feet
    • nests in the same nest box, but the pole for the box has been moved 1 foot in between nestings
    • there are two nests on different forks of the same tree branch
    • nests in two different cavities in the same snag at different heights in the trunk
    • nests in two cavities in the same snag at the same height, but on different sides of the trunk
    • nests in two clumps of grass, one foot apart in your yard
    • nests on the same rafter in a barn, 1 foot apart
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  • Can I record inactive nests?
  • NestWatch needs records of “actively used” nests, which correspond to nests that contain eggs or nestlings, or nests under active construction. We can also accept “absence data” in the form of observations of empty nest boxes, if you would like to report these.

    However, older nests from previous seasons should not be reported if they were not monitored at the time they were active. This is because we do not have a way of storing records in our database that do not include the dates of the potential nesting activity. We do encourage reporting old nests if data were collected on them at the time they were active.

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  • I don’t have time to enter any visits at all; can I just enter my summary information?
  • For each nest site, you have the option of reporting your multiple visits to the nest, a summary of the entire nest attempt, or both (preferred), all from the same “Breeding Data” section. However, if time is a factor, you may choose to enter just the summary information. While the multiple visits information is more powerful for our analyses, the summary information is very quick and easy to enter and allows you to export it for your records. To enter just the summary information, click the tab beside the multiple visits tab called “Summary.”

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  • I visited the nest site 50 times. Do I have to enter all my visits?
  • Visiting the nest this often is not necessary and causes too much disturbance at the nest site. As a rule of thumb, 8-10 visits over the course of a nesting attempt will provide meaningful data; a minimum of 3 visits spread across the nesting attempt is strongly encouraged.

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  • Do I have to enter ALL of my nest attempts?
  • Some data is better than no data! If you or your organization lacks the time to enter all nest sites and nest attempts, please enter a subset of your nesting records as long as you randomly select these sites. It is important that we have a random selection of your nest sites, not just the successful sites or the occupied sites. For example, assume you have 30 nest sites total, and of these, 10 were successful, 10 failed, and 10 were unoccupied. If you only have time to enter half of these, a random sample would select 5 or so from each group (give or take). In this example, it would bias the database to only submit the 10 successful nests. Even though it is not as exciting to report, negative data where no activity occurred or data on failed nest attempts is just as important as the successful nests, as it gives us a much more accurate picture of what is actually happening.

    If you have >100 nest attempts that you would like to enter but don’t have time, consider trying our Bulk Import Tool.

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  • Why do you require such detailed data rather than just summaries?
  • The answer to this question is complex, but here is an example that might help explain this. Imagine that you have 12 apple trees in your yard producing a total of 120 apples. If each of the 12 trees had about 10 apples, you might conclude that it was a very bad year, but that all of your trees were healthy. If all 120 apples were on one tree, you would undoubtedly come to a different conclusion – perhaps hypothesizing that something was killing off your trees. Summary data for an entire orchard (or trail) would not allow us to make this distinction and yet it is a distinction that is critically important with respect to the future of the orchard. If we are to become good predictors of, say, bluebird population trends into the future, we need to know how many pairs are reproducing successfully, what their clutch sizes are, how much they vary from one individual or year to the next, and how the number of pairs fluctuates over time.

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  • Why do we lock data?
  • Data associated with your sites from previous years is kept locked. You may request to have data unlocked, and, if granted, it will be unlocked for 30 days. This is because we use your data for scientific purposes and the data is now part of the collective history of nesting birds. We must be careful not to tamper with historical data.

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  • What is a nest attempt?
  • A nest attempt is any nest with at least one egg present. You should create a new nest attempt in NestWatch each time a pair begins a new clutch. Once the nest fledges or fails, you should end the attempt by entering the summary information, and clicking “End This Attempt.” Once you have done this, you will again have the option to “Add an Attempt”, which will allow you to create additional attempts for subsequent nestings. Whereas open-cup nests may never be used again, it is particularly important for nest box monitors to recognize each nesting as a unique attempt.

    We ask that you not record multiple consecutive nestings under the same attempt. The data from such entries are inaccurate, and therefore, much more difficult to interpret. If you have questions about when it is appropriate to begin a new nesting attempt, please contact us.

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Data Retrieval and Analysis

  • I entered my data and now I want to save it to my computer – how do I download it?
  • Navigate to your “My Data” page. You’ll find options for specifying which data you want to export just below your Quick Summary section. Download your personal nest site descriptions, breeding data, and species summaries, organized by group or by year, as an Excel spreadsheet.

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  • Where are my data?
  • When you submit your data through our online data entry system, it goes into the Lab’s main database. A data set is created, and we then set about the task of analyzing the data to answer specific questions. For example, a subset of the data that pertains to clutch size will be analyzed separately from another subset that pertains to nest-site selection, and so on. Your data will “live” on our computer permanently.

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  • Why can’t I delete some of my nest sites?
  • You have already entered nest attempts for this site. In order to delete the nest site you must first delete all nest attempts associated with that site.

