Photo by Sandy Long

Four robin nestlings nap in this backyard nest, which has been rebuilt and reused for the past three years. Look closely to see strands of plastic tarp woven among the dried grasses. Visit to follow the progress of a robin family via the live bird cam at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Sapsucker Woods. Observe other nesting bird species at

The nature of nesting

On Mother’s Day, while our backyard American robin was foraging nearby for food, I checked on the progress of the four beautiful turquoise eggs laid in the recently restored nest near our wood shed. To my delight, four nearly featherless hatchlings were huddled together in the sturdy cup of woven grass and twigs.

Robins are the largest North American thrushes and can produce three broods in one year. However, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, only 40% of nests successfully produce young, and only 25% of those fledged young survive to November. One factor influencing robin populations is the use of pesticides in our yards, as this species forages most frequently on lawns.

Citizen scientists can help to increase understanding of the reproductive biology of birds by participating in the nationwide monitoring program, NestWatch. Volunteers monitor when nesting occurs, the number of eggs laid and successfully hatched, how many hatchlings survive and more.

The findings expand a database that sheds light on the current and evolving conditions of breeding bird populations and the effects of factors such as climate change, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. Or help to solve a mystery, such as why great crested flycatchers often incorporate snake skins into their nests.

Visit to learn more about NestWatch, and before commencing any monitoring activities, review the Code of Conduct on its website to avoid negatively affecting nesting birds and their offspring.


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