Community Science

Our Community Science Program bridges the gap between professional researchers and the community. We create collaborative spaces for learning, in turn, making a more engaged, knowledgeable and ecologically literate population. See what you can explore with us!

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How we do it

The Urban Ecology Center (UEC) maintains a network of urban field stations where research is accessible to and advised by both community members and professional researchers.

Community members conduct cutting-edge research, from studying the phenology of birds to monitoring population trends of threatened snakes.

Community Scientists monitor and research bats, insects, plants, snakes, fungi, birds, people, and a host of other critters! Check out our active projects:

  • Mammal Research
  • Bird Research
  • Reptile & Amphibian Research
  • Invertebrate Research
  • Environmental Research

Want to Learn More?

Take a look at the nature notes created by UEC Community Scientist, Heidi Meier, for summaries and interesting facts.

Nature Notes

Mammal Research

Our team monitors mammals of all sizes (from tiny meadow voles to the much larger white-tailed deer) to better understand the biodiversity within the parks.

The UEC’s mammal monitoring program was piloted in 2005 and uses a combination of visual surveys, live trapping, and camera surveillance to monitor presence/absence and population trends.

Large diurnal mammals are identified through visual surveys, while field cameras are employed to document similar-sized nocturnal mammals. Sherman folding traps, pitfall traps, and acoustic monitors are used to identify small nocturnal mammals.

Camera Traps

We participate in the Wisconsin DNR’s Snapshot WI program using remote camera traps to document medium and large-sized mammals year-round. We’ve documented coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and even minks on our cameras! You can help us and the DNR identify mammals from camera trap photos here.

Visual Surveys

While we don’t have dedicated projects for every species, we do document visual sightings! In the last few years, we’ve seen beavers on the Milwaukee and Menomonee Rivers. River otters have been spotted along the Milwaukee River, too! We are hopeful that both beaver and otter sightings become more frequent as water quality and quality of habitat improves along the Milwaukee River.

Bat Monitoring

In collaboration with the Wisconsin DNR, the Urban Ecology Center is helping researchers determine baseline bat populations using high-tech detectors that identify bats by recording their ultrasonic calls. Cool, huh?

Bats are the second most diverse group of mammals in the world (losing first place title to rodents). There are over 900 known species, 8 of which are found in Wisconsin.

The ecosystem needs bats as pollinators and insect controllers! Unfortunately, White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a deadly fungal infection, is spreading through North America at an alarming rate killing hundreds of thousands of bats.

Active Mammal Projects:

Past Mammal Projects:

  • Nest box study
  • Scent comparison study
  • Small mammal trapping
  • Predator exclosure study

Bird Research

The Urban Ecology Center’s field sites are important stopover habitats for migrating birds. Community Scientists have been collecting important data on birds since the 1980’s and the UEC is a founding partner of the Milwaukee Biome Project, with the goal of identifying important regional stopover habitats.

We conduct weekly bird walks, seasonal banding, window collision monitoring, and point counts. Your participation helps collect valuable data for the Center that enables us to study the changes in arrival times of migrating birds in addition to other projects.

Wisconsin Night Guardians for Songbirds (Window Collision Monitoring)

Migratory birds can become disoriented by reflections on glass, mirrored window surfaces and bright lights at night. As a result, millions of North American birds die each year from building collisions.

We work with the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) to monitor and lessen window collisions in downtown Milwaukee during spring and fall migration. Community Scientists document collisions and transport injured birds to WHS’s Wildlife Rehab Center.

We use the data to better understand the scale of window collisions, identify problem areas, and take steps to help building managers reduce future collisions! Learn more about the WIngs program and how to volunteer here.

Bird Banding

Active Bird Projects:

Past Bird Projects:

Bird Walks

Interested bird watchers of all ability levels are invited to explore our branches on our weekly bird walks.

Rain or shine we’re out every week all year round. Hone your bird identification skills and contribute to our long-term bird monitoring.

Not on our weekly bird walk recap email list and want to keep up to date with the weekly species lists? Email Amanda at

Bird Walks

Reptile & Amphibian Research

Snake Research

The Urban Ecology Center’s natural areas are home to three species of snakes, including the formerly state-threatened Butler’s gartersnake. With very little known about the Butler’s gartersnake, our research helps determine population size, demographics, and habitat preferences to inform conservation measures.

Community Scientists plywood boards to survey snakes. The snakes go under the boards for warmth. Then, our team captures, measures, marks and releases them. We have also studied overwintering habits, using implanted devices to track the movement of the snakes.