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  • What do we know about clutch size?
  • Clutch sizes differ not only among major taxonomic groups of birds and among species, but also among populations and individuals of the same species. For instance, albatrosses, shearwaters, tropicbirds, and frigatebirds characteristically lay only one egg per clutch. Loons, goatsuckers, most pigeons, and hummingbirds lay two eggs per clutch, and most shorebirds lay four eggs per clutch. With the exception of shorebirds, practically all species that normally lay more than two eggs per clutch show marked variation in clutch size. There are numerous factors that appear to influence the number of eggs in a clutch. They include the following:

    • Age of the female. Within populations, the age of a female bird is related to the size of her clutch.
    • Temperature and time of season. Cold weather may reduce the size of a clutch; and clutches laid later in the breeding season may contain fewer eggs than clutches laid by the same individual earlier in the season.
    • Health of the female. If a female is unhealthy, her clutch size will probably be smaller than if she were in peak physical condition.
    • Food availability. Abundant food supplies can mean more eggs per clutch.
    • High population density. Females lay fewer eggs per clutch when breeding in colonies or other high population areas. Habitat quality may also affect clutch size.
    • Geographic location. On average, within a species, birds lay smaller clutches when breeding at either lower latitudes or higher altitudes.
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  • Why study clutch size?
  • The topic of clutch size variation has been a source of fascination for generations of bird biologists. We know there is variation in clutch size both within and among species. We want to know more about what factors might influence this variation in clutch size. For example, within a given species, does the number of eggs a female lays per clutch vary with latitude? With altitude? Why do birds that are colonial or nest at relatively high densities often lay fewer eggs than their solitary-nesting relatives? Why do small species tend to have larger clutches than large species? It is almost certainly true that birds lay about the number of eggs that will produce the maximum number of surviving offspring over the parents’ reproductive lifetime. What ecological factors determine this number for different birds?

    Increasing our understanding of the biological and ecological factors that affect clutch size allows scientists and wildlife managers to make better-informed decisions about bird conservation.

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  • What method do you use to estimate nest success?
  • When participants use the grid-based “Multiple Visits” method of data entry, scientists can estimate daily nest survival.

    Accurately estimating nest success (the fraction of observed nests that fledge at least one young) is a critical goal of any nest monitoring program. True nest success is almost never the proportion of nests that fledged offspring, particularly for birds that do not nest in nest boxes. This is because nests are not all found at the same stage of nesting. You can imagine that a nest that is destroyed before the entire clutch is laid has a very low chance of being found, whereas a nest that survives until fledging is likely to be noticed, both because it is around longer and because the parents become more conspicuous as they begin feeding and defending their brood. For this reason, nests that survive the longest are most likely to be found and nests that fail very early are often missed entirely! Since this detection bias means that we find more successful than unsuccessful nests, it becomes important to correct for the fact that our data will tend to overestimate nest success in a population.

    To eliminate this bias the new data entry system uses widely accepted methods to achieve accurate estimates of nest success. The simplest of these was developed by Mayfield (1961, 1975, see calculation below). All of these methods are based on daily nest survival (i.e., the proportion of nests that did not fail on a given day, while the nests were under observation). The total number of nest-days of observation is called exposure days. In order for researchers to use the Mayfield Method of analysis to estimate nest survival, we need to have a chronological record of each visit to the nest, which can be reported using the “Multiple Visits” method.
    These more sophisticated analyses will also allow researchers to examine how factors such as habitat, seasonal effects, or experimental treatments affect the probability of nest success.
    Using Mayfield’s method, nest success is calculated as:

    Mayfield Estimate of daily nest survival = 1 [(number of nest losses)/(total exposure days)]
    Estimate of nest success = (daily nest survival)n

    where n = length of the nesting period (just incubation for precocial species, and incubation and nestling period for altricial species)

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  • How are data used?
  • Data are primarily used for long-term monitoring of birds nesting in the United States. Data can also be used to document the effects of climate change or other factors on breeding birds (e.g., changes in nesting dates, nesting success, or distribution).

    Data are also used to study factors that influence variation in things like clutch size. A clutch of eggs is the total number of eggs laid in one nesting attempt. Clutch sizes vary within and between species. For example, an American Robin may lay between 4 or 5 eggs in an average clutch, while a Wood Duck may lay 7 to 14 eggs per clutch. Nest records gathered since the end of the 1950’s through regional nest record schemes are already used by scientists from universities and government agencies, amateur naturalists, nature writers, etc.

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How to Participate

  • I have a lot of old nest records. Is there any way to upload them to NestWatch?
  • Yes, we are currently piloting a new feature called the “bulk import tool.” If you have >100 nest attempts that are suitable for NestWatch entry, meaning they are digital and include at least some of the same fields we collect, then please fill out this form and we will contact you regarding your data. We will work with you to determine if we can upload your data, and help format the data for importing into a NestWatch account.

    link
  • What are the recommended system requirements to use and view this site?
  • How much time will this project require?
  • The time you devote to the project is entirely up to you. You may want to search for nests for a few days or for only a couple of hours. However, you should keep in mind that if you find a nest and want to follow it through the nesting season, you will need to give a bit of your time, possibly a few hours over two to four weeks. Although we accept nests that have been visited only once, we encourage you to make multiple visits (3-4 days apart) to the same nest as this provides us with valuable additional information.

