Turning your yard – or other small outdoor space – into a wildlife haven is easier than you think. Get started with Habitat Network, an online community of citizen scientists working together to build habitat to support wildlife.
Habitat Network is a partnership between the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) that grew out of an earlier project called YardMap. Similar to YardMap, participants map their yards using a simple online tool and add them to the network. They also learn and share the best tips to create a beautiful outdoor space that’s attractive to wildlife.
“Habitat Network expands upon the previous YardMap platform by integrating new functionality such as the new planning tool,” Megan Whatton, Project Manager for Habitat Network explains, “which analyzes the maps created by Habitat users, provides goals users can set for the property, and suggests actions users can take to reach the goals set for each property.”
Don’t have a yard? No problem. You can map and share your container garden, community plot or local park.
Get Started with a Wildlife-Friendly Space
Check out these easy tips from Megan Whatton to get started on transforming your yard:
- Plant Native. Next time you think about putting a planter together or re-planting your landscaping, think about planting native plants. The benefits of native plants are numerous and it’s fairly easy to find a nursery who has native plants to sell. Our explore tool on Habitat Network is available for everyone to use (no sign-in required) and provides you the resources you need to make these decisions.
- Reduce or eliminate chemical use on your property. Often the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides are overused. Reading labels and following use procedures can help reduce the amount of chemicals used and wildlife impacted. Also using chemicals after sunset can reduce the amount of insects impacted by the application.
- Set aside an area for a brush pile. Creating a brush pile of the sticks and limbs that fall on the property can provide shelter and nesting opportunities for wildlife.
- Leave dead, standing wood, a.k.a. snags. Trees die, and when they do, they continue their good work by providing food for insects and in turn for wildlife that feed on those insects, shelter, and nesting materials and locations. Check out our article on snags for more suggestions on how to make them beautiful and safe.
The Power of Grassroots Conservation
Habitat Network focuses on actions that people can take to have broader ecological and social impacts.
Did you know that 40 million acres of land in the U.S. are taken up by lawns? That’s primarily made up of short grass, which provides few benefits for native flora and fauna. Habitat Network aims to change that trend by giving people the resources they need to create stunning lawns with plants that are native to their unique ecoregion.
“Planting natives in place of ornamentals or exotic plants has benefits for humans and wildlife,” Whatton notes. She adds that native plants support a wider variety of herbivores, which in turn provide food for other wildlife; are low maintenance (less work and expense for you!); and are often as beautiful as common exotic species, for instance, consider planting Redtwig Dogwood instead of Burning Bush.
When you join Habitat Network, you will see that many small actions taken together have already had a remarkable collective impact. Participants have already mapped nearly 350,000 acres. That’s a significant and constantly growing network of wildlife-friendly turf stitched together from yards and local parks.
Information from the Habitat Network community will help scientists to answer questions about creating outdoor spaces that are good for nature and people too. Questions like: What practices improve the wildlife value of residential landscapes? What impact do urban and suburban wildlife corridors and stopover habitats have on birds? Which measures show the greatest success of our projects?
“Most of the questions we are seeking to answer require a lot of long-term data,” Rhainnon Crain, Project Leader for Habitat Network says. “The more people who participate in the project, adopt some goals for the sites they manage, implement changes, and record the new data the closer we get to being able to answer those questions for a diversity of landscapes.”
The answers to these questions will help people greatly reduce negative impacts of our living spaces on nature and contribute to wildlife conservation by creating valuable havens and corridors for wildlife.
The learn page provides more than 150 articles on topics from leaf litter to supporting pollinators to help you get started creating your own outdoor paradise. And if you have a question that isn’t covered, the forum is a place to ask questions and share advice about what has worked with the community.
You can also join or form groups with others in the Habitat Network community who share a common interest. For instance, you might be interested in improving the placement of bird feeders or connecting with people in your region.
Add your yard, container garden, or even your local park to Habitat Network. With a relatively small effort, you can make a big impact for wildlife.