Neighborhood Nestwatch

What is Neighborhood Nestwatch?

Neighborhood Nestwatch is a citizen science and environmental education initiative of the National Aviary in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution.  Neighborhood Nestwatch was launched by Smithsonian researchers in the year 2000 in the Washington D.C. metro area, and it presently encompasses more than 200 backyard locations in and around that city.  Pittsburgh was the third additional Neighborhood Nestwatch city to join the initiative.

The dual purpose of Neighborhood Nestwatch is to educate the public about backyard wildlife and promote wildlife-friendly choices, while studying the impact of urbanization on bird populations.  The participants help track the survival and nesting success of their birds, and their observations are regularly submitted to the Smithsonian.  The data is organized based on the area’s population and landscape type. The classifications are:

  • 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).  

How Does Neighborhood Nestwatch Work?

National Aviary staff and volunteers go to participating private homes and area schools within 50 miles of downtown Pittsburgh.  They arrive very early in the morning, conduct an overall bird survey using a specific point count protocol; then they set up 1-3 mist nets (12 m long nets made of fine nylon mesh which harmlessly captures flying birds), and utilize bird call devices to lure in birds of eight target species:  Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Song Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and American Robin.  They try to catch as many of the target birds present in a participant’s backyard as possible, and they band each one with a unique combination of colored leg bands.  They release the banded birds back into the wild, but now with markings that will enable participants to see, recognize, and report  subsequent sightings of the banded birds in their backyard population.  As data on survivorship and nesting success accumulate, they will be analyzed by Smithsonian and National Aviary scientists in order to better understand the direct and indirect effects that human population density has on wild bird populations.