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  • Can I enter data for birds in nest boxes?
  • Yes! Remember that before looking in a nest box, you should always give it a few taps in order for the female to leave the box. If the box has a panel which opens, you can directly look at its contents. If the box was not designed to be opened, you can try using a flashlight to see inside. This method can be a little bit difficult so if you cannot see the contents properly, do not send in the data. We ask you be very careful if you need to use a ladder or stepladder!

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  • Can I record inactive nests?
  • NestWatch needs records of “actively used” nests, which correspond to nests that contain eggs or nestlings, or nests under active construction. We can also accept “absence data” in the form of observations of empty nest boxes, if you would like to report these.

    However, older nests from previous seasons should not be reported if they were not monitored at the time they were active. This is because we do not have a way of storing records in our database that do not include the dates of the potential nesting activity. We do encourage reporting old nests if data were collected on them at the time they were active.

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  • Can I report nests from species other than the focal species?
  • Yes! Although we are focusing on common species, we will accept data for other species. The information to collect is the same for all bird species.

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  • Who can participate?
  • Anyone, although children monitoring nests should always be accompanied by an adult. The only requirement is that you find an active bird nest, record the breeding activity, and enter your data through the “Your Data” page on this web site. We are especially interested in data on our focal species.

    • Teachers: Does your schoolyard have the potential for birds to nest? If so, you could add the nest monitoring project as a special activity to your natural sciences’ course. Download the teaching module.
    • Businesses: Does your company have space for nest boxes? Add NestWatch to your corporate stewardship program, and demonstrate your environmental responsibility.
    • Nonprofits: Do you conduct nest monitoring as part of your regular activities? NestWatch is a long-term, stable repository for your organization’s data.
    • Individuals: From your back yard to your local park, you can monitor a nest anywhere in the world.
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Nest Monitoring

Get answers to questions about nest monitoring in general, nest boxes, and the NestWatch protocol.

Bird ID Tips

  • How can I identify what kinds of birds are in my backyard?
  • First, learn to identify the types of birds in your yard during the spring and summer. They may just be passing through to their breeding grounds, or they may actually nest in your yard. Purchase a bird identification book such as the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds for the Eastern and Western regions. These books include color photographs and descriptions of the birds you may find in your backyard. If you happen to find a nest and are unsure of the species that built it, get a copy of A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison. The most frequent type of nest among North American songbirds is a simple cup usually lined with fine grass or other soft material.

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How-to's

  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Photos in moderation aren’t a problem for nesting birds, and, as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, nesting data won’t be compromised. First, photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so is illegal and can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos, and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to overstay your welcome and stress the birds.

    You can submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • How can I submit photos of a nest?
  • You can share photos on our Participant Photos page! By submitting photos to NestWatch, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will.

    • Note: You should always prioritize the safety of the birds over taking a good photograph of a nest. Remember to keep nest visits under a minute in length, and do not keep parents off the nest during bad weather or when predators are nearby.
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  • How do I estimate first egg, hatch, and fledge dates?
  • We define these dates as:
    First Egg Date – Estimated date when first egg was laid for each nest attempt.
    Hatch Date – Estimated date that first egg hatched for each nest attempt.
    Fledge Date – Estimated date that the first nestling left the nest, for each nest attempt.

    Since it is difficult to record a complete nesting chronology, we ask participants to provide estimates on first egg, hatch, and fledge dates for their attempt summary output. In the case of virtually all songbirds, you can calculate a first egg date by backdating using the assumption that one egg is laid per day.

    Suppose you encountered 2 eggs in the nest on May 10 and you visit the same nest again on May 13 and discover 4 eggs. Counting backward one egg/day, we know the first egg was laid on May 9. The second egg was laid on May 10, the third on May 11, and the fourth and last egg on may 12. Once the clutch is complete, the female will start incubating after the ultimate (last) or penultimate (second to last) egg is laid.

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  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • 1. In books. Your public library or local book store should have a few books on the subject of nest boxes. Here are two books with complete information related to nest boxes:

    • Stokes, Donald and Lillian. Birdhouse book: the complete guide to attracting nesting birds. Broquet, LaPrairie, 1995. 96 p.
    • Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund & Pennsylvania Game Commission. Woodcrafting for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Mammals. 3rd Edition. 64 p.

    2. In our NestWatcher’s Resource Center, you will find several different types of nest box models, box measurements for common species, species fact sheets, predator guard plans, etc. Many other web sites also provide information on nest boxes.

    If you want birds to nest successfully in your nest boxes, you should remember to:

    • Protect the boxes from predators. Do not place them within easy reach of raccoons and squirrels.
    • Clean them. In fall, once the nesting season is over, you should remove the old nest material. This will eliminate parasites and provide a clean nesting environment for next year’s birds.
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  • The nest is too high and I cannot see the contents. Do you have some suggestions?
  • Yes, but the ideal method depends on the actual height of the nest. There are several options available.

