Get a Bird’s Eye View of Your Habitat
The average American lawn is filled with lush green grass and some landscaped trees and shrubs. Here in western Massachusetts, we’re lucky enough to be able to live amongst natural and beautiful surroundings like forests, fields, mountains, and water of all types. Even if we have grassy yards, many homes are surrounded by natural habitat that has existed since long before our homes were built. Of course, we do have an impact on the environment around us, but our small communities leave us with the opportunity to work to blend in with nature, rather than set ourselves apart from it.
Natural habitat is incredibly important for supporting the many different kinds of creatures who share your surroundings. Plant and animal populations exist within a delicately balanced system that can easily be influenced by eliminating or drastically changing habitats. One way to ensure that your effect on your surroundings isn’t negative is by planting native species of trees, shrubs, and even flowers in your yard, but with the growing season rapidly coming to an end, what should families do in order to support natural critter habitat? Participate in YardMap!
YardMap is a citizen science project offered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The goal of YardMap is to support the lab scientists’ work in understanding bird populations, a topic that researchers are able to explore using information that is submitted by citizen scientists from all over the country! Families participate by creating maps of the habitat provided within their yard (whether it’s native or not) using Google maps, which are then submitted to the lab. Researchers use the maps to examine the effect that changes in habitat might be having on bird populations, and offer families lots of information and resources for expanding their knowledge of local birds and ideal bird habitats.
Here’s how it works:
Birding can be done in all seasons, and is a wonderful hands-on way for students to learn about the creatures that they share their yard with. Learning to identify species can capture the curiosity of budding naturalists, and can help students to understand the interconnectedness of plant and animal populations. Try keeping a list of the types of birds you see in your yard, and watch as it changes throughout the year! Excellent kid-friendly field guides can be found in local libraries, or in bookstores (both used and new) if you want to have a family copy.
Map-making is, similarly, a great project for kids. Creating a map of your yard can help students exercise their drawing skills, and can help them to work on understanding scale and spatial relationships. Creating a scale, labeling, and paying close attention to accuracy of the map are all important parts of the learning process for kids.
For more information on map-making, check out David Sobel’s book, Mapmaking with Children: Sense of Place Education for the Elementary Years.