Robin Nest Video!

Karin Nanos

Karin Nanos, a teacher at Upland Hills School in Oxford, Michigan, found a rare and exciting "teachable moment" when a pair of robins nested on a ladder in a geodesic dome greenhouse students were constructing. Students at the school made a wonderful compromise so they could continue to build the dome without disturbing the robins. Meanwhile, one student studying the babies produced a video showing the baby robins at every stage from egg to fledging. Now their project itself has fledged into an ongoing study, and current students are working on getting more nest videos. This lesson explains how the school set up their nest cam, giving you ideas for constructing a nest cam or other nest study of your own, and also provides a good study in how people with conflicting needs can reach a satisfying compromise.

Unique Opportunity
It all started in spring, 2000. One student, Mike, was working on his senior project, setting up bird nest boxes (from wren to owl size) designed to hold a surveillance camera so he could watch what was happening inside. At the same time, students in his class were constructing a geodesic dome greenhouse on the school grounds. They were excited to be working on such a cool project and hoped to have it finished before graduation. When they left for spring break, the frame of the dome was up, along with a few clear plastic panels.

During spring break, Mike and his senior project mentor, Karin Nanos, came to the school to set up some of his nest boxes, and when they went to get a ladder, there was a pair of robins, nesting right on the ladder inside the dome! They were thrilled! They immediately set up Mike's surveillance camera to watch them, and kept their fingers crossed that they wouldn't scare the robins away. To keep watch on the birds, they stretched 75' cord from the camera to the monitor in Karin's classroom, where they could record all the action. Mike wouldn't be able to watch the robins live, as Karin's own class would, but he'd be able to view everything on videotape.

Inconvenient Timing
When students returned after spring break, Karin's class was thrilled to be able to watch the robins on the monitor right in their classroom! But students working on the dome had a big problem. Construction on the dome was sure to bother the robins, and once the plastic panels were all in place, the robins wouldn't be able to get in and out. The students had to choose: the birds or the dome!

Monitor for watching baby robins

That was a hard choice for the students involved in building the dome. Karin and the teacher supervising the dome construction, Ted Strunck, who happened to be Mike's own teacher, came up with a great compromise. They ordered a longer cord and moved the monitor to Mr. Strunck's room. Now the students who delayed their own project could fully enjoy seeing the robins who had taken over their construction site! As they watched the robin behavior patterns, they started doing some work on the dome whenever the robin was off the nest. Karin's students were disappointed because they didn't get to watch the monitor in their own room. Ted's graduating students were disappointed because thanks to the delay, the dome wasn't finished until the following fall and they didn't get to see the completed project. Fortunately, everyone got to see the robins' completed project--three little fledglings! And everyone knew those little baby robins would not have been there if not for their dome!

Start of Something Big
Students at Upland Hills School were fascinated by the nest monitor project, and the following year they searched out another robin nest (this one in a spruce tree, NOT a geodesic dome!) and set up their surveillance camera to watch that one. The nest in the dome's three nestlings all successfully fledged. The nest they watched the second year had five nestlings, but only one survived to fledge. (The others disappeared when the camera was off, so no one knows for sure what happened to them.) This year they're searching for another nest to study. This year's Bird Cam Crew:




"I like solving problems and messing with wires." "Bird Cam requires many equipment checks and cord. Make sure you have plenty of cord. Most technical difficulties happen with the cord. So keep duct tape on hand and handle the cords carefully." "I?m monitoring robin sightings around our school."


Technical Diagram


"It?s interesting to know about the robin." Tyler made this diagram of the recording set-up and how the classroom plans to transmit their live cam to the Internet. "I like looking up bird facts."

Try This! Activities
Monitor a Robin Nest!
If your class has access to a surveillance camera, you can set up the same system as the Upland Hills School Bird Cam Crew. If you're interested in setting up a similar project, see
Tyler's Tech Talk. But even without this kind of equipment you can monitor nests, using a video camera, or students hiding in a blind using a regular camera. Some people set up a still camera close to a nest, and then watch it from a blind, holding onto a cable release to snap photos whenever something interesting is happening.
: Make sure you work on setting up your system while the robins are away from the nest. Never use flash or lights on an incubating bird. Don't move any branches or leaves out of the way to give yourself a better view! And make sure to make as little disturbance as possible, to avoid both scaring the robins and alerting predators. If your class tries this, let us know how you did!!

Imagine that your school was caught in the controversy that Upland Hills School was. How would you feel if you were going to graduate and really wanted to finish building the geodesic dome before you left? How would you feel if you were monitoring the robin nest when other students moved it away so they could do their project? How would you feel if you were a mother robin who built your nest inside when everyone was away? What do you think was the best way to handle the situation? What do you think are our responsibilities when we discover a nest?

Read journal entries written by two people involved in the real controversy: