Back to Nature (Published on - March 20, 2008)
What is TBN?
Illustration by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
“Female screech owls prefer cavities in which they have successfully raised young in previous years.”
What does TBN stand for? Tampa Bay Newspapers, of course, but to avid and amateur birders alike TBN also means: The Birdhouse Network. “Keep your eye on the birdy.”

The Birdhouse Network is an exciting “hands-on” citizen-science based research project conducted through the leadership, guidance and support of the Cornel Lab of Ornithology.

Participants from city streets to remote forests place birdhouses or nest boxes in their yards or neighborhoods and then monitor the birds that nest inside. Contributors learn about science while helping cavity-nesting birds by providing nesting sites in their areas. People of all ages and levels can participate in this fun project. All one needs is one birdhouse to get started.

The continent wide data base becomes a part of a national database – larger than any one researcher could collect in a lifetime – which will help answer large-scale ecological questions about bird populations. Citizen scientists help keep tabs on the lives of nesting birds.

“Without the data sent in by participants, we would not be able to track large-scale trends in the reproductive cycles of these birds,” says project leader Tina Phillips. “Whether they monitor one box or 100, our participants are so dedicated to the birds, and the data they provide us year after year are incredibly powerful.” Birds are nature’s barometers.

This kind of research not only assists us in learning more about these fascinating creatures, but enables us to learn and analyze our own environment and ecological needs and concerns for now and in the future.

For 10 years, a network of dedicated birders has made it their mission to help birds by providing nest boxes where birds can raise their families – and by recording information for scientists.

Together, they’ve kept a decade of meticulous records about when the birds build their nests, how many eggs they lay, and when the gawky fledglings take their first flights. Combined, they have sent nearly 70,000 nest records to The Birdhouse Network.

These efforts have helped expand scientific knowledge about bluebirds, tree swallows, house wrens, and other cavity-nesting birds for whom the motto may be rephrased, “Hole Sweet Home.”

Join TBN and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology this spring to “keep your eye on the birdy” and help scientists develop a clearer picture of the intricate and fascinating lives of cavity-nesting birds.

Top 10 birds reported by FeederWatchers in the Southeast in 2007:

1) northern cardinal
2) mourning dove
3) Tufted titmouse
4) Carolina wren
5) American goldfinch
6) red-bellied woodpecker
7) Carolina chickadee
8) blue jay
9) downy woodpecker
10) American robin

Download birdhouse building plans, worksheets, landscaping ideas for attracting birds and more by visiting the Lab’s Web site at

Karen can be reached at:

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