US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Surveillance of Nesting Birds, Studies In Avian Biology, No.43 pp. 47-60.


Accurate estimates of fledging age are needed in field studies to avoid inducing premature fledging or missing the fledging event. Both may lead to misinterpretation of nest fate. Correctly assessing nest fate and length of the nestling period can be critical for accurate calculation of nest survival rates. For researchers who mark nestlings, knowing the age at which their activities may cause young to leave nests prematurely could prevent introducing bias to their studies. We estimated fledging ages from grassland passerine nests monitored from hatching through fledging with miniature video cameras in North Dakota and Minnesota during 1996-2001. We compared these values to those obtained from traditional nest visits and from the literature. Mean and modal fledging ages for video-monitored nests were generally similar to those for visited nests, although Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida) typically fledged 1 day earlier from visited nests. Average fledging ages from both video and nest visits occurred within ranges reported in the literature, but expanded by 1-2 days the upper age limit for Clay-colored Sparrows and the lower age limit for Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). Video showed that eggs hatched throughout the day, whereas most young fledged in the morning (06:30-12:30 CDT). Length of the hatching period for a clutch was usually >1 day and was positively correlated with clutch size. Length of the fledging period for a brood was usually < 1 day, and in nearly half the nests fledging was completed within <2 hr. Video surveillance was a useful tool for obtaining new information and for corroborating published statements related to hatching and fledging chronology. Comparison of data collected from video and nest visits showed that carefully conducted nest visits generally can provide reliable data for deriving estimates of survival.