Photo by George Dutton.

Using Habitat Network for Schoolyard Habitat Improvements

This blog is part of a school garden series sponsored by Alaska Fertilizer. Learn more about school gardens and grant opportunities.

Students get their hands dirty as they make habitat improvements in their schoolyard. Photo by Darcy Petzold.

Whether you’re in a bustling urban setting or a quiet rural environment, birds are a great resource for engaging students in learning about nature and the environment. Taking students outside to study birds and the surrounding habitat breaks up stagnant time in the classroom and engages all the senses for a fascinating and educational experience. But is your schoolyard a good habitat for local bird species? Your bird habitat can always be improved, and with help and advice from Habitat Network, your students can learn what makes the perfect habitat for birds in your region.

Habitat Network is a citizen-science project that encourages people to improve, expand and understand the environment around them. It’s a great resource to incorporate into your curriculum because it offers a hands-on learning opportunity for students, allowing them to explore the environment and make improvements to their schoolyards that support a better habitat for local bird species. Not only does it offer information about native birds and habitats, it also provides tools and programs for students to develop mapping and research skills.

How does it work?

  1. Create a free Habitat Network account. If you have an existing account through one of the Lab’s other citizen-science projects like eBird, you don’t need to make a new one.
  2. Take your students outside to explore the schoolyard. Have them draw a map of their area on paper with all of the habitat components, including ground surfaces, structures, and objects. If you have a large space to map, consider dividing your students into groups to map separate portions of the schoolyard. You can combine the group maps for a complete map of your school grounds.
  3. Next, have students share their maps and help the class draft a final sketch of their schoolyard. Your sketch will make using Habitat Network much easier because you will have a preliminary idea of what you will need to include.

    An example of a YardMap drawing.

    An example map created using Habitat Connections.

  4. Sign in to your account and select the “Map” tab. Here you can map your schoolyard and highlight different types of habitats and objects on your school’s property. Using the class sketch as a reference, have students take turns adding components to the online map.
  5. The “Explore” tab offers resources and information about your region. Using your zip code, learn about your ecoregion and access information about species that will thrive there. You can also determine your plant hardiness zone to better understand what plant species will be successful. Students can also explore the “Take Action List” for suggestions on how to improve their schoolyard.
  6. After compiling research about your unique region, it’s time to get to work creating an even better habitat! Students can identify areas of the schoolyard that could be improved and develop a plan of what changes can be made. A great way to identify areas for improvement is to look for the four components of habitat — food, water, cover, and space — in your schoolyard and brainstorm ways to improve each component. Are you missing a water source? Consider adding a birdbath.
  7. Once you and your students have made positive habitat improvements in your schoolyard, redraw the map! You can compare your before and after maps by taking a screenshot of the original map. This can be a great way to record all that you have done to create a better space for students and birds!

Going Further:


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  1. Pingback: On Bird Hill Guide Companion : Cornell Lab of Ornithology: BirdSleuth K-12

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