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Study of Birds’ Nesting Life

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Study of birds’ nesting lifeThis manual describes methods of observations of the nesting life of birds with the example of birds that settle in artificial nesting places. The manual reviews the organization of observations over the stages of nesting life, including: nest building, laying and incubation of eggs, hatching of nestlings, parents’ care and feeding of nestlings.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The nesting life of birds is one of the most fascinating topics for observation in nature. If a naturalist comes into the forest in May or June, he or she will have a lot of material even if observations are to be carried out in the same place every day.

Stationary observations are more preferable than route observations in this case. During the breeding period, each bird acts as though it is tied to the certain place, and if the observer has some experience, this will give an opportunity to learn birds gradually and observe some individuals in the course of several weeks, to keep an eye on the fate of their nests and broods. Using such methods, it is possible to reveal individual differences in birds’ behavior and to determine the degree of their ecological plasticity.

This educational session provides for short-term, not long-term observations of one of the stages of the nesting life of birds – depending on the nesting stage when studies are carried out. It is recommended to organize observations of several nests of different bird species. The main task is to find nests that can be easily observed. As the search for nests of birds that nest in open spaces, especially Passeriformes, is quite laborious and highly-skilled work, so it is better to organize observations of birds’ nests that are made in artificial nesting places, hung out on trees in the course of one of the previous lessons in the given series (spring, Lesson #1).

The plan and procedure for organizing studies depends on the nesting stage, when observations are to take place. This manual will start with a description of general rules for the organization of students’ observations of birds’ nests. Then it will review the different stages in birds’ nesting life with specific procedures for organizing and registering observation data as well as procedures for material processing.

General information on the organization of nest observations

Birds live in a nesting place for about a month and a half, and their life is quite tense during this period. All stages in their nesting life – nest building, coupling, egg laying, egg incubation, and the feeding of nestlings – occur while surrounded by numerous enemies, which hunt not only for eggs and nestlings, but for the birds sitting in the nests. Each species of birds has its own enemies and methods of defense. Enemies of small forest birds, which are the most dangerous for them, include crows, magpies, jays, hawks as well as small animals such as marten, fox and snakes.

The presence of numerous enemies determines the different adaptations aimed at defending the birds themselves and their offspring. First, it is the construction of the nest in a relatively secluded and inaccessible place; second, different behavioral actions near the nest or nestlings, which are intended to be imperceptible, to trick the enemy or to take them away from the nest. While flying to the nest, birds always watch the situation and they usually perform evasive and decoy movements typical for each species. Nevertheless, surface and winged enemies annually destroy approximately 40% of all the nests.

The most important task for researchers in the course of arranging nest observations is not to disturb the delicate balance between birds and their enemies. Starting from this task, it is recommended to comply with the following rules in the course of studies according to the given theme in educational purposes: 1) Choose a common (abundant), not rare bird species in the area under study as objects for observations; 2) Do not choose a bird species that nest on the ground as the object of studies, (search for such nests usually ends up with the fact that the nest is simply stepped on; moreover, it is quite difficult to conduct observations of such nests); 3) While looking for nests, do not disturb the natural vegetation the vicinity of the nest; do not...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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