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Map your backyard to attract birds

White-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee are common backyard birds.
White-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee in Red Deer, Alberta, May 2015, by John Pizniur.

We recently enjoyed a screening of The Messenger, the beautiful and sobering new documentary about songbirds’ struggle to survive in a world filled with cats, windows, illegal hunting and trapping, pesticides, sun coffee farms, and climate change.

The screening was followed by a presentation by scientist Bryan Lenz about the many steps we can all take to help birds in our communities and in our backyards.

Bryan is the director of the successful Bird City Wisconsin program and the chief scientist for the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, in southeastern Wisconsin. He described several effective, do-able steps, but one struck us as particularly exciting. It’s a relatively new citizen-science project from the geniuses at the Cornell Lab or Ornithology called YardMap.

Map your backyard!

YardMap is a web-based project. It was designed to help professional scientists and birders alike cultivate a rich understanding of bird habitat. It asks participants to locate their yards on a Google map and then use easy point-and-click tools to define habitat types and describe the bird-friendly, carbon-neutral steps the homeowners are taking in them — that is, planting natives, putting up bird feeders, installing solar panels, etc.

The maps and practices are stored as data and linked to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science bird observations. According to the Lab, scientists then use the data to answer important questions, including a few raised in The Messenger. A few examples:

What practices improve the wildlife value of residential landscapes? Which of these practices have the greatest impact? Over how large an area do we have to implement these practices to really make a difference? What impact do urban and suburban wildlife corridors and stopover habitats have on birds? And which measures show the greatest impacts of our practices?

Even better, the YardMap website serves as the hub of an active citizen-scientist social network, connecting participants with like-minded individuals near and far and offering articles and tools we all can use to manage our landscapes sustainably. You should check it out.

YardMap partners include the USFWS National Wildlife Refuge System, the American Community Gardening Association, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, National Audubon Society, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Empire State College.

Learn more about Yardmap.

Read our review of ‘The Messenger.’

Where to see ‘The Messenger’ in the United States. And in Canada.


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