NestWatch Helps Study Climate Change Impact

Ithaca, NY—Collecting information about nesting birds in North America is what the NestWatch project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is all about—and the new season is just getting underway. Participants submit data about which kinds of birds are nesting, the number of eggs laid, dates eggs were laid, and the numbers of chicks hatched and fledged. “Collecting this information across the continent over long periods of time is one of the best ways we have to detect widespread changes in bird breeding biology,” says Laura Burkholder, the project leader for NestWatch. “Gathering this information takes on new urgency in light of the State of the Birds 2010 Climate Change Report just released by the Department of the Interior earlier this month.”“Nesting birds are vulnerable to climate change. Data show some species, like the Tree Swallow, are laying their eggs more than a week earlier than they did just a few decades ago,” says Burkholder. “That could spell big trouble if hatch dates get out of sync with the availability of food.” Based on NestWatch data from 1997 to 2009, the chart shown here for the Eastern Bluebird suggests that the first eggs are being laid sooner. More long-term data are needed to clarify the impacts of environmental change and human land use on breeding birds.In addition to its scientific value, NestWatch is fun, free, and open to all. Participation is a great way to connect with nature. Kindergarten students in one New York classroom collected information about bluebirds nesting on school grounds. “This was so exciting for the children and for me too,” said teacher Ruth Taylor. “They named the male Skyboy and the female Bluebell. First we had two eggs and then four eggs in the nest. What a marvelous experience for all of us to enjoy and learn!”The always-popular NestCams are also back in action. Anyone can get a live peek into nests and nest boxes across the country. Live cameras for Barn Owls, Barred Owls, and Wood Ducks are online right now with Eastern Bluebirds and other species soon to follow at www.nestcams.org.All NestWatch materials and instructions are available online at www.nestwatch.org, including directions on how to find nests, how to build and put up nest boxes, and how to monitor nests without disturbing the birds.

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