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Citizen-science Programs

Citizen-science programs offer opportunities for students, teachers and the public to participate in scientific data collection. Some programs require training. The following list includes a variety of the available options to people in Illinois. Visit each organization’s Web site for details and requirements.  

This program is the longest-running, citizen-science project related to birds.

BeeSpotter is a partnership between citizen scientists and the professional science community designed to educate the public about pollinators by engaging them in a data collection effort of importance to the nation. It is a Web-based portal at the University of Illinois for learning about honey bees and bumble bees and for contributing data to a nationwide effort to collect baseline information on the population status of these insects.

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees.

To understand the distribution and status of amphibians across the state, frog and toad monitoring programs are held engaging volunteer “citizen scientists." Trainings are typically offered in winter to prepare for the spring monitoring season. The information collected helps to inform decisions by land managers and scientists. 

The Field Museum sponsors several citizen-science programs. Topics include birds, Chicago Region Monitoring, microplants, ecological stewardship and School of Ants.

CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). They use low-cost measurement tools, stress training and education and utilize an interactive Web site to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. 

FrogWatch USA™ is a citizen-science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that invites individuals and families to learn about wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting data on the calls of local frogs and toads. AZA’s FrogWatch USA™ comprises a national network of skilled coordinators and volunteers who form a community with the goal of providing large-scale, long-term data on frogs and toads in the United States.

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real time. More than 160,000 people join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

People all over the country are collecting data on pollinators in their yards, gardens, schools and parks. They take counts of the number and types of pollinators visiting plants. provides data recording and reporting services for raptor migration. Illinois Beach State Park is one of the sites for this project.

The Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network engages citizen scientists in the process of collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations. They provide data collected with a standardized protocol that allows land managers to evaluate long-term trends in a changing landscape. The Network also offers opportunities for fellowship, mentorship

and continuing education between citizen scientists and professional biologists.

Illinois RiverWatch safeguards the future of Illinois rivers and streams through stewardship, education and sound science. RiverWatch utilizes trained volunteers to collect quality assured data on wadeable streams and fosters coordination among groups involved in similar monitoring efforts.

Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. shares findings with scientific data repositories to help scientists find and use your data.

Journey North is one of North America’s premiere citizen-science projects. It provides an easy entry point to citizen science, with simple protocols, strong online support and immediate results. Reported sightings are mapped in real time as waves of migrations move across the continent. People report sightings from the field, view maps, take pictures and leave comments.

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) is a citizen-science project involving volunteers from across the United States and Canada in monarch research. It was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to collect long-term data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat. The project focuses on monarch distribution and abundance during the breeding season in North America. As an MLMP volunteer, your contributions will aid in conserving monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, and advance our understanding of butterfly ecology in general.

There are several ways that you can get your classroom involved with Monarch Watch. In addition to rearing monarchs, several ongoing research projects rely on student-scientist partnerships.

Monitoring of Owls and Nightjars, MOON, is a volunteer-based program that occurs throughout the state. Volunteers monitor routes located along suitable habitat for owls and nightjars from April to June. Routes are nine miles long with 10 stops per route. Volunteers are encouraged to monitor for all species they hear during the listening period.

The North American Butterfly Association offers the Butterfly Monitoring Program, including the 4th of July Butterfly Counts, and has amassed the largest database of butterfly occurrences and abundances in the world. These data are increasingly used by scientists to study butterfly population trends and to answer questions about butterfly biology.

Plants of Concern, created in 2000, is a regional rare-plant monitoring program designed to assess long-term trends in rare-plant populations. It is a flexible collaboration of public and nongovernmental conservation agencies, landowners, and volunteer groups, guided by an advisory group of land managers, scientists and volunteers.

Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of the timing of leafing, flowering and fruiting phases of plants (plant phenophases) throughout the year. Spring, summer, fall and winter phases are all valuable. Scientists and educators can use the data to learn more about how plant species respond to changes in climate locally, regionally and nationally.

Monarch Health is a citizen-science project in which volunteers sample wild monarch butterflies to help track the spread of a protozoan parasite across North America.

No matter where you live, city or suburb, from the Midwest to the East Coast, Canada to California, whether squirrels live in your neighborhood or not, you are encouraged to become a squirrel monitor.