NestWatch Open Dataset Downloads
Public Access to the NestWatch Open Dataset
We are committed to making educational summaries of NestWatch data freely accessible to students, journalists, and the general public. Basic maps, annual data reports, and summary statistics by state and/or species are all accessible online in the Explore Data section of this website. For preliminary data exploration, we suggest you start with these resources.
Raw Data Access
Researchers seeking to conduct formal analyses using the NestWatch Open Dataset are invited to download the raw data by following the links at the bottom of this page. As with any dataset, knowing the data structure, understanding the metadata, grasping the data collection protocols, and being aware of the unique aspects of the program are all critical for conducting analyses and interpreting results in ways that provide meaningful insights. Although the data are freely available, we invite researchers to consult with NestWatch staff to ensure that the data are being handled and analyzed appropriately.
Note that raw data files are large and require proficiency in statistical software (e.g., SAS or R) or advanced database tools (e.g., MySQL, Microsoft Access). NestWatch does not have the staff available to assist with these tools or to create custom subsets of the raw data. Nonetheless we are happy to provide access to the full dataset and instructions for how to use and interpret it.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO REVIEW BEFORE ANALYZING NestWATCH DATA
As with all large-scale citizen-science programs, it is impossible to validate each of the thousands of records submitted to NestWatch. Although we attempt to minimize errors, a small percentage of NestWatch records are incorrect and analysts must be aware that misidentifications, data entry errors, and other sources of error can evade our data review system.
NestWatch data from the U.S. and Canada are passed through a series of filters that attempt to catch data-entry errors or prevent unlikely responses in clutch size, number of young, timing of nesting, incubation periods, and brooding periods. This real-time feedback system does not identify all potential errors. For instance, if a participant enters the number of eggs incorrectly but the typo in clutch size is still biologically possible, no feedback will be given. Even if real-time feedback is given, the participant may override the warning if they feel the entry they have made is accurate. Indeed, participants do occasionally observe unusually large clutch sizes, or nests that have occurred well outside of the traditional nesting period for the focal species. It is up to each analyst to decide if these observations are relevant. Importantly, these biological filters have not been established for species nesting outside of the U.S. and Canada or for species that are seldom reported.
NestWatch implements geographic filters on species which are curated by eBird. In other words, a participant should not be able to report a nest from a species that is extremely rare in that region; thus, many species misidentifications are prevented. However, for similar sympatric species, incorrect identifications are still possible (e.g., a Black-capped Chickadee may be misidentified as a Carolina Chickadee in regions of range overlap). Moreover, geographic filters evolve, such that older reports were not subjected to the same rigorous filters. Additionally, errors in reporting can mimic errors in identification. Participants may intend to report one species but enter their information for the wrong species. We recommend that data analysts map nest locations and screen for likely errors.
Resources for Analysts
- The NestWatch metadata document explains all fields and codes used in the database and is necessary for understanding the dataset. While the document is pending peer-reviewed publication, please contact us to obtain a draft copy (not for redistribution).
- You should find previous publications helpful in providing more detailed information on the process of analyzing NestWatch data. See a list of scientific articles using NestWatch data.
- For interpretation of species names and codes, consult the latest version of the eBird taxonomy checklist. NestWatch species names are synced with each update to the eBird taxonomy such that bird name changes are applied retroactively to historical records.
- For a simplified model of the data structure, see our NestWatch data relationships diagram.
- In an effort to protect endangered, threatened, or otherwise sensitive species that may be exploited based on freely accessible information (e.g., parrots or raptors targeted for the illegal pet trade), detailed nesting locations are withheld from the publicly-available datasets for a small subset of the NestWatch data. A list of “sensitive species” whose nesting locations have been truncated is available here. Precise latitude and longitude are available to qualified scientists upon request. To request precise nesting locations of sensitive species, contact us with the following information about your project: name, email, phone number, current position, institution, collaborator(s), species of interest, geographic and temporal range of interest, brief description of proposed data usage, and the level of precision you intend to display in print or visual representations of your data results. Requests for sensitive species’ nest locations will be granted at the discretion of the NestWatch project leader and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
NestWatch participants are identified in the database by a unique identification number. We do not share names, addresses, contact information, or any personal information about our participants without express permission from each individual participant.
Our unique dataset depends on the efforts of our network of volunteer participants. We ask that all data analysts give credit to the thousands of participants who have made NestWatch possible, as well as to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for developing and managing the program. We further ask that you acknowledge the NestWatch Open Dataset in the Methods section of any scholarly publications resulting from these data, including any archived datasets that result from your publications. Please do not redistribute data; direct others to download data directly from this website where the records are regularly updated (including historical corrections, taxonomic revisions, and deletions).
Consulting with staff
Analyzing large datasets is complicated and requires skill in both conducting the analyses themselves but also in manipulating the data into the appropriate form for analysis. Please note that our resources are limited, so the responsiveness and extent of support may be constrained. We will do our best to meet all requests as time and resources permit. We will concentrate our efforts on answering questions about the general processes of analyzing data from NestWatch rather than the mechanics of using specific software to work through this process. For support please use our contact form.
NestWatch Open Dataset by Cornell Lab of Ornithology is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0
Raw Data Files
The NestWatch data are provided in Comma-Separated Value format (CSV) and compressed as ZIP archives. The download will begin when the link is clicked.
Nest summaries and locations: attempts_locs-20230518.csv.zip (19 MB)
Nest visits: checks-20230518.csv.zip (31 MB)
Last updated: 18 May 2023. Data are scheduled to be updated annually on or about January 31.