Eco monitoring — plants & animals

CFC’s focus on preserving healthy habitat to support biodiversity includes partnerships to monitor local rivers and streams, plants, birds, butterflies and frogs. These activities measure the health of ecosystems and help us to make any necessary adjustments in our conservation plans.

Monitoring ecosystems helps us determine our success in restoring native habitat and warns us if an area is suffering declining health. Our bluebird and wood duck monitors actively facilitate breeding success.

Our results are combined with those of other organizations and agencies - such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Audubon Society and Chicago Wilderness - so that an overall picture emerges. We learn which restoration activities are working and watch for any warning signs. Since West Nile Virus is attacking many bird species and decimating local populations of certain species (more famously crows, but also songbirds like chickadees and some bluebirds), our efforts have become especially important.

Anyone can become a monitor as long as he or she can be committed to be in the field checking the status of the subject area at the appropriate times. Training is available. Most monitoring takes place on CFC property, but as resources permit, may also include local forest preserves and parks. We have a definite need for birdhouse monitoring as there are many established bluebird and wood duck trails that need to be maintained.

If you are interested, please contact us for additional details. You will get information on training, record keeping, and property assignment.

Birdhouse Monitoring (Bluebirds or Wood Ducks)

Birdhouse monitoring requires weekly trips for most of the summer. There are established "trails" with several man-made bird houses along each trail. Early in the spring the houses must be cleaned and repaired if necessary. Then the monitor opens them regularly during nesting season to check for inhabitants. This can be an interesting activity for younger children, provided that one continues to monitor all summer.

It takes bluebirds about a week to build a nest and lay eggs. The birds incubate the eggs for two weeks and care for the nestlings another three weeks (6 weeks total) before the fledglings leave the nest. The house shouldn't be opened during the last ten days to avoid frightening the young birds out of the nest. Then the monitor cleans the houses to be ready for another brood.

Wood duck houses tend to be located near water, and high off the ground, so some of these trails can be difficult to navigate, particularly while one carries a step-ladder. Otherwise the process is similar to that for bluebirds.

Birdhouse Monitoring (Breeding Bird Survey)

The bird monitor takes early morning trips in June to the monitoring site. All bird species seen in the vicinity of a data point in a five-minute period are recorded; then the volunteer moves to the next data point. Monitors need binoculars and training in identifying bird species. There are many potential species, and it isn't always easy to get up at dawn in June (at least for me!), but it's very peaceful to be in the middle of a field listening and watching the birds while everything else is quiet. Data is coordinated by the Bird Conservation Network.

Butterfly Monitoring

Monitoring butterflies is similar to monitoring birds (observe all species at a particular point, then move to the next point). The hours are different, however; as butterflies prefer the heat of the day. Again one needs to be able to identify quite a few species. The Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network has information on butterfly monitoring and collects local data.

Frog Monitoring

Frog monitoring is performed three times a year, from early spring to early summer. The volunteer goes to a wetland around dusk and listens to the frog calls. Individual species are identified and recorded. This is probably one of the easier monitoring activities, provided you have plenty of insect repellent and don't have an early bedtime.

River and Stream Monitoring

Once a year, the volunteer takes samples from a stream and brings them indoors to analyze the invertebrates. Some magnifying lens work is needed, but you can take as long as you want to identify the species.

Plants of Concern Monitoring

The Plants of Concern program is sponsored by Chicago Botanic Gardens. For this program, monitors are trained to identify particular species of endangered and rare plants. They look for these species in specially assigned locations several times during the year.