Neighborhood Nestwatch is a community science and environmental education initiative that helps the public learn about backyard wildlife and wildlife-friendly choices. The National Aviary oversees the program in the greater Pittsburgh area, and was the third additional city to join this initiative founded by the Smithsonian Institution.
Participants in Neighborhood Nestwatch help track the birds that visit their backyard, and the data they gather enable scientists to better understand species’ survivability and reproductive success and the impact of urbanization on bird populations. The participants track and record their data and provide regular reports to the Smithsonian. Data are organized based on the area’s population and landscape type:
- Urban (>4 buildings per acre, both residential and commercial)
- Suburban (1-4 buildings per acre, mostly single family residential with large yards)
- Rural (<1 building per acre, within a predominantly agricultural landscape)
- Exurban (<1 building per acre, within a mostly natural, e.g., forested, landscape)
During Neighborhood Nestwatch season in the spring and summer, National Aviary staff visit participating homes and schools within 50 miles of downtown Pittsburgh. They arrive very early in the morning to conduct an overall bird survey and set up for the day. They set up mist nests (12 meter-long nets made of fine nylon mesh which harmlessly capture flying birds), and use bird call devices to lure birds from eight target species: Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Song Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and American Robin.
National Aviary staff try to catch as many of the target birds as possible in a participant’s backyard. When caught, staff gently examine the bird in hand to assess and record measurements like wingspan, which can help scientists learn more about each species. They place small bands with a unique color combination on the bird’s leg, then release the bird. Residents can identify the birds based on their unique colored bands and report their sightings to the Smithsonian.