If you are sick of your plain yard and would like to learn how to make it more enticing to birds and other wildlife, you are going to love this citizen science project. Habitat Network allows you to map your yard showing the percentage of different habitats like lawn, pavement, buildings, edibles and shrubbery. It also allows for particular characteristics such as having a roaming cat, a farm, bird feeders and other details. Once your map is uploaded, you can learn about specific measures to improve your yard based on your location. They have great tips for pollinators, irrigation, native lawns and also tips for special features like ponds.
Since you heard the mention of birds, you’ve probably guessed this is a project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They were literally one of the early birds of citizen science with their eBird and Project FeederWatch, and they continue to add more programs. This particular project started out as YardMap from their NSF grant, but has grown with the addition of The Nature Conservancy as a partner resulting in the Habitat Network. As a network, there is the power of linking like minded people together that care about habitats and preservation. So, imagine the strategy of informing people about endangered species, and then giving them the pointers they need to encourage the survival of those same species.
Here are the actual questions the project is hoping to answer:
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?
Which measures (bird counts? nesting success?) show the greatest impacts of our practices?
This could be one of my fave citizen science projects ever, and part of the excitement is looking at examples of yard makeovers! Their site shows the transformation of Richard Barry’s home in Essex, MA. Richard made extensive changes over five years like removing invasive trees, creating a small organic vegetable garden, planting a prairie garden and adding a small pond. He’s been rewarded with Monarch and other butterflies, a variety of birds, frogs, and even hawks. His most exciting visitor has been a Blue Heron, which is personally one of my favorites. He’s also discovered that his kids enjoy the meandering paths more than the original larger area of lawn.
So, no matter how small your yard is, know that this project can help you make it the best it has ever been. You’ll not only learn how to attract more wildlife, but you will ultimately help provide important homes and pit stops for the creatures that need it most. If you really want to get technical about your garden, you can collect data with our Wireless Garden tutorial. A combination of an Arduino, a CC3000 WiFi Shield and a soil temperature/moisture sensor will have you learning about what is going on underground. Data can be sent to a webpage and you can also have an alert sent by SMS or email if the moisture level falls below a certain range. It’s possible to combine your favorite hobbies with citizen science and Arduino. Dream big!