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Iowa citizens playing key role in tracking imperiled wildlife

  • 2/6/2018 1:12:00 PM
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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 which are using this seemingly ordinary pond. 

Skip over to a Saturday morning by a river where another volunteer has binoculars and a spotting scope trained on the tallest tree in the vicinity. In this tree is a huge nest, home to two bald eagles and their young. A peaceful hour is spent watching one of the most spectacular birds in North America. 

Every year, all across Iowa, citizen scientists are making enormous contributions to wildlife conservation. Volunteers are trained through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP). 

“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,” said Stephanie Shepherd, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) wildlife diversity program.

Every March and April, Iowa DNR staff travel the state leading training workshops, readying folks to collect data on some of Iowa’s critical wildlife. So what are these critical wildlife species? 

One training workshop focuses on some of Iowa’s more spectacular bird species such as bald eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons. 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.  Last year volunteers reported on more than 100 bald eagle nests across the state.

The second survey requires a keen ear.

Volunteers are trained to listen to and recognize the 16 species of frogs and toads in Iowa based on their breeding calls. In 2016, volunteers covered 55 survey routes which translate into roughly 400 wetland sites monitored for frog and toad activity. 

“The frog and toad surveyors are particularly special because they have to drive back country roads at night along an identified route to perform the survey. I think most feel that exploring the Iowa wilds at night is a unique experience and opportunity,” Shepherd said.

Interested volunteers must register for and attend a training workshop. The Iowa DNR is partnering with the Iowa, Woodbury and Winnebago County conservation boards to host the following workshops.   

Bird Nest Monitoring Workshops
Anyone interested in being a Bald Eagle Nest Monitor must participate in some training.

March 17
In Forest City, hosted by the Winnebago County Conservation Board. The location will be announced soon.
12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Frog and Toad Call Survey Workshops
Workshop is required to participate in the Frog and Toad Call Survey.

April 10
Nature Center at Lake Iowa Park, hosted by Iowa County Conservation Board
6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

April 12
Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center near Sioux City, hosted by Woodbury County Conservation Board
6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

There is a $5 fee to cover workshop materials. For more information, go to or e-mail