do science


citizen science community scientist animalia project web
Get outside, learn about nature and add to our knowledge of the world. (photo by susan ask)

We all learn more about the world through careful observations.  And your observations can help scientists learn more about natural history in your region and how climate change is affecting plants, animals and ecological processes.  Take part in a volunteer science program to help us all understand the world around us.

Explore some of the community science programs listed below; they are sometimes called ‘citizen science’ programs.  There’s something for everyone– whatever your interest, ability or time frame.

Data that you collect can help build a better understanding of how the world is changing as the climate changes– and provide insights about climate adaptation and resilience.

A few things to keep in mind when doing science:

  • accuracy—measure carefully and follow the protocols of the monitoring program so that the data you collect is useful.  There are lots of opportunities to be creative with your observations of nature, but this isn’t one of them.
  • longevity of your commitment– some programs, like PING, are perfect for one-time or occasional commitments; other programs are best if you can commit for weeks, months or even years.  Do your best to find a good match.
  • safety, of course– practice good wilderness skills, even in urban wilderness.  Check with your monitoring program for any specific safety measures that they recommend.

Ideally, monitoring programs can use comparable methods to make data comparable across the country build a bigger, more robust, dataset that can answer more questions about larger trends.

National and Chicago Wilderness region community science projects

Many volunteer science monitoring programs are national or international; programs in green are specific to the Chicago Wilderness or midwest region.

weather / climate / meteorological monitoring

PING  / Precipitation Identification Near the Ground

CoCoRaHS / Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network

Weather Underground PWS Network / Personal Weather System

Globe at Night

more resources, from NASA, for community scientists interested in the night sky

plant monitoring and research

Project BudBurst

Plants of Concern

Witness Trees of Illinois

wildlife monitoring

frogs & toads

Calling Frog Survey  (toads, too!)

North American Amphibian Monitoring Program

Frog Watch USA

butterflies & moths

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Program

Journey North

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

Monarch Health and Parasites

more monarch monitoring programs, listed by the Monarch Joint Venture

North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Counts

Project Monarch Health


Illinois Odonate Survey


Bee Spotter

Bumble Bee Watch


Some of the best-known community science programs focus on birds.  Additional programs take place periodically; get in touch with a local bird group to find out more.

Bird Conservation Network Survey

Breeding Bird Survey

Christmas Bird Count

Hummingbirds at Home

Great Backyard Bird Count

Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch

Midwest Crane Count

MOON / Monitoring of Owls and Nightjars in Illinois

Project FeederWatch

for naturalists interested in collecting a variety of data

National Phenology Network

The Great Sunflower Project — for monitoring pollinators

Zooniverse — a clearinghouse of many different citizen science projects

monitoring ecological conditions

Chicago River Wildlife Monitors


 Illinois RiverWatch

Illinois Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program


and more

Did You Feel It? — where earthquakes are felt around the world

This list is not exhaustive.  Many conservation areas and organizations run place-based monitoring programs with volunteers.  Check with local groups to find more opportunities.

last updated October 2018