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The Chicago Park District serves as a "living laboratory" with dozens of research and monitoring projects occurring throughout the parks annually. Findings help researchers and land managers better understand our local ecosystems and can directly inform the district's management practices. Some research projects involve members of the public collecting and/or assessing data, called "community science" (also called citizen science or participatory science). The Chicago Park District works with several external partners to bring these types of monitoring opportunities to our Natural Areas. An overview of some of these programs is provided below.


iNaturalist is a website and mobile app where anyone can easily share their nature sightings, whether it is plant, mammal, fungus, or any other life, or signs of life. Snap a photo or record a sound and your observations become part of the global database. Data from the iNaturalist platform are frequently used in academic research and to better understand our parks. Search for your local park on the iNaturalist map to see what kinds of wildlife live and grow there.

Plants of Concern
This Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plants of Concern program trains volunteers to monitor population trends in rare plants across northeastern and southern Illinois. Volunteers are trained in plant identification, the use of GPS equipment, and the use of plant survey methods and the program protocol. Online training modules make getting started easy.

Chicago Park District Rapid Floristic Quality Assessment (RFQA)
The Rapid Floristic Quality Assessment (RFQA) protocol allows natural areas managers to track site quality over time. Participants document common and relatively easy to identify species to assess a site’s quality over time. This project is a joint initiative of CPD and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plants of Concern program. A quick training video and protocol, as well as past data for each site, are located on the Plants of Concern website.

Budburst is a community-focused, data-driven approach to plant conservation housed at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Whether in a park or your own backyard, make observations of plant life cycles and plant-animal interactions to help researchers address important environmental questions about climate change and ecology. Several different activities and curricula are available for groups, educators,  individuals, and families.

eBird is a bird-focused project where participants share over 100 million bird sightings annually. These sightings become detailed data about bird species distributions, abundance, habitat use, and annual trends.

Bird Conservation Network
In partnership with the Bird Conservation Network, local ornithologists and volunteers conduct point counts of birds at several parks citywide throughout the breeding season. Data from this program are used in ongoing studies about long-term trends in local bird populations.

Project MartinWatch
Volunteer monitors monitor purple martin nesting towers at four Chicago Park District locations: Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Jackson Park-Columbia Basin, Montrose Harbor, and South Shore Cultural Center. Data from this program are submitted to the Purple Martin Conservation Association. For more information, contact the CPD Community Stewardship Program Manager at

Calling Frog Survey
Housed at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, this program trains volunteers to identify frogs and toads by sound, and to collect data on these species at sample sites in and around Chicago. The purpose of this survey is to collect baseline data on calling frog populations in the region, and to better detect significant changes in the future.

Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network
The Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network trains volunteers to identify butterfly species and survey populations at sites across the state. This initiative is housed through the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Monarch Community Science Project
Monarchs require their host plant, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) to survive. Participants in the Field Museum’s Monarch Community Science Project monitor milkweed plants to see how well monarch caterpillars survive in urban and suburban areas.

Illinois Odonate Survey
The Illinois Odonate Survey trains volunteers to identify dragonfly and damselfly species, and to collect population counts at natural areas across the state. This initiative is housed through the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Singing Insects Monitoring Program
This community science program trains volunteers to recognize the calls of native singing insects including crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids. The purpose of this survey is to collect baseline data on calling insect populations in Chicago.

Acoustic Bat Monitoring
Bats use ultrasonic (higher than human hearing) echolocation to navigate their environment. One method to study bats is to record those calls, which are unique to each species. Community scientists collect bat acoustic data using a standardized protocol that consists of walking with an iPad and ultrasonic microphone on set paths that span key urban habitats. This initiative is hosted through the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute.

Looking for more?
Even more community science projects, including online-only options, are listed at

Contact cassi saari at with questions about research or community science projects within the parks.