A box monitor checks a box using a polecam; overlaid graphics show arrows from the AKP logo pointing to text reading "Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch"
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Exciting Changes for the American Kestrel Partnership!
Community Science Program Transitioning To Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch

In December 2023, we announced that some exciting changes to our data entry and management system were on the way. After a busy few months of work, we’re finally ready to announce the details. Short version: starting in March 2024, data entry and management for the American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) will now take place through Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch!

Why is this happening?

It has long been a goal for our team to improve the process of data entry for our partners, which has historically relied on observation-by-observation entry through our increasingly dated website. The AKP website was built over a decade ago, and in the last few years, the site has begun to creak with age, as well as under the strain of the record project participation we’ve had recently (a very good problem to have—thanks everyone!).

Meanwhile, Cornell Lab of Ornithology is likely well known to many of our partners as one of the world leaders in bird conservation and research. They are also one of the preeminent figures in conservation-related community science programs, running such well-established projects as the immensely popular eBird (used by birdwatchers to record their sightings), Project FeederWatch (where participants monitor overwintering birds at bird feeders), and NestWatch (where participants monitor bird nests or nest boxes for activity). Data from these programs is then made available to researchers, facilitating range-wide analysis.

If that last one sounds a lot like the AKP’s community science program to you, you’re right. In the past, the AKP and NestWatch have unintentionally but unavoidably competed for kestrel box monitors and their data. We have always strived to conduct the best science possible, and raptor conservation is best accomplished as a collaborative effort. Therefore, merging our kestrel nest box monitoring program into NestWatch’s larger bird nest monitoring program seems an elegant solution to both of our teams. This will streamline data accessibility for researchers, as well as provide our partners with an established data management system backed by one of the world leaders in community science.

And so, in effect, NestWatch will be taking over the AKP’s community science program. Once the transition is complete, NestWatch will be responsible for hosting data entry and management, promoting project participation, and providing troubleshooting to partners who encounter problems with their systems.

Screenshots of the AKP and NestWatch data entry portals

What do I need to do?

In mid-February 2024, a survey was sent to all partners to collect AKP usernames and Cornell Lab usernames from partners to facilitate data transfer between these two accounts. This survey was closed on 26 February 2024, and AKP and NestWatch staff are currently working to transfer data from the AKP accounts of all survey respondents to their Cornell Lab accounts. We will notify all of our partners via email and social media once this transfer is complete, which should happen by early March 2024. We strongly suggest that partners NOT enter any 2024 data through the NestWatch site until this migration is complete. Preemptive entry of 2024 data will require partners to needlessly re-create all of their boxes in the NestWatch system and may result in duplicates. If partners instead wait until the migration is complete, the boxes will already be there waiting for you.

If you did not fill out the survey, your data will still be transferred from the AKP database to the NestWatch database, but will be inaccessible to you until you create a Cornell Lab account and contact the NestWatch team to get your data moved onto it manually. Be aware that staff time is needed to move data and is currently in short supply due to the ongoing transition, so these requests will not be immediately fulfilled. We ask that partners who did not fill out the survey please contact us for a proper data transfer rather than just re-entering their data in NestWatch! In addition to being unnecessary work for you, it will also create duplicate data in the system, affecting the accuracy of future data analysis.

Please note: you may wish to create a separate account from your personal account (e.g., the one you use for personal eBirding, Bird Academy courses, etc.) if you anticipate that others may one day need to access your kestrel data (e.g., you participate as part of your job, and others may take over the account in the future).

A screenshot of the form AKP partners need to fill out

From a partner’s perspective, what’s changing?

From a big-picture perspective—very little! You’ll still monitor your boxes and submit your observations to a centralized database; you’ll just now be using NestWatch tools and the NestWatch database rather than the AKP website and database. As mentioned above, all of your old data will be migrated to the NestWatch database, and you will be able to manage it there in the same manner as the future data you enter via NestWatch tools. Your data will then be used by scientists to answer research questions on a continent-wide scale, the same as ever.

