In this issue: give birds a warm welcome, new Kitty Cams research results, and a free gift just for you.

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

December 2012

A Great Horned Owl shelters in a spruce tree.
A Great Horned Owl shelters from the snow in a spruce tree. Photo by Anne Elliott via Birdshare.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

As temperatures drop, it’s a good time to think about what birds need from their habitat during the winter. Birds that remain in North America during the winter need thermal cover, or protection from the cold, when temperatures are at their lowest. Many forest birds seek winter cover in evergreen trees, which have dense needles that protect birds from heavy precipitation and wind. Trees and shrubs which provide good thermal cover include spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, arborvitae, yews, and pines. Even your discarded holiday trees and boughs can be placed near feeders and birdbaths to provide shelter to birds as they linger in these areas. YardMappers living in warmer climates may still experience cool temperatures at night, and providing at least one evergreen tree or shrub for birds to roost in will also double as additional cover from birds of prey. Some shrubs, like juniper, also provide berries which persist in the winter and provide a much-needed food source when other foods are scarce.

If you don’t have or cannot plant evergreen cover, there are some good alternatives. Small birds may take shelter in tree cavities, brush piles, nest boxes, or even crevices in buildings. Birds will be seeking a warm spot to roost at night, and nest cameras have revealed an unexpected variety of birds visiting nest boxes during the winter. Consider leaving nest boxes up all winter for these off-season tenants. Alternatively, you can build roost boxes or brush piles to provide shelter during cold nights. Instructions for building a roost box are available here, or to learn more about brush piles, click here.  It's true that birds have down feathers for a reason, but providing a little protection from the cold will help our resident birds make it through severe weather a little easier.
A cat's-eye view of a bird feeder.
A cat's-eye view of a bird feeder. Photo © National Geographic and University of Georgia Crittercam Project.

Outdoor Cats: A Week in the Life

Do you ever wonder what kind of adventures your indoor-outdoor cat gets into while you're not looking? Researchers at the University of Georgia were wondering too, so they took a novel approach to answering the question. With help from the National Geographic Society, they were able to use National Geographic Crittercam technology to investigate the daily activities of owned domestic cats. The results were eye-opening.

Researchers analyzed footage from a week in the life of 55 pet cats in Athens, Georgia. About 44% of the cats hunted wildlife, and the ones that did weren't necessarily targeting birds. There was variation among cats in their hunting abilities, but in general they captured about two prey items per week, the most common of which were lizards, voles, and invertebrates. Although birds were captured to a lesser extent than other prey types, they were stalked by the hunting cats, which may disrupt birds' normal routines. Nearly half of all prey items were abandoned at the capture site, about 28% were eaten, and the rest were brought home. A majority of these captures took place during warm weather (March-November in Georgia). 

The researchers also found that the amount of time spent outdoors did significantly increase the number of risks to which the cats were exposed. The cameras were able to document many risks to the cats, including encounters with roads, other cats, storm drains, crawl spaces, and larger mammals (e.g., dogs, raccoons, opossums). Eighty-five percent of the cats studied engaged in at least one risky behavior, and young male cats took the most risks. The researchers point out that risks to cats and wildlife can be minimized by cat owners in the following ways:
  • Consider leash-training your cat so that it can enjoy the outdoors with you safely.
  • During warm weather, when birds are nesting, limit your cat's outdoor time.
  • Consider using a hunting impediment, like the cat bib, when your cat goes outdoors.
  • Provide plenty of toys and affection to keep indoor cats engaged.
  • Do not provide bird feeders, birdbaths, or nest boxes if cats are allowed to roam your yard freely.
  • Vaccinate your cat to protect it from contagious diseases.
For more information, visit

We're Getting Social

Join the conversation in YardMap!
It's easier than ever to share your map with friends.
In a new version released this month, YardMap is getting more social than ever. Here are some important changes you'll notice the next time you log in to YardMap:
  • There is a new panel on the right-hand side of the map page that displays recent activity in YardMap. Now you can see and reply to comments from friends without ever leaving the map page!
  • You'll find our latest challenge and access to your local resources front and center on the same bar. (It’s easy to close this activity panel if you need more space.)
  • Sharing your site to Facebook couldn't be easier! Now every time you share your map to Facebook, YardMap creates a customized up-to-the-minute image of your site that accompanies your post (your browser must allow pop-ups from to enable this functionality).
  • Your Facebook friends will be able to view a large image of your map, even without having a YardMap account, simply by clicking on any posts you share from
  • Expect a smoother transition when you “visit” others on the map, whether you’re clicking on a friend’s site from the activity panel or from the Community page.
With so many ways to get social, be sure to visit this month and check out the latest activity, make some new friends, and share your recent plantings or sightings. To see the full list of updates in this version release, click here.
Get your free bird-watching calendar
Get a free Bird-Watching Days calendar just for participating in YardMap.

A Special Offer for You!

We’d like to thank you for your interest in YardMap by offering you a free Bird-Watching Days calendar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. To take advantage of this free gift, please click here. This offer is only available to YardMap eNewsletter subscribers, while supplies last.


  • Ask your question in our tech support community, powered by Get Satisfaction
  • Ask fellow participants your bird and plant questions in The Community, our social network for habitat stewards
  • Email us

Keep in touch

Friend on Facebook Become a fan on Facebook.
Follow on Twitter Follow us on Twitter.
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

Copyright © 2012 Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd
Ithaca, NY 14850

Add us to your address book