Chicago Wildlife Watch: A New Way to Document Urban Biodiversity

by Archana Iyer for SUST 240

As of this past October all people interested in contributing to the database of urban wildlife in Chicago can now do so from the comfort of anywhere with an internet connection. The combined efforts of Adler Planetarium and Lincoln Park Zoo allow individuals of all ages and education levels to take an active role in science and their community by identifying wildlife in photographs taken by cameras set up throughout Chicago for the project Chicago Wildlife Watch.

Participating in the identification of the native wildlife helps Chicagoland wildlife research tremendously by assisting in the creation of a database that has the necessary information to preserve the wildlife habitats of Chicago and the species that occupy them. As it is, the knowledge scientists have on what habitats are fruitful and where in this city they are is limited. Consequently, our knowledge about how to share resources with native animals without impeding their ability to sustain themselves is limited. By identifying the species of animal in these photographs, you personally add to the inventory of the Chicago Wildlife Watch.

Coyotes spotted on a Chicago Wildlife Watch camera (source: Lincoln Park Zoo)

Coyotes spotted on a Chicago Wildlife Watch camera (source: Lincoln Park Zoo)

But how exactly does it work? The methodology of this identification process is described by Laura Wyhte, PhD, the Director of the Adler Planetarium Citizen Science Department. “The technology uses methods created by the Zooniverse that have been tested in more than 30 citizen science projects. The public can be rest assured that their efforts will produce scientifically valid results.”

The method of classification is fairly straightforward and designed to yield valid results. The user is presented with a photo and given several options on how to tag it. Once there is a certain degree of consensus as to what the picture is, the image is considered “tagged” and moves on to reviewed by experts for the database. This crowding-sourcing approach to field identification will provide information about the wildlife of Chicago and allow the residents of Chicago to be more aware of what areas they inhabit. Ultimately, this should allow all the species of Chicagoland to cohabit in an improved way.

Ready to get started? Go to and start classifying!

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.


About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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