There are, however, a few differences in what data is collected by NestWatch compared to the AKP’s current protocol. Certain data points that are required or optional for the AKP are not collected by NestWatch, and vice versa. The NestWatch team has put together a tremendous FAQ that outlines all these differences. We recommend all of our partners read it through at their convenience, as it’s a fantastic resource for folks who haven’t participated in NestWatch before to orient themselves on the platform.

Perhaps the biggest change for our partners is that in addition to entering data through a website form, partners will now have access to two additional data entry methods that have long been on our wishlist: a smartphone app and bulk upload! The NestWatch app is available for free for both iOS and Android devices; resources for how to use the app can be found here. You can now enter all of your observation data right in the field, even if you don’t have cell service—observations can be stored on your phone and uploaded when you’re back in service.

Meanwhile, bulk upload will be available for partners submitting more than 100 nests. Nests can be combined across years and locations—e.g., one year of data from 100 nest boxes, four years of data from 25 boxes, etc.—but note that the criterion refers to entire nesting attempts rather than individual box observations. Partners interested in bulk upload can learn more here. Data MUST be submitted using Nestwatch's spreadsheet template; data sent in another format cannot be uploaded.

There is one feature of our current system that NestWatch does not have: teams. This feature is currently used by a small subset of our partners, mainly community science programs with multiple volunteer box monitors, and allows monitors to enter their own data while giving team leaders the ability to view and edit all of their team members’ data and to reassign boxes to new monitors as necessary. NestWatch does not possess this feature at this time. We welcome our current team leaders to contact our staff at kestrelpartnership@peregrinefund.org so we can help determine an alternative that will meet your team’s needs. If you are a current member of an AKP team, please contact your team leader for instructions on how you will submit your data in 2024.

Screenshots of the NestWatch app and a photo of two kestrel nestlings peering out of a nest box
App mockups courtesy of NestWatch; BG photo by Jenn Sinasac

What will happen to the AKP website?

“Under the hood,” the AKP website consists of four different components: the data entry & management portal, the database itself, the community forum, and the main website. These first two components are moving to NestWatch, which is why you’re reading this in the first place. Our community forum was intended to facilitate communication between our partners without requiring our staff to act as a go-between, but has never seen enough activity to meet this goal. As a result, we have decided to discontinue this third component as well.

The remaining component is our main website, which contains basic information about American Kestrels and their decline, instructions for nest monitoring and data entry, and more. All information pertaining to data entry and management is made obsolete by our transition to NestWatch, while most of the remaining information can also be found on the American Kestrel species profile hosted by the AKP's parent organization, The Peregrine Fund, as well as Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s pages about American Kestrels. (NestWatch has an American Kestrel species profile and a separate page with a kestrel nest box blueprint and installation information [the same plan we recommend!]; there’s also an All About Birds profile and eBird profile for the species, as well as an extensive entry on the subscription-based Birds of the World.)

As a result, we have decided to take down the existing AKP website entirely after this transition. Keep in mind that all of our partners’ box and observation data will be moved to the NestWatch database and will be available through their platform; however, partners wishing to retain other information from the AKP website such as population decline data, community forum posts, etc., should download this information at their earliest convenience.

A screenshot of the AKP websit fading to white

Will you still send out a newsletter?

Since 2014, we’ve used our newsletter to increase partner engagement and to share news from our community science program and other projects. However, with the AKP’s community science program soon to be under NestWatch’s purview, we’re opting to discontinue the AKP-specific newsletter and split this content into two other pre-existing newsletters.

News about kestrel box monitoring will now be shared in NestWatch's monthly newsletter; interested partners can sign up to receive the NestWatch newsletter here. News from the AKP’s other projects will move to Notes From the Field, the monthly newsletter released by the AKP’s parent organization, The Peregrine Fund (and authored by the same team behind the AKP newsletter). Interested partners can sign up to receive Notes From the Field here.

The AKP newsletter banner with arrows pointing to the banners of The Peregrine Fund's and NestWatch's newsletters

What about your Facebook page? Your Social Media Guy™ is hilarious.