    If it is less than about six feet off the ground, you may be able to see the contents using a stepladder or a ladder. Stay alert and be very careful. Breeding birds most often protect their nest by diving at potential predators like you. Do not let them break your concentration!

    If the nest is not accessible using a ladder but is still less than 15 feet off the ground, you can try using a long pole with a mirror attached to it. You could also embrace a new technology and use a telescoping smartphone mount (i.e., a “selfie stick”). Some models can extend up to 32′ (10 m) and most allow for adjusting the angle of the camera. The devices use Bluetooth technology, or your camera’s timer, and work with a wide variety of smartphone models.

    When all else fails, and the nest is simply out of reach or if it is not readily accessible such as in a swamp, we recommend you do not attempt to look at the contents directly. Your safety and the safety of the nest should be your first priority. However, if you see birds close to the nest, watch their behavior through binoculars or a scope. If you see them bring twigs or food (e.g., an insect), it means that they are building a nest or feeding young. Such observations make up a nest record and can be reported. Review the nine stages of the nesting cycle to help guide your observations.

     

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  • Will checking nests increase the risk of predation?
  • Nest predation by crows, jays, chipmunks, weasels, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, snakes, small rodents, cats, and birds of prey is a common cause of nest failure. Observers often fear that increased predation may result from the observer leaving a track or scent-trail to nests. However, a two-year investigation of this possibility by the British Trust for Ornithology showed that nests visited frequently had similar success rates as other nests left undisturbed between laying and fledging. This finding has been supported by the consistency of the results obtained from different observers’ records. Predation in the absence of human involvement has also been demonstrated by searches of completely undisturbed areas late in the season. Such findings are consistent with the normal high annual mortality of songbirds species. However, you should still do your best to minimize bringing attention to the nest.

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  • Can my visits to the nest harm the birds or interfere with the nesting attempt?
  • This is unlikely if you are cautious while moving around the nest, and if you follow our Code of Conduct. Observers often fear that increased predation may result from the observer leaving a track or scent-trail to nests but recent studies have shown that nests visited frequently had a similar rate of success to others left undisturbed between laying and fledging. Birds, unlike many mammals which have a good sense of smell, will continue to care for their young after being disturbed. Also keep in mind that nest checks should not be made in inclement weather, and surrounding vegetation should not be disturbed.

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  • How much time will this project require?
  • The time you devote to the project is entirely up to you. You may want to search for nests for a few days or for only a couple of hours. However, you should keep in mind that if you find a nest and want to follow it through the nesting season, you will need to give a bit of your time, possibly a few hours over two to four weeks. Although we accept nests that have been visited only once, we encourage you to make multiple visits (3-4 days apart) to the same nest as this provides us with valuable additional information.

    link
  • Can I report nests from species other than the focal species?
  • Yes! Although we are focusing on common species, we will accept data for other species. The information to collect is the same for all bird species.

    link
  • I visited the nest site 50 times. Do I have to enter all my visits?
  • Visiting the nest this often is not necessary and causes too much disturbance at the nest site. As a rule of thumb, 8-10 visits over the course of a nesting attempt will provide meaningful data; a minimum of 3 visits spread across the nesting attempt is strongly encouraged.

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Natural Nests

Nest Box Care

  • Should I use treated wood or paint on a nest box?
  • There are no conclusive studies that determine whether residual fumes from paint or pressure treatment can harm the birds. In the absence of evidence, we recommend using untreated, unpainted wood to construct boxes (cedar, white pine, and yellow pine are good rot-resistant choices). Pressure-treated wood has been impregnated with a combination of pesticide and fungicide, and therefore, should be avoided as a nest box material; instead, you can extend the life of your nest box by gluing all the joints before nailing them.

    In hot climates, where daytime temperatures regularly exceed 95 °F, some nest box monitors choose to paint the exterior of boxes so that they stay cooler. Proper ventilation and a roof that extends two inches over the sides will help shade the box and protect it from the elements, reducing the need for paint. However, some additional cooling may be gained by painting the roof and exterior walls a light color (white is preferred for Purple Martin houses, but opt for tan, gray, or dull green for other cavity-nesting species as these are less conspicuous to predators). If paint is deemed necessary by the monitor, then it should only be applied to the exterior. Even zero- and low-VOC latex paint formulas can release fumes for months or even years, so if you paint, plan to do so in the fall, which will give fumes plenty of time to dissipate throughout the winter.

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  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • 1. In books. Your public library or local book store should have a few books on the subject of nest boxes. Here are two books with complete information related to nest boxes:

    • Stokes, Donald and Lillian. Birdhouse book: the complete guide to attracting nesting birds. Broquet, LaPrairie, 1995. 96 p.
    • Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund & Pennsylvania Game Commission. Woodcrafting for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Mammals. 3rd Edition. 64 p.

    2. In our NestWatcher’s Resource Center, you will find several different types of nest box models, box measurements for common species, species fact sheets, predator guard plans, etc. Many other web sites also provide information on nest boxes.

