Critter Count: The City Nature Challenge
by Cindy Reid
The City Nature Challenge is an international program for finding and documenting plants and wildlife in towns and cities across the globe. Similar to the Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count, the City Nature Challenge (CNC) is open to anyone. Since its start in 2016, the four day event has grown to more than 400 cities across 6 continents recording more than 1 million wildlife observations in 2021.
Organized by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences, the CNC asks people to document the wildlife in their own backyards over the course of four days in the spring. Held the same week as Earth Day, the CNC gathers data but also encourages people, especially students, to go outside and record the nature they observe.
Observations are logged through the free app iNaturalist, developed by National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences. Simply take a picture of anything and the app will help identify it. When you take a photo with the app, as long as you are online, iNaturalist will give you subject suggestions and you can choose one. They help by labeling choices as “visually similar” and “seen nearby” when applicable.
Participants note visual observations of wildlife, including plants, animals, fungi, seaweed, lichen, etc., including observations of living or dead organisms, or evidence of those organisms, like shells, tracks, scat, feathers, etc. Don’t catalog pets or flowers from the nursery. Look for what’s wild in your neighborhood. Look up in the sky for birds, and down on the ground for reptiles and insects. But remember, everything has to actually be seen, and hopefully photographed, by you within the time frame of the event.
Effingham College and Career Academy Science teacher John S. Cassell is the local contact for the event and hopes to make the CNC part of his high school science classes. “The last time the City Nature Challenge was organized in coastal Georgia, almost 200 photos were submitted,” He says. “As the point-of-contact for the Savannah area, I think a great community goal would be to have 2,022 observations in the year 2022 across all counties.”
The CNC will occur in coastal Georgia in Effingham, Chatham, Liberty, and Bryan counties. “Living in the Savannah-area has many perks, including the large number of parks, waterfronts, and forests to explore,” Cassell says. “This year residents can take this a step further by using their cameras to document wildlife for one of the largest cataloging endeavors of the digital age.”
He says anyone can do it: “Using free programs like iNaturalist are great for those who keep asking ‘what kind of tree is that?’ or ‘what bird is at my feeder?’ The app can be used any day of the year and you can get accurate identifications in seconds. It is a very user friendly app.”
Cassell, who has worked on Jekyll and Tybee Islands with several scientific and naturalist research projects, says, “If we can get all the students in every coastal Georgia high school to participate in this challenge, I can only imagine what cool organisms they will record on their phones.”
How it Works
Download the app and set aside time from April 29 - May 2. On those days, observe nature in your own yard, at a community park, or on the water. Be alert for any wildlife, and remember: it can be a living thing or evidence of a living thing. Take a picture via the iNaturalist app. Don’t worry about uploading or identifying what’s in the photo, you can do that after the observation days. Observe for whatever time works for you—families can make it a group activity!
The CNC started in 2016 as a competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles and has grown into a friendly-competitive event between cities all over the world to see which city can gather the most observations of nature, find the most species, and engage the most people. Cities in North, Central and South America as well as cities throughout Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia are all participating. Savannah is the local city designation for our area.
On iNaturalist, all the data is available to anyone interested in it. Observations gathered in iNaturalist are used in hundreds of scientific publications, but the most immediate use of CNC data happens at a local level. Data such as the discovery of a new-to-that-place species or documenting a population of rare or invasive species is important information for a community to have. Every contribution is used to foster a better understanding of what species are found in a given area.
Be part of a global effort to catalog our world. It’s fun, family friendly and free!
City Nature Challenge 2022
- Make and share observations from April 29 – May 2
- Observations between April 29 at 12:00am (local time) and May 2 at 11:59pm
- (local time) count for the City Nature Challenge.
- Upload your observations and work on identifying from May 3 – 8
- Results to be announced on May 9