House Martin Nest Survey - Frequently asked questions

.Can a team of people cover a nest site?

Yes – it is fine to cover a site as a team in order to ensure that regular visits can be carried out.

In such cases, we advise that the survey work is managed by a team leader. The team leader is responsible for liaising with the land owner (where necessary), registering the site and recording the site details and initial nest details. She or he should ensure that all team members are aware of the nest numbers, and co-ordinate survey coverage to ensure that at least one weekly survey visit is carried until September. The team leader should input the visit results online as the season progresses (or at the end of the season in early October).

Regular communication between the team leader and team members will be very important. This will help you avoid any possibility of confusion over the nest numbering, particularly at sites where there are multiple nests and where nests may fall down or be built over the course of the breeding season.

.Do nests have to be on my house?

It is not essential for the nests to be located on your own house, but you do need to be able view the nests regularly throughout the breeding season (from April to at least September).

If the nests are not located on your own property, we recommend asking permission before carrying out the survey. In most cases this will be essential as the survey requires regular observation of nests on residential properties, and therefore local residents will be likely to notice your regular presence at the site and will be understandably suspicious. Even if nests are located on non-residential properties and viewable from public rights of way, you should still consider carefully whether you need to ask permission to view the nests.

Contacting the home owner will also enable you to check whether the colony is already being surveyed. Home owners with House Martins are often happy to have them, and may be interested in taking part in the survey themselves. A leaflet about the survey is available to give out to home owners House Martin Survey Information leaflet (PDF, 2.99 MB). Paper copies of this leaflet can be requested from housemartins [at] bto.org.

.Can young people take part in the survey?

There is no minimum age for taking part in the survey. However, under 18s taking part in the survey should ensure that their parents or guardian have read the full details of the survey and our Volunteer health and safety form (PDF, 344.64 KB). A parent or guardian must complete and return a copy of the BTO parental consent form (PDF, 27.49 KB) before the young person takes part in the survey.

.What do I do if I am having difficulty answering any of the questions?

Our pilot work has suggested that the supplementary information can usually be collected quickly and easily. However, some questions are not always straightforward to answer (e.g. soffit type and building age). Do not worry if you are unable to answer one or more of the questions about the building or nest location. The code for ‘Unknown/Unspecified’ should be used when required rather than spending time worrying about which answer is more appropriate. Also please use this code rather than making a guess.

.Is it too late to take part in the survey?

We are happy for participants to start inputting data at any time during the season. In order to use your data for all of our analysis we ideally need visits to start by the end of May if possible so that your visits cover the full breeding season, but even if you are starting at a later date your survey data will still be useful for some of our analysis and we would welcome your participation.

.I am going to be away for a fortnight for a holiday. Does this matter?

If you have a nest in mind please do monitor it if you can, even if you will be away for a fortnight. Your contributions will still provide us with a lot of useful information which we will be able to use for our research, even if you miss the occasional survey visit for a holiday or any other reason.

The occasional missing week is fine for the survey (i.e. a gap of a fortnight between visits), and if you are able to carry out a visit a couple of days before leaving on holiday and a couple of days after returning this will ensure that the gap between visit is only slightly longer than a fortnight.

The survey visits don't necessarily need to be carried out by the same person, so if someone is able to carry out one or more visits while you are away this will ensure we have a complete set of data. You should ensure that they know your nest numbers so that they use exactly the same numbers, and they should record their visit data on paper so that you can input it after you return.

.Can I record survey visits more than once a week?

It's really up to you: if you are able to record visits once a day (particularly when young are in the nest) this will give us very precise information on breeding dates. However, the most important factor is that we need records to be collected throughout the breeding season, so once or twice a week may be more manageable in the longer term, especially if you are watching several nests.

We would prefer you to be continue for the whole season rather than trying to record visits and timed counts once a day and then giving up part way through the season (or having too much data on paper to input at the end of the season).

The system (and our analysis) will handle daily visits without any problem though, so feel free to enter these if you are happy to do so, while bearing the above in mind.

.How do I know if a site is already being covered?

If the site is not on your own home, we strongly recommend asking the home owner before carrying out the nest study, as the survey involves regular visits throughout the season, and the home owner and their neighbours are likely to be understandably suspicious if you haven't spoken to them first. Hopefully they will be interested in the survey and some of them may want to take part themselves, or may be able to help you by carrying out some of the recording.

The home owners should be able to tell you if they are already doing the survey themselves or if someone else has already approached them. You can also check the survey map to see if a site is has already been registered within a particular 1-km square. Regional Organisers can view the survey sites online, so if you want to double check whether or not a site has already been registered you can contact your Regional Representative, or alternatively you can contact the National Survey Organiser via the ‘Contact National Organiser’ option on the green menu bar).

.Why are there so many forms to complete?