    If you want birds to nest successfully in your nest boxes, you should remember to:

    • Protect the boxes from predators. Do not place them within easy reach of raccoons and squirrels.
    • Clean them. In fall, once the nesting season is over, you should remove the old nest material. This will eliminate parasites and provide a clean nesting environment for next year’s birds.
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  • What do I do with the nest after the birds have fledged?
  • During the breeding season, you can leave the nesting material in the box – the parents may decide to raise another brood. At the end of the season, you can remove the nesting material and scrub the inside with a mild detergent and water. You can leave your box up over the winter and allow it to be used as a roosting place for birds, mice, or squirrels. Some monitors elect to seal off their birdhouses to prevent unwanted winter tenants. Some people render the boxes unusable by propping the door open. If your nest is soiled with fecal matter, we recommend removing the nest and cleaning the nest box out with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

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  • What should I do if House Wrens nest in a box I put up for bluebirds?
  • House Wrens are commonly implicated in the puncturing of eggs of other cavity-nesting species. For this reason, some nest box landlords prefer not to play host to House Wrens. If you prefer not to attract House Wrens, make sure your nest boxes are far from shrubs or woods. The more open the site, the better. Please remember that it is illegal and unethical to disturb the nest or eggs of any native bird species, including House Wrens. The only species that are not protected by law are the non-native European Starling and House (English) Sparrow.

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Predators

  • How can I discourage predators like raccoons from raiding my nest boxes?
  • The best predator deterrent is a combination of a smooth, slippery pole on which to mount the box and installation of a predator guard or baffle. Trees, wooden fence posts, and fence posts intended for wire fence won’t even slow down most predators, as all of these provide marvelous toe-holds for climbers, or rough surfaces for snakes. Galvanized pipe or PVC pipe are both slippery, smooth surfaces that most predators will have difficulty climbing. Adding a predator guard or baffle will stop all but the most acrobatic predators. Make sure your nest box is not set up next to a tree or similar object that predators can use as launch pads.

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  • How can I tell if a raccoon has raided my box?
  • This is a common question we receive during the breeding season. The telltale sign of depredation by a raccoon is a totally disheveled nest, eggs, or chicks. Eggs once present in the nest may be dumped to the bottom of the box or they may be gone altogether. Nest material is pulled up from the nest and often is hanging out of the entrance hole, or is on the ground under the nest box. Raccoons tend to either sit on the roof of the box or hang on the side of the box and reach in through the entrance hole. They pull at anything they can reach whether it be nest material, eggs, or nestlings. Once raccoons have found a nest box, they will likely return again.

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  • Will checking nests increase the risk of predation?
  • Nest predation by crows, jays, chipmunks, weasels, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, snakes, small rodents, cats, and birds of prey is a common cause of nest failure. Observers often fear that increased predation may result from the observer leaving a track or scent-trail to nests. However, a two-year investigation of this possibility by the British Trust for Ornithology showed that nests visited frequently had similar success rates as other nests left undisturbed between laying and fledging. This finding has been supported by the consistency of the results obtained from different observers’ records. Predation in the absence of human involvement has also been demonstrated by searches of completely undisturbed areas late in the season. Such findings are consistent with the normal high annual mortality of songbirds species. However, you should still do your best to minimize bringing attention to the nest.

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Bird Biology

Get answers to questions about nesting biology, bird behavior, what to expect, and common problems.

Dead Birds

  • How can I tell if a raccoon has raided my box?
  • This is a common question we receive during the breeding season. The telltale sign of depredation by a raccoon is a totally disheveled nest, eggs, or chicks. Eggs once present in the nest may be dumped to the bottom of the box or they may be gone altogether. Nest material is pulled up from the nest and often is hanging out of the entrance hole, or is on the ground under the nest box. Raccoons tend to either sit on the roof of the box or hang on the side of the box and reach in through the entrance hole. They pull at anything they can reach whether it be nest material, eggs, or nestlings. Once raccoons have found a nest box, they will likely return again.

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  • I checked my nest box, and found dead babies. Why?
  • Several factors can lead to this situation. Parents may abandon a nest for several reasons. Species competing for a nest box may usurp a cavity with an active nest. The non-native House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is infamous for killing nestlings and occasionally an adult bird. Severe parasite infestations could render the young so weak they cannot survive. Starvation could occur under several situations, such as limited food availability due to cold weather or if one parent disappears during the nestling stage. (Though one parent can sometimes make up for the for the loss by increasing their feeding rate.)

    Other causes of death include genetic disorders and chemical poisoning which are both difficult to diagnose without lab analysis. Nests are sometimes deserted by parents as a result of natural causes such as inclement weather, limited food resources, or death of a parent. If one parent disappears, the remaining parent may abandon the nest, search for a new mate and start over. A competing individual may drive them off of their territory, or a competing species may usurp their nest site.