Active Reptile & Amphibian projets:

  • Snake Surveys

Past Reptile & Amphibian projects:

Invertebrate Research

Invertebrates (animals without backbones) are great indicators of environmental health. Community efforts are crucial in monitoring invertebrate populations in parks. Using recently-created green spaces like the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum and Three Bridges Park, we can monitor invertebrates to see how new native plantings are affecting the ecosystem - for the better!

Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies and moths (Order Lepidoptera) are some of the most widespread and widely recognizable insects in the world. They are important pollinators and a crucial link in the food chain.

Because many of these species rely on specific plants for either reproduction or food, we use them as indicator species in our adaptive management plan. Their presence or absence can help our Land Stewardship team determine if their restoration and conservation efforts are working.

A great example of this is monarch butterflies. Because of its specific habitat requirements and its epic migration, it’s a great indicator species for us to monitor. Each year, monarchs make the journey to the US and Canada to reproduce. They require milkweed plants to lay their eggs on and feed the growing caterpillars.

To monitor how our populations are doing, we check milkweed plants in our parks for eggs, larva, and adults. We also tag butterflies during their fall migration. As part of national and collaborative efforts, we contribute data to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and Monarch Watch.


Beetles (Order Coleoptera) are the largest order of insects, and yet one of the most understudied. They play many important roles in the environment, acting as pollinators, pest controllers and decomposers.

At the UEC, community scientist, Heidi Meier, leads our beetle monitoring and invites other community members to survey with her during the summer. In 2022 alone, Heidi identified 5 species of beetle never before observed in Wisconsin!

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies (Order Odonata) are charismatic insects that display both beauty and power. Their adaptations make them extremely successful aerial predators and therefore, important in the food chain.

Because Odonates lay their eggs in or near water, and many species have differing water quality preferences, they can be used as bioindicators of healthy aquatic (and terrestrial) habitats.  We survey adults at each of our three branches throughout the summer.

Environmental Research


Fungi are neither plants nor animals but a kingdom all their own! They are spore-producing organisms including yeast, mold, and mushrooms.

Fungi are important decomposers, cycle nutrients, play a crucial role in soil health and form critical partnerships with plant roots. Because they form in all shapes, sizes and textures, they can be hard to identify.

During our Observational Fungi Forays, we use iNaturalist to document species and connect the broader mycology* community.

Many fungi exist underground or in decaying plant matter forming a network of mycelium (root-like structures). When the conditions are right for reproduction, the fungi produce fruiting bodies; these mushrooms (aka macrofungi) can be observed without any special equipment.

*Mycology is the study of fungi.

Air Quality

Air quality is an important metric we can use to better understand both human and environmental health. One way we can quantify air quality is particulate matter. Particulate matter (PM) is used as an indicator for how polluted the air is. The more particles there are in the air, the more polluted it is. The smaller particles get, the riskier they are to our health. Inhaling any particulates is hazardous but finer particles can penetrate deep into our bodies leading to aggravation of existing conditions like asthma and COPD as well as putting us at increased risk for lung disease later in life. The smallest particles (PM1) can find their way into our bloodstream, which can impact all our organs, not just our lungs and airway. Particulate matter also reduces visibility (hazy days) and can contribute to the frequency of acid rain. Acid rain is precipitation (rain, snow, fog, hail) with any amount of acidic components and is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Large amounts of particle pollution can also impact plants, wildlife, soil, and water. Groundwater can become too acidic, and vital nutrients are leached out of the soil which prevent plants from growing. It can also cause die offs of aquatic and marine life for similar reasons.

We study air quality as part of our Relax & Breathe Easy study, a research study conducted in partnership with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, Wiscorps, and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In this study we are working to better understand the benefits of spending time in greenspace, and whether different features (such as biodiversity, air quality, and amount of vegetation) may play a role in affecting physical and/or mental health.

Environmental Health Projects

The Urban Ecology Center is proud to participate in projects that monitor the environmental health of our parks and city.  These projects are often in partnership with other organizations.

Take a look:

Active Environmental Projects:

Past Environmental Projects:

  • Water Quality Monitoring

Backyard Naturalists Series

An annual subscription gives you access to all Friday lectures from the beginning through the end of August 2024 including guest lectures, workshops, monthly field trips for free (normally $20/trip), and a Subscriber Appreciation party (in-person) plus an additional 20% off the regular subscription rate. What a bargain!

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Annual Reviews

The Research and Community Science Program contributes important data to the study of urban wildlife.

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