Jul 18, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2018

Dear Birdsquatch: Is It OK to Check Bird Nests?

Visiting the nests that are in your baffled nest boxes during the early and middle stages of nesting is okay. Visiting the nests of cup-nesting birds or ground-nesting birds (not in boxes) is almost always a no-no.
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Dear Birdsquatch:

I want to be a good landlord to my nesting birds. Is it OK to check on the progress of the nests or will I disturb the birds?

—Steve F., Rochester, New York

Dear Steve,

Great question for this time of year! The answer really depends on the nest and species and setting. The short answer is: Visiting the nests that are in your baffled nest boxes during the early and middle stages of nesting is okay. Visiting the nests of cup-nesting birds or ground-nesting birds (not in boxes) is almost always a no-no. The exception might be if you have a robin's nest just outside your window, or a wren nest in your front porch hanging basket. In other words, somewhere where you can see into the nest without disturbing the area around it.

But you know I can't resist the longer version of this answer...

As a sasquatch, I am part of the natural environment and my fellow creatures are used to me, so, if I wanted to, I could sneak up on birds and their nests with no problem. I look like just another large hairy part of the landscape. I smell like the woods. I don't eat meat, so birds don't flee from me like they do from most bird predators. But that's not true for humans. You guys often smell like Old Spice or Chanel No. 5 or McDonald's or a venti, half-caf chai latte, and you don't usually fit seamlessly me for saying so, but, when humans pass through a habitat, they leave a tell-tale smell trail (say that five times fast!) that predators, such as snakes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, weasels, foxes, coyotes, and domestic cats and dogs, can follow to a tasty treat. In your backyards—and even on your decks, patios, and porches—a human scent trail quite often leads a discerning nose right to a tasty meal of pet food, compost, garbage, or bird seed. For this reason, I always discourage birders and naturalists from looking for or visiting bird nests that are located in natural settings during the breeding season. It's perfectly fine to come back to visit the nest in autumn after the nest has been abandoned. During the nesting months (March through September, in general) appreciate the birds and their nests from afar.

If you have a nest box or several, it's perfectly acceptable—even helpful—to visit during the breeding season to monitor activity. It's important, however, that your nest boxes be protected from climbing predators by being mounted on a pole that has a predator baffle installed beneath the nest box. This prevents predator access to the box and its contents and helps to ensure that your birds have the best chance at a successful nesting season. You can see the plans for a nest box pole and predator baffle on the Bird Watcher's Digest website.



About Birdsquatch

Birdsquatch is WBB's tall, hairy, and slightly stinky columnist. He is a bigfoot who has watched birds all his life. His home range is unknown.

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018