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  • I was cleaning out my nest boxes and I found a dead adult Tree Swallow in one of them. How can this happen?
  • Many factors can affect avian mortality. Tree Swallows migrate quite a long way, some from Central America. If they arrive after such a long journey to wet, cold conditions, and a lack of insects (which is what they feed on), they may die. If you find dead young Tree Swallows in the box, make sure the inside wall of the entrance hole is roughly grooved so that the young birds have something to grip onto when fledging from the box.

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Incubation Periods

Nest Sites

  • Can I take photos of a nest?
  • Photos in moderation aren’t a problem for nesting birds, and, as long as the NestWatch Code of Conduct is followed, nesting data won’t be compromised. First, photos should not be taken every day because the NestWatch protocol stipulates that nests be visited every 3–4 days, at most. Therefore, photos should not be taken more frequently than your regular nest checks.

    When it is time for a nest visit, try to keep visits less than one minute. If, after recording your data, you are still under this limit, it is fine to take a picture. Whenever possible, avoid using your flash; if flash is necessary, take only one photo and make sure that there are no nest predators nearby. Never handle the nest contents or remove vegetation to get a better shot; doing so is illegal and can harm the nest. Exercise restraint when taking short videos, and leave the area immediately if the parents are stressed (e.g., alarm-calling, trying to deliver food to nestlings, bill-snapping). If you would like to photograph or film nestlings fledging, do so from a reasonable distance, and use a blind or natural vegetation cover to conceal yourself. Your first priority is the safety of the birds; photography and even data collection are not reason enough to overstay your welcome and stress the birds.

    You can submit your photos to our Participant Photos gallery, but by submitting photos to us, you agree to their use in any of our educational or promotional materials (we will credit all work to the original photographers). You retain the copyright to your photos and may share them with others at will. Keep in mind that photo submissions complement, but do not replace, data entry. We still need your data!

    For further reading, the American Birding Association and the North American Nature Photography Association have written codes of ethics which we encourage you to consult.

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  • What do I do about birds building a nest in an inappropriate place on my property?
  • The best advice is to stop this process as soon as it starts. Remove the nest materials by hand or with a hose, making sure not to injure any nearby wildlife. This action is only appropriate in the beginning stages of nest building. If nesting has already begun and eggs are present, it is against the law to injure or disturb wildlife.

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  • What is a nest attempt?
  • A nest attempt is any nest with at least one egg present. You should create a new nest attempt in NestWatch each time a pair begins a new clutch. Once the nest fledges or fails, you should end the attempt by entering the summary information, and clicking “End This Attempt.” Once you have done this, you will again have the option to “Add an Attempt”, which will allow you to create additional attempts for subsequent nestings. Whereas open-cup nests may never be used again, it is particularly important for nest box monitors to recognize each nesting as a unique attempt.

    We ask that you not record multiple consecutive nestings under the same attempt. The data from such entries are inaccurate, and therefore, much more difficult to interpret. If you have questions about when it is appropriate to begin a new nesting attempt, please contact us.

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Parasites

  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • 1. In books. Your public library or local book store should have a few books on the subject of nest boxes. Here are two books with complete information related to nest boxes:

    • Stokes, Donald and Lillian. Birdhouse book: the complete guide to attracting nesting birds. Broquet, LaPrairie, 1995. 96 p.
    • Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund & Pennsylvania Game Commission. Woodcrafting for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Mammals. 3rd Edition. 64 p.

    2. In our NestWatcher’s Resource Center, you will find several different types of nest box models, box measurements for common species, species fact sheets, predator guard plans, etc. Many other web sites also provide information on nest boxes.

    If you want birds to nest successfully in your nest boxes, you should remember to:

    • Protect the boxes from predators. Do not place them within easy reach of raccoons and squirrels.
    • Clean them. In fall, once the nesting season is over, you should remove the old nest material. This will eliminate parasites and provide a clean nesting environment for next year’s birds.
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  • What are brood parasites and what do they have to do with Cowbirds?
  • This is when Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds who then incubate their eggs and raise the cowbirds as their own. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay 36 eggs in a season. Over 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds. Host parents may sometimes notice the cowbird egg. Different species react in different ways. Gray Catbirds destroy the egg by pecking it. Some species may simply build a new layer over the bottom of the original nest. Brown-headed cowbird nestlings are sometimes expelled from the nest.

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Problems

  • Where can I find construction plans to build nest boxes?
  • 1. In books. Your public library or local book store should have a few books on the subject of nest boxes. Here are two books with complete information related to nest boxes:

    • Stokes, Donald and Lillian. Birdhouse book: the complete guide to attracting nesting birds. Broquet, LaPrairie, 1995. 96 p.
    • Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund & Pennsylvania Game Commission. Woodcrafting for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Mammals. 3rd Edition. 64 p.

    2. In our NestWatcher’s Resource Center, you will find several different types of nest box models, box measurements for common species, species fact sheets, predator guard plans, etc. Many other web sites also provide information on nest boxes.

