One of nature's treasures should be appreciated but not taken, says our avian ecologist.

By Kier Holmes
April 16, 2020
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What a find! You happen to be hiking or gardening and you spot a bird nest. Thoughts of what to do race through your mind: Do you take it home and show it off to the kids? If it's on the ground, do you see if it fell off a branch and try to put it back? We asked David Bonter, avian ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for advice on the right thing to do. Bonter says, "Discovering a nesting bird is a fantastic opportunity to learn, but I encourage people to take the opportunity to observe the nest from afar."

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He suggests trying not to attract attention to the nest by leaving a dead-end trail or touching the supporting branches or structure because this could lead a hungry snake or mammal to the nest. "While watching a nest can be incredibly educational, parents watching nests with children should be prepared for disappointment and a conversation about how nature works," Bonter says. "The majority of nests fail at the egg or nestling stage due to predators (e.g., cats, raccoons, squirrels…), bad weather, or the lack of food."

If you find a nest and would like to monitor the progress of the birds, you can report your observations to NestWatch.org to help scientists track the reproductive success of wild bird populations.

If a bird is building a nest in your porch light or your shrub that needs pruning, the best thing to do is let the bird do its bird thing as you sit back and appreciate the wonders of nature. Know that most nesting attempts take roughly a month from egg-laying to fledging anyway so you won't be inconvenienced for long. Plus, it's illegal (a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act managed by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service) to interfere with the nests of any species of bird that is native to North America. What's more, individual states can have their own regulations, so if you are unsure of what bird you have and of your areas regulations it is best to leave the nest alone.

Do bird nests carry possible diseases and bacteria? Bonter replies candidly, "Oh yeah, nests are full of mites and lice. Fortunately, most of the critters specialize on birds and not mammals, but nests can be pretty gross."

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