Nature News

The City Nature Challenge, Modified, Returns

April 22, 2020
city nature challenge
(Courtesy California Academy of Sciences)

It is not the time for a global outdoor gathering of thousands of people to see who can find the most wildlife. But spring goes on (in the Northern Hemisphere), and the wildlife abides, so the fifth annual City Nature Challenge, originally envisioned as a worldwide live community science event, will go on this week too, with all those tens of thousands of amateur nature observers looking for nature closer to home and looking for a nature community online.

“This year we want to embrace the collaborative aspect of sharing observations online with a digital community, and celebrate the healing power of nature as people document their local biodiversity to the best of their ability,” said Alison Young, co-director of Citizen Science at the California Academy of Sciences, in a press release. “We want people around the world to have the opportunity to participate while still following all federal and local recommendations to keep communities safe.”

The City Nature Challenge started in 2016 as a mostly friendly competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles, organized by Alison Young and Rebecca Johnson, the citizen science team at the California Academy of Sciences, and their counterpart Lila Higgins at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Last year’s competition drew 35,000 people in 159 cities worldwide to make 963,000 observations — with Cape Town leading the way for observations and the San Francisco Bay Area approaching nearly 2,000 volunteer observers.

This year the participating city list had grown past 200, with cities from every continent except Antarctica. And the organizers hope people in all those places will still spend April 24-27 looking for wild plants and animals, and uploading observations to iNaturalist. To facilitate a safer approach, though, they’ve de-emphasized the competitive part, and emphasized the close-to-home part. A series of prompts on the City Nature Challenge website offers guidance, such as, “did you know that there are on average 93 species of arthropods living in houses?”

backyard bingo
San Francisco Bay Area “Backyard Bingo” for the City Nature Challenge. (Click to download a larger version.) (Courtesy California Academy of Sciences Citizen Science)

For participants in the Bay Area, they’ve also created a “backyard bingo” guide, featuring 25 common backyard species, and a guide to the “Bay Area’s Most Wanted,” featuring plants and animals for which researchers would like better data, from land snails and slugs to potentially escaping weeds. (In a tradition for this wild-nature event, cultivated plants and domesticated animals don’t count.)

As with previous years, the species-finding will wrap up on April 27 and the following few days will be devoted to identifying the various observations in iNaturalist. If you’ve got expertise to share, there’s always opportunity, especially during the CNC. While there won’t be a winner, the organizers will still announce the results on May 4.

For more information about the City Nature Challenge, guides, and virtual events in the Bay Area, visit the California Academy of Sciences’ City Nature Challenge page.

About the Author

Eric Simons is a former digital editor at Bay Nature. He is author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans and Darwin Slept Here, and is coauthor, with Tessa Hill, of At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans.