YardMap News: YardMap gets an upgrade

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

July 2013

New: cactus icon! 

New features in YardMap make drawing easier! Shown is one of two new cactus icons, plus the new “undo” button.

Take a YardMap Break and See the New Features

If the heat outside has driven you indoors, why not take a few moments to update your yardmap? We’ve just released a new version of YardMap this month, and we know you’re going to love some of the upgrades we’ve got in store for you:

  • We’re now using the most up-to-date version of Google Maps available. The new mapping platform is designed to be even faster and more precise.
  • No more huge yard objects! You control the size and placement of your yard objects with one click. No more dragging and dropping them, or awkward resizing. Simply click on the desired object in the Tool Shed (e.g., birdbaths, brush piles, trees, etc.), then click anywhere on the map to simultaneously place and size the new object.
  • Speaking of yard objects, we have two new icons for cacti!
  • Introducing the undo button. Immediately after you change the size or shape of a polygon or object, you’ll momentarily see a back arrow that will undo the action. Clicking it will undo the last change you made and dismiss the arrow. If you’re satisfied with the change, just ignore the arrow and it will go away in a few seconds.
  • Now you can grab any site line, habitat polygon, or yard object and drag it to a new location without redrawing it! If your satellite imagery changes, just pick up and move along with it.
  • Easily open any site’s info-window (yours or someone else’s) by clicking on the site marker. You no longer have to click on the site outline to open it.
  • Mappers will now see a small overview map in the bottom right-hand corner of the mapping page. This map gives you context about where you are in the world, and you can open or close it as needed.
  • Escape key support has been added. If you mess up mid-drawing, just hit the Escape key to cancel the drawing.

To stay current on all our YardMap updates, check out our Release Notes.

YardMapper honored at the White House 

Michael Cohn speaks to attendees at the Champions of Change celebration at the White House on June 25. Photo courtesy of Michael Cohn via Instagram.

YardMapper Honored as White House “Champion of Change”

A “Champions of Change” ceremony at the White House recently celebrated the field of citizen science and the people who make public, collaborative science projects work. One of the honorees, Michael Cohn, uses YardMap to promote habitat stewardship at a business park in Virginia (see his map here). The Champions of Change program recognizes “ordinary Americans” who are doing extraordinary things in their communities, and this certainly describes Michael. Along with 11 other Champions in the field of citizen science, Michael was honored for his dedication to increasing public engagement in science and science literacy through projects such as YardMap, NestWatch, FeederWatch, the Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Project, and the New York Angler Diary Cooperation Program.

Citizen Science 2.0
Michael represents the next wave of citizen scientist— participants who are cross-disciplinary, innovative, social, and mobile. He refers to this next wave as Citizen Science 2.0. He credits his beginnings to Cornell, stating, “In working with Cornell, I became aware of the burgeoning field of citizen science. Cornell prioritizes educating participants and providing them with easy-to-use, accessible, web-based tools to track ecological data.” Citizen science elevated his hobbies of bird watching and fishing to something more meaningful…something he knew he had to share with others, particularly those who found themselves transitioning back to civilian life after serving in the military.

As a former contractor with the military in Afghanistan, Mike understands the stress and anxiety experienced by returning soldiers. That is why he founded his own initiative, called Soldiers2Scientists, a citizen-science group that allows returning soldiers to decompress in the great American outdoors, while conducting meaningful work that serves to protect and preserve our country’s resources. Michael notes that, “As I have learned more about citizen science, I have become convinced of the potential for the field to contribute to the engagement and treatment of returning veterans.  By combining outdoor recreation with scientifically-oriented, purpose-driven activities (for example, bird tracking), veterans can enjoy the benefits of therapeutic recreation, while also directly contributing to the conservation, rehabilitation, and advancement of American wildlife and wild spaces.”

Comparing the legions of citizen scientists in the field to a “growing army,” Michael points out that “we are just beginning to understand the scope of the potential and socio-historical implications for the democratization of scientific inquiry and research!” We couldn’t agree more! Congratulations, Michael, for this distinguished honor, and thank you for your contributions to Citizen Science (2.0) here at the Lab of Ornithology and elsewhere.

5,000 Maps & Counting!

Tree Swallows stick together
Birds know that there is strength in numbers. Photo by Ralph McMillan via Flickr.

YardMappers have now contributed more than 5,000 maps to the YardMap database! This important milestone puts YardMap on track to achieve 10,000 maps by next year. We couldn’t be more excited that you came, you mapped, and you conquered.

The more maps accumulate, the more data become available to help landowners improve the wildlife value of landscapes. Now, tell your neighbors and friends, and invite them to join you in creating a bird-friendly neighborhood.

Is your yardmap the best it can be?

Is Your Map the Best it Can Be?

While we hope that YardMap is a useful tool for planning your backyard habitat, YardMap is first and foremost a citizen-science project. That means you are contributing to science by participating in the project and providing us with your habitat details. In order to get the highest quality data possible, we ask that you provide a “Full and Complete YardMap.” The guidelines for this are simple: At least 90% of the area in your site should be covered with habitat polygons, and all the characteristics found in the info-windows for your Sites, Habitats, and Objects need to be set. If there are some characteristics you don’t know, please set the dials to “not known,” and try your best to find out the answer by connecting with others in YardMap, or by contacting us with any questions.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the most common mapping pitfalls:

  1. Outline the entire property, not just the backyard. Yes, we know the project is called “YardMap,” but we really want you to outline your entire property, not just the yard.
  2. Don’t forget about buildings and paved areas. These enable YardMap to calculate your site’s total landcover types, not just the ones that we think of as “habitat.” This also gives us data on building footprints and impervious surface area.
  3. Set the characteristics for your whole site, and its polygons and objects. Enter as much information as you can about the site’s management practices, fill in the species’ names, and tell us about the food sources available. The more you enter, the more valuable your map becomes.
  4. Zoom in. Zooming in reveals gaps in your map’s coverage, and gives you more precision with placement of plants and objects.
  5. Don’t give up. You might not get it all done in a day, so don’t worry. Mastering the tools takes a little practice, and the process of mapping will surely reveal gaps in your knowledge that need to be filled. Take your time, and think of it as a continual process of editing your map.
  6. Remember to come back and update your map periodically when things change out there. Eventually, we will be able to look at how sites change over time using YardMap data.
  7. Report your bird observations to eBird. Maps that contain bird reports are the gold standard, as they get at the bird-habitat relationships on a much smaller scale than ever before. These maps earn our admiration and tend to end up as Featured Yards!

Go Ahead, Test Us

We’ve got a handful of people exploring our secret test site as you read this. Want in on the action? Willing to give us some feedback before we go public with new features? Just email us and we’ll let you in on the fun!


  • 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.

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