In this issue: Kicking the lawn habit, a new featured site, and YardMap turns one.

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

April 2013

Buffalo grass lawn
A beautiful native lawn planted with buffalograss. Photo by Drew Lathin.

Kicking the Lawn Habit

Do you ever feel like the more you give your lawn, the more it needs? While lawns perform some important ecosystem functions, like storing carbon and carrying out photosynthesis, they are biodiversity barrens. They tend to consist of only one or two species of nonnative grasses, and generally support only a few species of birds. Yet, studies have found that the average American yard is about 60% lawn, which gulps an average of 10,000 gallons of municipal water a year. There are an estimated 40 to 50 million acres of manicured lawns in the United States, most of it in residential areas.

Although nonnative lawns are the norm, they require more watering, fertilizing, and mowing than a native grass lawn. Native prairie grasses are accustomed to poor soils and therefore develop longer roots, which means they can access nutrients and water in the soil that are unavailable to shorter-rooted nonnative grasses. Consider reducing the size of your lawn this year, or develop a plan to replace it with native grasses like buffalograss, little bluestem, big bluestem, or Indiangrass. A high-maintenance lawn makes even less sense in arid or desert areas, but if you enjoy having a lawn for recreational use, consider planting a drought-tolerant mixture, such as the Habiturf blend.

If you would not miss having a lawn at all, there are steps you can take to convert your lawn into a wildflower meadow. Letting your lawn go wild will immediately provide more cover and food for birds; however, the grasses and flowers that emerge might include many weed species. If you have taken care to establish native species of grasses and wildflowers first, you can effectively reproduce a mini-meadow in your yard. Meadows can be mowed in the late fall every 1–3 years to prevent the encroachment of woody plants. Get local native plant recommendations, find nearby native plant nurseries, and contact local experts using our Local Resources Tool. (Just enter your ZIP code for specific recommendations.)

You don't have to give up your lawn completely to be more sustainable and bird-friendly. Be conscious of how much lawn you actually use, and maintain only that amount. A native lawn or meadow that hasn't been sprayed with pesticides is safer for both kids and pets, as well as wildlife. This summer, unleash your lawn's potential to support more wildlife and a healthier environment for people. To learn about the native lawn pictured above, read our new Featured Site article.
Monarch butterfly cocoon
We grew and changed tremendously in our first year! Photo by Umbris via Wikipedia.

Happy Anniversary, YardMap!

We just marked a very special milestone for YardMap: our first anniversary! We want to share with you some of the highlights from Year One.

During the first year:
  • YardMap added 4,022 maps drawn by citizen scientists like you.
  • We were excited by the early results for numbers of schools (141), farms (120), and nature reserves (76) on the map.
  • We were encouraged to find that close to one-fourth of all YardMappers do not use pesticides in their yards.
  • The average size of YardMappers' lawns is about 5,600 square feet smaller than that of the "typical" American lawn.
  • New York leads the states for most maps (550), followed by California (231), with Pennsylvania (230) nipping at their heels.
  • Virgina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have the most maps per person
We are truly humbled by the work that you have put into this collective scientific effort–not to mention the work that you put into your yards–for the sake of the birds. Wherever you are, no matter how small or large your property, we are grateful to each and every one of you for inviting science to blossom in your gardens.

New Featured Site

Rain garden found in our new featured site.
A curbside rain garden in our new featured site. Photo by Drew Lathin.
Who says small parcels can’t have it all? Drew Lathin went 100% native with his home landscaping on about one-sixth of an acre. Drew planted a shortgrass prairie in his backyard, and (after getting the necessary permits) even performed small prescribed burns on it to mimic the prairie’s positive response to wildfire. In addition to removing his nonnative lawn and replacing it with a native one of buffalograss, he also created a naturalistic pond!

Prairie, native lawn, small pond, native flower beds, and not to mention the rain barrels, compost bins, and brush piles…all of this can be found on less than one-quarter of an acre in an aesthetically pleasing, neighborhood-friendly design. This house on the little prairie is proof positive that even small parcels can make a big impression on passing birds. Great job, Drew! Read the full story here.
Funky hummingbird nest
Share your funkiest nest for a chance to win great prizes. Photo by Meryle Ardagh.

Get Funky!

Look inside an old boot, barbecue grill, or mailbox–or on a street sign, clothesline, or stoplight. Funky nests are everywhere! Take the “Funky Nests in Funky Places” challenge for a chance to win great prizes, including binoculars, bird feeders, and an iPad. Send your photo, story, video, song, poem, or art to the Cornell Lab's Funky Nests contest beginning May 1.

Participate with your grandchildren, classroom, workplace, or on your own—just use any creative way you can think of to show or describe a bird's nest in a funky place. Entries from all over the world are accepted! This year's categories include: Funniest, Most Inconvenient, Funkiest, and Sweetest. Find out more.
Delicious radishes
Freshly pulled radishes. Photo by Susy Morris.

Edible Gardens

Thinking of starting a vegetable garden this year? Read our tips for creating a bird-friendly vegetable garden this spring. Learn how to water and fertilize less, while simultaneously reducing toxic hazards to people, pets, and wildlife. Yes, birds like to eat tomatoes and fruits as much as we do, but there are ways to live in harmony with the winged berry-snatchers. For tips on cultivating your bird-friendly edible garden, read on.


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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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