The survey is designed to be as simple as possible while collecting the information we need, and to require only a brief survey 'visit' each week lasting up to 15 minutes. All that participants need to record on these survey visits is the time and date, visit duration, nest condition and one activity code for each nest (using Form C)

We don't necessarily expect participants to watch all the nests in a colony for the survey, as this will considerably add to the visit time and data inputting time required for larger colonies. Instead, we would advise participants with larger colonies to select a subset of nests for the survey (maybe 4-5 nests that can all be watched concurrently from the same spot).

Collecting weekly information from individual nests has never been done before on such a large scale, and we anticipate that it will help us answer key questions about why particular nests fail or are successful. The additional information we are collecting about the site and nests (Forms A and B) is also very important as it will enable us to compare differences between nests. We appreciate however that these forms may make the survey seem complicated. Please note that this information only needs to be collected once at the start of the survey, which will require slightly longer than a normal survey visit but should take less than an hour to complete. Note also that if you are watching a subset of nests, you only need to list the nests you are watching on Form B (rather than all the nests).

We hope that this reassures you and that you will be able to watch a subset of your nests for a few minutes each week. We would be happy to help out if you are having problems with forms A and B (housemartins [at] bto.org; 01842 750050).

.I have input my site data - why isn't my site listed when I log in to my Data Home page?

After you have input your site details, the site(s) will be listed in a table on your Data Home page, which is displayed as soon as you have logged in to the system.

If the table is not visible, please wait to give it some time to load, as loading may take some time on slower internet connections. If it is still not visible, try refreshing the page (on most PCs you will can refresh the page by pressing F5 on your keyboard or clicking on the Refresh button on screen if your browser has one).

However, we are aware that a problem has occurred in a small number of instances, meaning that the table is not displayed properly. This may be related to the combination of operating system or internet browser on your PC or device: for example, the problem has occurred on computers using old versions of internet browsers.

The system has been tested against the latest version of all supported browsers, so newer browsers shouldn't be a problem and you should be able to resolve the problem by installing the latest version of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome or Safari.

Alternatively, you could also try logging in to the House Martin Nest Study using a different browser or a different PC if you have access to one.

If you are unable to fix the problem, we hope that you will still take part by completing the survey on the paper forms.

.I have input my site details. Why can't I input survey visit data?

After inputting your site details (i.e Form A on the paper forms), the next step is to input the nest data (i.e. Form B on the paper forms). In order to input nest data, you should log in to the online data entry system and then select the 'View/Enter Nests' button from the table listing your sites (circled in the screenprint below). From there, select 'Add Another Nest' to input the nest details, and repeat the same steps if you have more than one nest.

House Martin Nests Study interface screenshot - View / Enter Nests

Once the nest details have been input, you will be able to input visit data (i.e. Form C on the paper forms), using the 'Enter Visit' button which will become available in the same table.

If you have tried inputting the nest data but haven't been able to do so, please see the Frequently Asked Question 'I am trying to input nest details – Why won't the system accept my data?' (below).

Further information about the data entry system can be found by viewing the online video tutorial.

.I am trying to input nest details – why won't the system accept my data?

This problem occurs if the marker to map the location of the nest is being placed outside the blue site boundary shown on the map.

If the nest location is only just outside the blue site boundary, please place the marker within the blue boundary but as close as you can to the nest site. A dot will appear on the map and you will be able to submit the nest details. It does not matter too much if the location is not precise as long as the nest details you have input are correct.

If the nest location is a long way outside blue boundary, or if you can't see a blue boundary, you may need to redraw the site boundary. You can do this by doing one of the following:

Option A - Redraw the site boundary

  1. On your Data Home page, click on the “Edit Site” button in the Site list table
  2. Click on the “Location” tab to view the map of the site
  3. Click on the “Edit Site” button to edit the site boundary
  4. Click on the corners or edge of your site to reshape the blue boundary as required. Note that you can use the + and – buttons in the top left hand corner of the map to zoom in or out, and you can move the map by clicking on the left mouse button anywhere on the map and holding it down whilst dragging the mouse in the desired direction
  5. When you are happy that the site boundary covers the site, click on “Submit” to save your changes

Option B - Delete and re-input your site

  1. On your Data Home page, click on the “Delete Site” button in the Site list table
  2. Click on “Add Another Site” to reinput the site details and remap the site
  3. Click on “Submit” to save the new site

Further information about mapping the site can be found in the online video tutorial (from 5.16 minutes into the video).

.The map goes blank when I zoom in to my site – why is this?

Unfortunately, there are limitations to the satellite maps in some areas of northern Scotland.

Although you will not be able to zoom in close to your site, please map your site and nest details as best you can. If you are struggling to map the site, please complete Forms A and B on paper and send them to House Martin Nest Study, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24 2PU, including a copy of a map showing the site boundary and nest details. We will then be able to set up the site on your behalf and you will be able to input your survey visit data.