Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Citizen Scientists Lead the Way

Long before the zoo established its Urban Wildlife Institute, dedicated citizen scientists monitored the diversity of life in the city’s green spaces. For several years around the turn of the 20th century, a young Chicago couple living just a few blocks from Lincoln Park spent their spring months meticulously observing and recording the migratory birds passing through the city. The couple, Herbert Eugene and Alice Hall Walter, published the results of their research in Wild Birds in City Parks, an early examination of urban nature. Herbert Walter, a local teacher at the time of the guide’s publication, went on to become a highly respected professor and researcher at Brown University.

The pocket-sized book included a how-to guide, a detailed check-list, and brief descriptions of the 114 bird species documented in Lincoln Park from 1898 through 1904. It also acknowledged the dire situation faced by many species of birds due to human activity by including a list of locally invasive species as well as those that were extinct or nearly extinct. Wild Birds in City Parks encouraged urbanites to join the ranks of citizen scientists with the assurance that “[a]nyone caring to make use of these hints may be assured that during the migrations city dwellers have one of the keenest delights of country life brought to their very doors…  a city park often contains a greater variety of feathered visitors than an equal area in the country.” The Walters’ work provides a wonderful snapshot of the avian life in Chicago Parks at the end of the Victorian Era. 

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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