In this issue: The value of small green spaces for birds, a peek at our new featured site in California, and YardMap makes some new Friends.

The Dirt: News from YardMap
Joining together to break new ground for birds

June 2013

Birds in Boston
What is the value of a small green space? Original photo by Emmanuel Huybrechts

No Yard Is An Island

How much impact do small greening projects really have on bird populations? It's a question that has yet to be rigorously investigated at the continental scale. And yet, a smattering of studies have indicated that small greening projects can ripple outwards and help some declining birds hang on.

A recent study of small-scale community greening projects in Boston found that bird species diversity at the project sites was only marginally higher than that of random urban areas. So, were the greening projects a waste of time as far as birds are concerned? Not necessarily. The study authors also found that the difference in species richness was largely explained by two factors: the size of the green space, and the percentage of trees with cavities. When it comes to avian occupancy of urban green spaces, size matters. And so does having a place to raise young. Birds do not care if they are in downtown Boston, so long as they have some minimum amount of space to obtain the resources they need to survive. The study also found that an increase of a mere 0.04 acres resulted in one more species occupying a site. As small greening projects continue to be popular among residents and city planners, putting an emphasis on adjacent projects to improve the size and connectivity of existing urban green networks has the most potential to create positive results.

What does that mean for you? If you can carve out a small area of your yard to add to the available habitat, you'll be able to help support more birds. This is especially important for those who live near city parks, community gardens, or other green spaces, as contiguous habitat is much more attractive than completely isolated pockets. We can find this "extra" space in cities by growing vines along fences or walls, installing green roofs on buildings, or reclaiming vacant lots. Nest boxes can be added where no cavity-bearing trees remain. The importance of involving your neighbors is paramount; where one yard might not be enough to host a feathered family, an entire street of bird-friendly yards may well be. YardMap can be a vehicle for studying this question at the national scale through the power of citizen science. English poet Jon Donne wrote, "No man is an island," but we think that "No yard is an island," and we hope you'll use the educational and social tools available in YardMap to make room for that one extra species in your neighborhood.
Make your yard a refuge
Will your yard be a refuge for birds?

Friend Request

Last month, YardMap hosted 16 Friends representatives affiliated with 7 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuges across the country for a workshop on YardMap. Friends groups returned to their home refuges with insider knowledge about the Lab of Ornithology and YardMap, and with plans for using YardMap to connect visitors to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

According to Jim Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, "These locally established, nonprofit citizen organizations have many different names, but they all share a passion for wildlife and our love of wild places. They are some of the Service’s best ambassadors to local communities – sharing knowledge, information, and their passion with their neighbors. They help conservation happen at the local level." YardMap is very excited to be partnering with Friends organizations to help refuge visitors learn more about turning their own yards into a refuge for wildlife.

Enter your ZIP code here to find your nearest National Wildlife Refuge, then plan a visit for this summer. A refuge visit is a great way to gain perspective about the special habitat types in your area, and see the unique flora and fauna that inhabit them. If you go on a bird walk, tour a stewardship garden, or make a purchase from a gift shop, chances are good that you'll be interacting with a Friend of the refuge; many are trained naturalists with deep stores of local knowledge who can share insights with you. Back at home, create a mini-refuge in your yard by planning some bird-friendly improvements suitable for your ecoregion. Birds need all the friends they can get–won't you give them refuge?

New Featured Site: Backwoods Paradise

Photo by Bruce Vincent
Orange flowers attract pollinators. Photo by Bruce Vincent.
Bruce Vincent, a retired ecological educator, has a lot left to teach about nature on his property in southern California. He and his wife, Alexi, spend a good deal of time watching the wildlife come and go in their strip of coastal oak woodland. Whether observing a California Quail's nest tucked away near their favorite sitting area, or watching raptors vie for a perching spot on the tall snag, there never seems to be a dull moment in this wildlife paradise.

Bruce's yardmap is also acting as a hub of habitat information that can tie in with other citizen-science data. For example, he has documented the birds that visit his property using the Lab of Ornithology's eBird project. Bruce has also recently joined the Lab's NestWatch project, for which he monitors and reports on the nesting birds he finds. By cataloging the plants and habitat features of his property with the help of YardMap, Bruce is gaining some insights into which specific enhancements seem to bring in the birds. Read about this unique property, and as Bruce would say, "Welcome to paradise!"
Contest open to New York State residents

Contest Now Open for New York State Residents

If you live in New York State, be sure to take advantage of our YardWorks contest and begin improving your neighborhood habitat for birds. The YardWorks contest runs until June 25. Gather your neighbors to win an opportunity to work with Cornell on a bird-friendly neighborhood landscape design!
Creating a Garden for Birds
Get a free issue of BirdNotes right now!

Free BirdNotes Download

Never before has suitable habitat for birds been in such short supply. Enjoy this free issue of BirdNotes entitled "Creating a Garden for Birds." This issue is full of useful information about gardening for bird habitat, and it also makes an excellent handout to share with a neighbor, bird or garden club, or a classroom. This issue of BirdNotes will answer questions such as:
  • What are some natural nesting options for bluebirds and woodpeckers?
  • What are some native plants with berries that I can plant? 
  • How can I provide insects for chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches?
This issue is beautifully illustrated by artist Reyn Ojiri, creator of the colorful icons in YardMap. Get yours today.


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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at

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