Think you have to travel to national parks or remote forests to spot wildlife? Lincoln Park Zoo and Adler Planetarium want to prove you wrong. Together, they created Chicago Wildlife Watch, a crowd-sourcing science project showing that wildlife is literally in our own backyards and high-rise balconies! Since the project began in 2014, rare birds, foxes, coyotes and deer are just some of the species that have been captured (on camera, that is) in the heart of the city and suburbs.
Chicago Wildlife Watch has set up 120 motion-triggered cameras throughout Chicago and the suburbs that take pictures every 30 seconds when they detect movement. So far, the cameras have taken more than a million images. Since it is too much data for the scientists to manage themselves, that is where families come in.
Seth Magle, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, hopes to enlist kids and adults to become citizen scientists, helping identify urban and suburban wildlife. He calls it people-powered research.
“We have the equipment (the cameras) and the scientific skills, but our research can’t go forward unless people help us by telling us what animals are in the pictures, which tells us which animals live where,” Magle says. “No one has ever collected this much data on urban wildlife before. It’s really an unprecedented kind of study, and that’s why we need so much help.”
Here’s how it works:
Go to chicagowildlifewatch.org, click “Get started” and then look at photos taken by the cameras. User-friendly buttons ask you to choose what type of animal is in a photo—opossum, woodchuck and skunk, for example— before moving on to the next image.
“It’s super easy,” he says. It works on computer, tablet or smartphone.
Identifying the pictures will help researchers better understand our wild neighbors—which species are most common and which are in decline, and how humans impact our ecosystem.
Kids likely will be surprised to learn that 2,000 coyotes live in Chicago. But they’re not the only wildlife roaming the streets. Chicago Wildlife Watch’s cameras have spotted beavers, mink, muskrat, flying squirrels, hawks and more species.
“As we create larger urban areas, we put more and more pressure on wildlife species to move into cities, and inevitably, some of them will,” Magle says. “Our mission is to help create a world where humans and wildlife can co-exist in cities.”
Should kids be worried about any of the wildlife they spot on Chicago Wildlife Watch? “No, we shouldn’t be worried,” Magle says. “Animals in the city don’t want anything to do with us.”
But if you do happen to see a wild animal in the real world, Magle stresses to keep a distance. As he likes to say, “If you see a cool animal, feel free to photograph it from a safe distance and share it on social media. Tweet it, but don’t touch it!”