    If you want birds to nest successfully in your nest boxes, you should remember to:

    • Protect the boxes from predators. Do not place them within easy reach of raccoons and squirrels.
    • Clean them. In fall, once the nesting season is over, you should remove the old nest material. This will eliminate parasites and provide a clean nesting environment for next year’s birds.
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  • What should I do if I see a young bird fallen out of the nest?
  • Although this may be difficult to accept, the general rule in such a case is to refrain from doing anything and hope for the best. Most attempts to save the bird (especially a bird that may not need to be saved in the first place) will do more harm than good. Therefore, examine the situation carefully before attempting anything. It is not uncommon that birds will wander a short distance from the nest during the last days before fledging, and if parents are around, they will continue to care for them. Look at the feathers, especially the wing feathers to see if they are well opened. If so, it is best to leave the bird where you find 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., feathers not completely opened and not covering the entire body), you should attempt to place the young back in its nest. If the nest is too high, you can try building a little improvised platform (e.g., a small plastic container lined with small twigs) and placing it on a branch. Then, leave the nest alone and if you want to observe the parents coming back, do so from a distance.

    What you should not do:

    • Wait around the nest to see if the parents will come back. If you are visible, they will not come back.
    • Try to feed the bird yourself. A diet that is not perfectly adapted will kill the young. Moreover, young birds need to be fed several times every hour, all day long: you will not be able to keep up.
    • Give water. Young birds do not drink in nature, but receive their water from the food they eat.
    • Remember that the longer you stay with the young, the less likely it is to survive.
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Using the Mobile App

Get answers to questions about using our smartphone app.

Getting Started

  • I am having trouble using the app. How do I get help?
  • Please check the FAQs to see if they answer your question. If you don’t find an answer, please fill out this Contact Us form. Be sure to include your phone’s make and version and the specific issue you are encountering.

    Screenshots of the issue are always helpful. To take a screenshot on an iOS device, press the power and home screen button at the same time. On Android, press the power and volume down button at the same time. Look in your photos to find and share the screenshot.

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  • I am trying to get my username and/or reset my password. I never received the email with the information.
  • If you do not receive the instructions within a few minutes, please check your email’s spam or junk folder. If the email is not there, please fill out the Contact Us form. Your account’s email address may have an error or you may be using an email address that is different than the email in our database.

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  • What’s my username and/or password?
  • From the app’s sign in page, select the link: “I forgot my username or password.” This will open up your device’s web browser. Select the “Forgot Username?” or “Forgot Password?” links on the sign in page. You will receive reset instructions in your email.

    If you do not receive the instructions within a few minutes, please check your email’s spam or junk folder. If the email is not there, please contact nestwatch@cornell.edu. Your account’s email address may have an error or may be outdated.

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  • Can I use the app if I do not have a smartphone or tablet?
  • No, the app only works on smartphones and tablets. If you do not have those devices, you can use the NestWatch website to enter your nest sites and nest visits.

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  • When I downloaded the app, it asked for a lot of permissions such as location and network access. Why?
  • The app asks for the following permissions:

    My Location: The NestWatch app uses GPS to tag nest sites.

    Full network access: The NestWatch app sends your data to our servers as you collect it. The NestWatch servers send data back to the phone when your data needs updating.

    Camera and Photos: In the future, the app will request permission to access the camera and local photo albums/pictures so that the app can take, store, and display pictures related to the NestWatch app only.

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  • How do I download the NestWatch app on iPhone/iOS?
  • While on your iPhone/iPad, use this link to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.

    Alternatively, open the “App Store” from your Apple device. Search for “NestWatch” and find the app in the results list, then tap “Get.”

    If you still can’t see the app, or if there is no “Open” button, you may have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that is running an older version of the Apple operating system (iOS 5 or 6). NestWatch only works properly on iOS7 or later. If you have an older version of iOS, then the App Store will not display apps that require an updated operating system.

    You can check your iOS version by going to Settings → General → About and looking at the version number. The version number will look something like this: 10.3.1. If that first number is a “7” or greater, the app will work on your device. If you have a 5 or 6, then you will need to update your iOS in order to use NestWatch. To update your iOS, just go to Settings → General → Software Update.

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  • How do I download the NestWatch app on Android?
  • While on your Android device, click here to download the app. Tap “Install” to complete the process.

    Alternatively, on your Android device, go to the Play Store app. Tap the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner. Type “NestWatch” into the search bar and tap on the magnifying glass in the lower right corner of the keyboard to start the search. Find “NestWatch” in the results list and then tap “Install.”

    If you are unable to find the app in the Play Store, it may be that your device does not support NestWatch. NestWatch runs on Android mobile operating systems 5 or higher. You can check your Android operating system version by going to: Settings → About the Phone/Device.

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Using the App

  • How do I edit an attempt after it has been finalized?
  • At this time, you cannot edit a finalized nest attempt within the mobile app. If you need to edit the nest fate, nest totals (clutch size, unhatched eggs, live young, or fledglings), or any final comments, please log into the NestWatch website . Find the nest site and select “Site Summary.” You will see all the nest attempts for that site. Find the nest attempt and select “Edit attempt.” This will open the data entry table. Above the table, select the button, “Reopen attempt for editing.” Scroll to the bottom of the data entry table and select “Summarize this nesting attempt.” Make any edits and then select “End this nesting attempt.”

