Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Track Your Backyard: YardMap

The third edition of Track Your Backyard takes outdoor nature spotting one step beyond than the rest.   Sure, many projects help you track the plants and animals in your backyard.  And many projects collect information on the local habitat.  But YardMap takes goes further by helping you easily map your yard from a birds point of view.  As you'll find out backyards take up millions of acres U.S. bird habitats and over 75% of endangered species live on private lands.  So understanding these human-based habitats is vital to understanding the birds that live on them.

All the YardMap information is not just useful by itself. It let's scientists discover what types of food, shelter, and vegetation is available. It also helps scientists better understand the birdwatching numbers already provided through those other programs.  So not only is it important that ten birds of a single species visited your area, but there may be clues to why based on the structures or food sources available in your backyard.  Yardmap helps science makes those connections.

Finally, one of the best features of this project is the large amount educational tools provided by to you.  Learn about the various habitats in your area, what types of "ecological traps" can fool birds into thinking your yard is safe when in fact it is not, the importance of varying vegetation and types of shelter, and other methods for making your home a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife.  There are a variety of videos and fact sheets pulling from the vast experience of the Cornell Lab, so help them map bird habitats while getting some useful tips for yourself.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Visit the main YardMap site and the YardMap: Learn site for information on bird habitats and the program in general.
  2. Register with YardMap and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to create a new citizen science account. They ask for very little information (name, email, address, and user name) and provide access to a wide variety of projects you may also wish to join.
  3. You will be taken to the main YardMap project site.  Click on "(1) How to map a new site".  A list of four options will come up.
  4. First find your site by address or zooming with the map.  You'll find your location as well as any other nearby locations also participating in the program. Note that in the current iteration you cannot keep your information private so be sure you are okay with that before proceeding.  Privacy will be available in future versions but not yet.
  5. Next, click on "Outline site" to mark the boundaries of your yard.  Just click on each of the four corners (in order) and trace any curves.  The program will connect the dots and do the rest.  Then identify the type of habitat (such as Home-Yard, School, Farm, or Park)
  6. Click on "Draw Habitat" to outline your house and other structures (such as building pavement, edibles, lawn, forest, or shrubbery). 
  7. Now "Open" the site and provide basic information about the habitat, such as bird types and habitat characteristics. 
  8. Finally, click on "Place Objects " to show additional items of interest to birds (and birdwatchers) such as flowers, bird feeders, bird baths, rain barrels, and compost.
That's all there is to it!  At least the yard mapping part of it.  But now you can browse the site, find other people in your area, and talk with other members about their yards.  You may also get tips from others on improving your yard for birds and increasing the variety that visit you.

Of course, if you don't want to follow all these written steps and prefer to watch a video instead, they have a really nice (and short) tutorial viewable here.  It's quick and easy to learn, and I promise you'll learn a lot.


See More in the Track Your Backyard Series:

  1. Nature's Notebook
  2. Nature's Notebook - Mobile App
  3. YardMap (Today)


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