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Spring 2012
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CALS Notes

Jeepers, Peepers

YardMap Project Enlists Backyard Birders in Unique Social and Scientific Experiment

The white-breasted nuthatch and its habitat.
Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The white-breasted nuthatch and its habitat.

Wondering where to hang the bird feeder or how to encourage successful nesting in your yard? Want to connect with other backyard birders or get local recommendations for plants that will grow well in your garden?

The Lab of Ornithology’s new citizen-science project, YardMap, aims to map the small-scale habitats in backyards, community gardens, and parks; investigate the impacts of bird-friendly and carbon-neutral practices; and share information using social media.

The process starts with a bird’s-eye view of a landscape, provided by Google Maps satellite images. Users locate their property and add habitat features such as vegetation, buildings, water sources, rocks, and bird feeders.

For backyard birders, YardMap will provide feedback on creating bird-friendly landscapes. For Lab of Ornithology scientists, the project is the basis for understanding how the management of small-scale habitats affects bird populations.

The habitat information people share will complement the tens of thousands of citizen-science bird observations the lab receives daily.

“The data can be used by spatial ecologists who have questions about the relationship between what people do in their yards and the ability of birds to successfully reproduce there,” said project leader Rhiannon Crain. “For example, we don’t have great data about the impact of house cats on bird populations or the role that native vegetation plays in breeding success. If there is a direct relationship, YardMap should provide another source of data to get at this problem.”