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  • I am having trouble using the app. How do I get help?
  • Please check the FAQs to see if they answer your question. If you don’t find an answer, please fill out this Contact Us form. Be sure to include your phone’s make and version and the specific issue you are encountering.

    Screenshots of the issue are always helpful. To take a screenshot on an iOS device, press the power and home screen button at the same time. On Android, press the power and volume down button at the same time. Look in your photos to find and share the screenshot.

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  • The app is draining my battery.
  • The app uses your device’s internal GPS. That service can drain some devices’ batteries. You can turn off the location feature on your device. Be aware, you will not be able to locate nest sites with the map if you turn off the device’s location service.

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  • Can I upload photos to the app?
  • Not yet. We will be adding this feature to a future version of the app. Stay tuned.

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  • My map will not load OR my map got stuck while loading. What should I do?
  • If the map partially loads, gets stuck, or refuses to load, you have some network connectivity but not enough to transfer the map images. In this scenario, it is best to use the app in offline mode. To get offline, turn on your device’s airplane mode. Be aware, when you are in airplane mode, your device will not receive phone calls or text messages.

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  • The app is still showing I am in offline mode, even though I have internet and/or cellular service. How do I get back online?
  • Your device is still in airplane mode. Go to your settings and turn off airplane mode. Make sure you are connected to either the internet or your cellular service. Once you are connected, your data will sync.

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  • How do I get the app to work offline? I can’t find a way to select offline mode.
  • The app will automatically go into offline mode if you do not have WiFi or cellular service. To trigger the app to work in offline mode, go to your phone’s settings and turn on airplane mode. This turns off your phone’s connectivity. When you log into the app while you are in airplane mode, the app will show you that you are offline with a red banner at the top of the screen. To get out of offline mode, turn off your phone’s airplane mode setting. FYI: when you are in airplane mode, your device will not receive calls or texts.

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  • When should I use offline mode?
  • You should use offline mode if you are in an area with limited or no connectivity. In this case, you might find that the map is taking a long time to load, and it might be faster to use offline mode.

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  • Will the NestWatch app work without internet or cell service?
  • Yes, it does. If you frequently find yourself off the beaten path without internet or cell service, NestWatch has an offline mode. The next time you are online, open the NestWatch app so that the data will sync to the NestWatch server.

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  • I created a “test” site and attempt. How do I delete a nest site and/or nest attempt on the app?
  • At this time, the app does not have the ability to delete nest sites and/or nest attempts. To delete a nest site and attempt, you will need to go to the NestWatch Data Homepage on our website. Sign in with the same username and password you used for the app. A friendly reminder: please do not create “test” nest sites or nest attempts. Our database is not designed to accept fake nesting data.

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  • How do I edit information such as nest sites or nest visits?
  • To make edits to your nest site or to edit any nest visit information, select the ‘Home’ icon in the upper right corner of the screen, then ‘Edit Existing Nest’ from the homepage. From the nest overview page, tap the pencil icon. Tap any of the highlighted areas to make edits.

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  • Why can’t I name a nest site?
  • There are several things that can cause this issue:

    1) You already have a nest site with that name. Try a different name.

    2) Your session may have timed out and you need to update the app. Log out of the app (Menu → Log out) check for updates (apply if available). Relaunch the app and try again. See this FAQ about how to update your device.

    3) Your device does not have the minimum required operating system to support the app. Android devices need an operating system of at least 5.0 and iOS devices need an operating system of at least 7.0.

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  • I am monitoring nest boxes as part of a group. Can we all enter data through the app?
  • Yes, everyone who is monitoring will need to log into the app with the same username and password. Please be aware if people are entering data simultaneously, you may not see a complete view of the data until the app fully syncs to the server.

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  • I want to enter data on the app and on the website. Will my nest checks show up in both places?
  • Yes, if you are signed into the app and the website with the same username and password, your data will show up on both your mobile device and your computer. If you were offline, be sure to sync your device before entering data into the website.

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  • I can download the app and sign in, but none of my nest sites display. What is going on?
  • Your phone or tablet does not have the minimal operating system required for the app to work properly. Android devices need a minimal operating system of 5.0 and iOS devices need a minimal operating system of 7.0

    You can check your Android operating system version by going to: Settings → About the Phone/Device.

    You can check your iOS version by going to Settings → General → About and looking at the version number. The version number will look something like this: 10.3.1. If that first number is a “7” or greater, the app will work on your device. If you have a 5 or 6, then you will need to update your iOS in order to use NestWatch. To update your iOS, just go to Settings → General → Software Update.

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  • How do I update the NestWatch app?
  • If you have Automatic Updates turned on for your device, the app will update automatically. To check your device’s Automatic Update settings, use this link for your iOS device or this link for your Andriod device.

    To see if you need to update the app, try this link on your iOS device or this link on your Android device.

    If you already have the newest version, the button should say “Open.” If you need to upgrade, it will say “Update.” Another thing to try is to go to the “Updates” tab in the lower right and see if NestWatch is listed there. If so, you can tap the “Update” button to get the latest version.

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