Ithaca, N.Y.—The backyard is far more than a place to install a pool, hold a barbecue, or toss a Frisbee. The sum of all North American yards and neighborhood green spaces equals major habitat for birds and other wildlife. Creating larger, connected patches of bird-friendly habitat is one goal of the new Habitat Map citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The project has undergone extensive testing by 10,000 users who created more than 6,700 maps. YardMap is ready for everyone and is now inviting new participants to join.

yard map“People often think their yard is too small or too urban to impact wildlife, but that just isn’t true,” says YardMap project leader Rhiannon Crain. “For many plant and animal species a yard can mean the world. A butterfly can live its whole life from egg through caterpillar to butterfly in one person’s yard, so it matters quite a lot if the owner uses pesticides.”

After signing up for the free online project, participants zoom in on satellite images to construct maps of their yards, local parks, workplaces, local cemeteries, or any other green space they know well. They mark the maps to show areas of lawn, buildings, native plants, feeders, and other landscape features. Scientists and participants can see how the spaces connect to form larger landscapes and share information about improving habitats at home and across communities. By pairing habitat information with bird sightings, participants learn about the effects of different gardening practices at a much larger scale.

Changes don’t need to be dramatic. Putting in a few native plants, moving feeders closer to windows to reduce deadly collisions, or creating a brush pile birds can use to escape from predators can all have a significant impact for local birds.

“Right now we’re losing 21 million acres of habitat every 10 years to residential development,” says Crain. “But we also know there are millions of people out there concerned about the environment, ready to tread more lightly on the land. Even if you’re just starting your wildlife garden, we’d love to share the journey as you document your progress with YardMap.”