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Citizen Scientists Monitor and Map


Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen-scientists are apart of a community working to understand, protect, and support birds. Are you a citizen-scientist?  Read on to learn about my own journey with this important work:

I love birds, I always have. I remember when I was a child and we went to visit the Beech Forest in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. As we walked along the boardwalk, chickadees, cardinals, and titmice would follow us along the paths, chirping and calling. One time a Black-capped Chickadee landed on a tree branch right next to my head, and as I turned to look, our eyes locked and I was mesmerized forever.

Today, in my backyard, I do everything I can to attract and protect birds. Or, so I thought. Last year I started NestWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a citizen-scientist and discovered that I have nesting robins, wrens and bluebirds in my backyard. Unfortunately, I found that two out of the three nests failed to fledge babies and the robin nest only fledged one offspring from the four eggs that hatched. What was wrong? Why was I attracting birds with all my native habitat, but not able to help them reproduce?  Perhaps I was missing an important piece of being an effective citizen-scientist?

If this citizen-scientist’s story resonates with you, it is clear that:

• You appreciate birds.
• You want to help birds survive.
• You are a valuable citizen-scientist.

Unfortunately, by participating in just ONE Citizen-Science project, part of the whole picture for protecting and supporting birds might be missing.

If you just monitor birds in your backyard, using NestWatch, eBird, or FeederWatch, or just map your yard using YardMap, you aren’t maximizing your potential impact. Doing just one or the other is like wanting to be a great birder but not owning a pair of binoculars. When you combine your ambition with excellent tools, you exponentially increase your prospect for success.


NestWatch Success

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has collected nest data since 1965. NestWatch is instrumental in providing better nesting opportunities for birds by helping NestWatchers understand the ideal nest boxes to install, where to install them, how to identify eggs of different species, and the proper protocol to use when observing wildlife. In 2014, over 1,500 NestWatch participants monitored 163 species of birds that laid over 50,000 eggs--11 of which were newly monitored species. To help birds be successful, we need to track the success and failure of their nesting activities. This data helps us understand larger issues of birds’ reproductive success. Sometimes the larger issues of a bird’s success or failure has to do with the habitat of the backyard of the NestWatcher. Unintentionally, you could be creating ecological traps that limit the success of your nesting birds. That’s where YardMap comes in.

YardMap Success

YardMap has around 14,000 maps in its database, documenting homes, business, schools, farms, community gardens or parks, and nature preserves. In addition to providing a mapping tool, YardMap provides an immense amount of information on how properties can be improved to support birds and wildlife. YardMap helps property owners minimize the risks of creating ecological traps that lure birds to your property and endanger their long-term survival and reproductive success. Ask yourself the following:

• Do I spray chemicals to control pests?
• Do I frequently have birds hit my windows?
• Does my yard lack native plants that provide seeds or berries for birds?
• Do my nest boxes lack predator guards or baffles?
• Do I have an outside cat?
• Do I feed stray cats?
• Do I forget to clean my feeders or bird bath?
• Do I mow my grass after it has grown tall enough to attract nesting birds?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, it could mean that even though your property is appealing to birds, there are dangers that threaten the birds survivability. Or, there may be parts of creating a healthy habitat that you are missing.


The story continues….

So, I got online and made a YardMap. I mapped out the different habitat types and the exact plants that I have around my home. I mapped where my nest boxes were in relation to those spots and I listed all of the other objects and characteristics on my property that provide better habitat for birds and help me live more sustainably. The immediate results I got revealed that only about 20 percent of my property was actually supporting birds. My lawn was too big and I fear that the chemicals I had been using to keep dandelions at bay may have caused my robins to only fledge one baby last year after they ate worms in the contaminated soil.

I also discovered that though I have big trees and smaller flower gardens, I lacked any berry or seed producing shrubs that would feed birds. Also, I needed more native habitat to attract enough insects to support nesting birds while raising offspring. I lacked diverse structure and it was threatening the viability of the birds’ babies. And, the most terrifying information was that those sweet chickadees that I once fell in love with were hitting my windows because I placed the feeders too far away!  All the work I was doing to attract birds was working, but there were subtleties I was lacking.

Participation in both monitoring my birds and mapping my property allowed me to see the bigger picture. I connected the dots and this year I’ve moved my feeders to about 3 feet (1M) from the house. I’ve committed to planting some new native shrubs to provide more protection and food for my birds and I’ve decided to forgo using any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. And, just in case, I installed a predator baffle on my nest boxes to make sure the nests don’t get raided. I have a feeling my NestWatch list this year is going to be a lot more impressive than one fledgling.

At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology we are all about the data.

One of the best parts of this joint venture? Behind the scenes at Cornell, YardMap, NestWatch, FeederWatch, and eBird are all a part of one big database. So if you enter data into NestWatch, and have a YardMap, those data are connected through your account and location behind the scenes. In fact, there are over 2200 people who, like me, already contribute to both projects.

Are you a YardMapper AND a NestWatcher? Do you eBird and FeederWatch?

Tell us, or sign-up and become one today.

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