October 3, 2016

Online Platform Helps Citizen Scientists Transform Outdoor Space into Wildlife-Friendly Habitat

A screenshot of a property mapped for the Habitat Network
Screenshot of a Habitat Network map, Massachusetts 

Did you know that your front yard, office patio, or city park could provide important habitat for dozens of plants and animals?

Today, The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched Habitat Network, a free online citizen science platform that invites people to map their outdoor space, share it with others, and learn more about supporting wildlife habitat and other natural functions in cities and town across the country.

Forty million acres of U.S. land are covered by lawn: short grass that has minimal ecological function and costs property owners more than $30 billion to maintain. Habitat Network offers alternate solutions for yards, parks, and other urban green spaces to support birds, pollinators, and other wildlife, plus manage water resources, and reduce chemical use like pesticides and fertilizers to keep nature in balance. Habitat Network can be used on properties of all sizes and types, from a shared urban garden in a city park to a large suburban backyard or nature preserve.

What can Habitat Network help you do? It can help you to:

  • Attract a variety of birds to your home, school, or business
  • Manage rainwater
  • Help protect bees and other pollinators
  • Compare your map to other network members’ and get inspired with the new goal-setting feature

The mapping tool is also a social network, inviting participants to share information and learn from their neighbors. Over time, the self-reported information from citizen scientists using the Habitat Network will provide data the Conservancy and the Lab can use to understand how much habitat exists in our cities and towns and what role that habitat can play in benefiting wildlife and humans.

The Habitat Network web site, which builds on prior habitat programs at the Lab and the Conservancy, already has 345,000 users—primarily in the United States—who have mapped more than 20,000 yards, gardens, and parks.

The Nature Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are also launching a two-year initiative in a handful of pilot cities where they will work with local organizations to test best practices for creating habitats in urban areas. For example, in Seattle, The Nature Conservancy will use the Habitat Network to track the progress of an initiative to install 20,000 rain gardens across the city.

Additional projects could include planting native trees for shade or to improve air and water quality, and efforts to boost pollinator populations. Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. will develop Habitat Network pilot projects in coordination with local partners over the coming year.

Sign up for an account and get started mapping, sharing, and learning about sustainable practices you can implement in backyards, schoolyards, parks, and corporate campuses.


“Science shows us that small changes in the way properties are managed can make a huge impact towards improving our environment. Creating and conserving nature within cities, towns, and neighborhoods are key to global conservation.” —Megan Whatton, project manager for Habitat Network at The Nature Conservancy

“The number and diversity of butterfly species on our property is impressive, especially considering there were essentially zero when we moved in. The other big success has been the bird life visiting us … often there is a big crowd of birds using the stream as a birdbath.” —Richard Barry, Habitat Network User from Essex, Massachusetts

“It’s a great way to get to know your yard better. You are really the expert about what’s going on around your house or neighborhood, and we want to tap into that expertise in a way that can benefit the scientific community.” —Rhiannon Crain, project leader for Habitat Network at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

About the organizations

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Keep up with current Conservancy news by following 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.