Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Cameras and Crowdsourcing

Chicagoans can easily forget that the city and surrounding areas contain a vibrant ecosystem, home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Local wildlife tends to avoid humans, making observation challenging. As the Walters noted back in 1904, “If you cannot go birding alone, take along as few friends as possible, because birds are suspicious of human beings in flocks, especially when they move around much.” In order to observe animals without startling them, researchers can use camera “traps” placed in locations believed to harbor wildlife.

Outfitted with a motion-activated shutter, the camera trap will snap a picture when animals move within range, allowing researchers to gather visual data without being physically present. In the 1920s and 30s Chicago Academy of Sciences' curator of mammalogy Tappan Gregory found success using camera traps to document the activity of local fauna in the absence of human intrusion.

In recent years, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute has expanded on this, placing hundreds of digital camera traps throughout Chicagoland. Since 2010, these cameras have captured over 1 million images, a number that would have surely been mind-boggling in Gregory’s day. Using a combination of modern technology and citizen science, UWI launched Chicago Wildlife Watch, enlisting volunteers to identify animals in camera-trap images via a web portal. The project has contributed to our knowledge of the biodiversity of the Chicago area by gathering key data on the wildlife that live within our urban ecosystem.  Additionally this collaboration with citizen-scientists, who have identified thousands of images of local wildlife including deer, foxes, and coyotes, has fostered public engagement with the natural world.

Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "A Century of Citizen Science in Lincoln Park" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.

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