For the same reasons we are discontinuing the AKP newsletter, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue the AKP Facebook page as well after the completion of the transition. Going forward, news regarding kestrel box monitoring will be shared instead on NestWatch’s Facebook page, while news from the AKP’s other projects will be shared through The Peregrine Fund’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

We realize the AKP has gained something of a cult following on Facebook with its unorthodox style of teaching science using a mix of memes, GIFs, and oft-humorous photo captions, and we have no intention of abandoning this voice entirely. Our Social Media Guy™ will live on as a guest poster creating content for our parent organization, The Peregrine Fund. Follow us on our social media channels (Facebook / Instagram / YouTube) and let us know if you want to see more of his content!

A selection of comments on the AKP's Facebook page

OK, what about Adopt-a-Box?

Unlike the newsletter, website, and Facebook page, we will be continuing the Adopt-a-Box program. For those not in the know, our Adopt-a-Box program is a collaboration with researchers at Boise State University (BSU). Since 2015, members of the public have symbolically “adopted” boxes in the network that our partners at BSU have monitored since 1992. Adopters receive updates on the kestrel families that take up residence in their adopted boxes, among other perks, and the money from “adoption fees” supports the AKP and the BSU monitoring program.

Officially, the program will now be run by The Peregrine Fund and Boise State University (rather than the AKP and BSU), but in effect, very little will change: adopters will receive the same perks, produced by the same Peregrine Fund staff members, and the money from adoption fees will support The Peregrine Fund’s kestrel conservation work and the Boise State University monitoring program.

The only changes here are to the signup process. With the AKP website—including the original Adopt-a-Box sign-up page—going offline, we’ve set up a new sign-up page at peregrinefund.org/adopt-box. As part of this process, we’ve added the ability to set up a recurring adoption—if you’d like to adopt a box for multiple years in a row, as many of our adopters do, you’ll no longer have to re-sign up every year!

Thank you to all of our past, current, and future box adopters for supporting American Kestrel research and the training of tomorrow’s biologists here in Idaho’s Treasure Valley. We look forward to continuing to share slices of kestrel life with you this spring and beyond.

A selection of the materials that will be received by Adopt-a-Box participants in 2024
Eggs/nestling photo by Daniel Gélinas; all others courtesy of Boise State University or by Matthew Danihel

I’m a photographer who’s contributed photos to you in the past. Do you still want photos?

Yes! Without the AKP Facebook page, we’ll be sharing fewer kestrel pictures than before, but The Peregrine Fund’s social media team (i.e., the same people that run the AKP page) would still love to have any good photos or videos of American Kestrels—or any other birds of prey—that you’re willing to share. These photographs can be sent to photoshare@peregrinefund.org. Thank you!

Four photos submitted by AKP contributing photographers in a filmstrip frame
Photos by (L to R) Joanie Lavigne, Seth Vreeman, Kirstin Chapman, and Banook Rodarte

Who do we contact if we still have questions?

That depends on the question. If you have general questions about the transition itself, please contact our staff at kestrelpartnership@peregrinefund.org. We ask for our partners’ patience, as we expect to receive a considerable number of communications during this process and may not be able to respond to inquiries at the pace we would prefer. Your messages are important to us, and we will respond as soon as we are able.

If you have questions about data entry and management within the NestWatch system, or any other inquiries specifically about NestWatch, these should be directed to the NestWatch team here. Like the AKP, NestWatch has a much smaller team than most would expect, and your patience when awaiting their responses will be greatly appreciated.

Screenshots of the ways to contact the AKP and NestWatch teams for help

So what will the AKP be after the transition?

Simply put, the AKP will continue to be what it always has been: a collective of professional and community scientists working together to advance kestrel conservation. All of our work will continue in the future, just under different umbrellas: our community science program will continue under NestWatch’s purview, while our parent organization The Peregrine Fund will take over our partnerships with Boise State University, the University of North Texas, and other ongoing and future American Kestrel research projects. The AKP may not be as visible as a separate entity in the future, but rest assured that we’re still here and you’re still a vital part of the team.

We recognize this is a sizable change, but it’s an exciting one that will benefit not only our partners and the NestWatch program, but kestrel conservation as a whole. Time and again, research has proven the importance of collaboration in conservation, and we’re confident that this new collaboration between The Peregrine Fund, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all of you will be a major step forward for kestrel conservation everywhere.

Welcome to the future. We’re glad you’re here.

Titles and signatures of the stakeholders of the AKP-NestWatch transition