Bird Watchers, Unite!

article image Byland
A baby tree swallow about to take his first flight.

A common bath sponge is the key to a new experiment by The Birdhouse Network, a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

The network’s participants monitor nest-building and young-rearing activities of cavity-nesting birds. This spring, such birds might find a brightly colored sponge tacked to their nesting boxes. The experiment’s goal is to measure how birds respond to new and unexpected stimuli.

“We believe that examining birds’ responses to novel objects can help us understand why some bird species respond well and others poorly to human disturbance,” says Dr. Janis Dickinson, a behavioral ecologist and director of Citizen Science at the lab.

Participants will follow a strict protocol while observing birds. Scientists at the Cornell Lab will look for trends in breeding success, as well as other behaviors, such as whether a bird migrates or lives in a city vs. the country. A bird’s shyness or boldness may also speak to its long-term breeding success in the face of ever-increasing development.

The Birdhouse Network’s volunteers place nest boxes in their yards and monitor the number of eggs and young in a nest. People of all ages and skill levels can participate.

For more information, visit the Web site,, or call 800-843-2473. There is a project fee of $15.