Seattle's Child

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Volunteers use the iNaturalist app to document wildlife in local parks and greenspaces for City Nature Challenge. Here they are at Swan Creek Park. (Photo: Katie Cotterill / Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

How your family can join the City Nature Challenge

Nature and technology combine for a unique learning experience April 29-May 2.

It’s time for the annual City Nature Challenge, a worldwide event with a local focus.

Get outside and be a scientist! Everyone can do it.

The Seattle-Tacoma-Everett area represents one “project” to record and identify wildlife observations during the challenge, and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and Woodland Park Zoo are are encouraging people to get out and discover nature and wildlife.

Here’s how the City Nature Challenge works:

There’s a free app called iNaturalist that can be downloaded onto a PC or portable device to track what you see. Observations can be made anytime, but to count toward the City Nature Challenge, they have to be recorded from April 29-May 2.

Naturalists from Woodland Park Zoo and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium are offering a free online orientation in iNaturalist at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, to help those new to the technology (or to nature).

Once you have the app and have joined the local challenge, snap photos of wild plants, animals and fungi that you see. If you can identify the species, do so. Otherwise, the app’s artificial intelligence can make suggestions for you. Record your location, time and date.

Then, anytime through May 8, participants are invited to go in and identify observations – their own or others. Each observation needs two identifications to be verified. Individuals can also participate online only by helping to identify the nature observations of others.

“It’s easy and fun, and it’s something your whole family can take part in,” said Katie Remine, Living Northwest Program Coordinator at Woodland Park Zoo.

Added Zach Hawn, conservation engagement coordinator at Point Defiance: “We are surrounded by native wildlife and it’s incredible learning about it, if we just stop and take the time to observe.”

It’s a great way to get outside, safely and socially distanced. Explore local parks and trails. Work alone or as a family.

The data is used to help scientists understand how our regional wildlife is faring, and how to protect it. And it’s also a chance to make our mark on the world: Every year the region with the most observations is highlighted on the app’s homepage, as well as the individual with the most unusual species spotting.

Point Defiance has more information on its website about the City Nature Challenge. Woodland Park Zoo does as well.

In addition, Woodland Park Zoo welcomes help with its Urban Carnivore Project. Here’s more on that.


More ways to enjoy and explore nature:

6 ways your kids can enjoy nature in Seattle’s Seward Park

14 animals you can spot in your own back yard

Spiders are perfect for studying! How to get started




About the Author

Julie Hanson

Julie Hanson is the website editor for Seattle's Child. She is a longtime journalist, South King County resident and mom to a 14-year-old girl.