Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Iowa Citizens Help Track Imperiled Wildlife

It’s 10 o’clock on a summer night along a gravel road anywhere in Iowa. In the farm pond next to the road a raucous chorus of male frogs are making themselves heard as they vie for mates.  A volunteer stands clipboard in hand, ear cocked, mentally sorting out each of the calling species and the number of individuals using this seemingly ordinary pond.  

Skip to a Saturday morning by the river where another volunteer has binoculars trained on the tallest tree in the area.  In this tree is a one ton nest, home to two bald eagles and their young.  Are there two or three young in that nest?  Hard to tell and a follow up visit will be needed; in the meantime, notes are taken and a peaceful hour is spent watching one of the most spectacular birds in North America.  

These volunteers collecting data were trained through Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program.  

 “We don’t have enough staff in the DNR to adequately monitor all the vulnerable species that we need to,” said program coordinator Stephanie Shepherd. “This is where citizen scientists play a crucial role.”  

Volunteers must register for and attend a training workshop in order to participate. 

Each March and April, Shepherd holds workshops to prepare volunteers to collect data on some of Iowa’s critical wildlife. Bird workshops will be held on March 8th in Algona and March 15th in Elgin, at the Public Library in the ICN/meeting Room.  The frog and toad survey workshop will be held on April 15th in Peterson. For more information go to or send an e-mail to  

So what are these critical wildlife species?

The bird workshop focuses on some of Iowa’s more spectacular bird species such as bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons and colonially nesting water birds like herons and egrets.  

Volunteers are taught how to collect data on specific nesting sites around the state and submit pertinent data such as how many young birds fledge. “This data collection requires lots of patience and some good optics in order to watch the nest from a distance and not disturb the birds,” Shepherd said.  

The frog and toad survey is more aural than visual.  

Volunteers are trained to listen to and recognize the 16 species of frogs and toads in Iowa based on their breeding calls.  Volunteers drive back country roads at night along a specified route stopping occasionally to get out and listen and record the different species heard. 

“The Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program provides an opportunity for adults who love the outdoors and wildlife to be directly involved with the conservation and monitoring of Iowa’s resources. The work done is crucial to the well-being of these species,” Shepherd said.   

Media Contact: Stephanie Shepherd, Wildlife Diversity Biologist, Wildlife Diversity Program, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-432-2823.

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