Neighborhood Nestwatch comes to Denver!

Is that Black-capped Chickadee at your feeder the same one you see every day, or is it a different one? Is that a male or female robin? Is the House Wren using your nestbox the same one that took up residence last year? Are there birds nesting around your home? Neighborhood Nestwatch answers these questions and more, bringing Bird Conservancy of the Rockies biologists to backyards in the Denver area to gather scientific data about local birds and train participants to become citizen scientists. As a participant, your backyard becomes a scientific study site as you learn about the process of science and report critically needed data. Data gathered by participants goes to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) and helps scientists study the effects of urbanization on nesting success, annual survival, and other variables.  This program is a terrific way for people to connect with nature’s wonders right around their own home while also making meaningful contributions to science.

Neighborhood Nestwatch was created in 2000 by Dr. Peter Marra of the SMBC based at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Since starting in Washington D.C., the program has expanded to seven cities including Pittsburgh, PA and Atlanta, GA., with hundreds of participating homes. The Denver “hub” of the program begins this year and is the first location west of the Mississippi River.  For more information about the national Neighborhood Nestwatch program, click here.

Six birds
Nestwatch Denver will focus on six target species (pictured above and listed in order, below):

  • American Robin (photo by by Fernando Boza)
  • Black-capped Chickadee (photo by by John Carr)
  • House Wren (photo by by Michelle Desrosiers)
  • Song Sparrow (photo by Jon Delorenzo)
  • Gray Catbird (photo by by Lee Farrell)
  • Spotted Towhee (photo from Dover Collection)

Site Selection

With support from SMBC, Bird Conservancy will first ensure that your yard is a suitable site for this program based on a yard’s unique combination of its surrounding landscape and location relative to other Denver sites. Keep in mind these criteria have little to do with how citizens manage their yard. Selected backyards can be surrounded by development, agriculture, pristine woodland, or everything in between. In addition, sites must be located within 50 miles of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Volunteers must also be willing to participate in the program for at least three years and are expected to make efforts at contributing data to the program.

AMRO Leon 2014

The American Robin is one of six target species that will be studied as part of Denver’s Neighborhood Nestwatch program. Photo by Tesa Leon

What happens during the site visit

Bird Conservancy staff start conducting activities in your yard around 7 a.m.  After completing a bird census at your yard, mist nets are used to capture birds for banding. Target species are color-banded, and their health information recorded. Bird banders also search for any nests in your yard and inventory plant species to help understand the habitat. Finally, Bird Conservancy staff will spend some time conducting a detailed characterization of the plants in your yard. Your active participation during the visit is truly welcomed! Except for the initial bird census, the staff will accommodate your assistance in aspects of the visit. At the end of the visit, you will receive a listing of “your” birds with their corresponding color band combinations. Throughout the visit you will learn exciting facts about birds and science including the tools you will need become a citizen scientist. Visits typically take about 6 hours.

Alie Mayes with Tufted Titmouse

Bird Conservancy’s Alexandra Mayes records vital information about a Tufted Titmouse before banding and re-releasing the bird into a Neighborhood Nestwatch backyard in Atlanta.

Neighborhood Nestwatch focuses on two basic life history traits: annual survival and reproductive success. Participant data from re-sightings of color-banded birds reflects how long birds live within their yard and nearby surroundings. Nest monitoring through the program provides information about bird reproduction across the study region. When participants submit their data, important comparisons can be made regarding annual survival and nest success for individual species.

House Wren at box copy

Neighborhood Nestwatch citizen scientists volunteer their time to track color-banded birds like this House Wren, gathering important data about avian activity in their own backyard. Photo by Paula Sullivan

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Logo    DMNS Logo

Neighborhood Nestwatch is offered in collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and with the support of the Science & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) and Adams County, Colorado.

SCFD      Adams County 2017 (not great quality)

For more information:
Kelsey Mazur
Program & Volunteer Coordinator
(303) 659-4348 x10
[email protected]

Applications for enrollment are being accepted now.  Participation is limited and volunteer sites are evaluated against program criteria including location, property type (urban vs rural), and other factors. Sites must be within 50 miles of Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and volunteers agree to participate in the program for a minimum of three years, committing approximately one hour of time per week. No previous experience is required and training is provided

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Gray Catbird photo courtesy of Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center