City Nature Challenge encourages people to get outside and learn about nature in their neighborhood

City Nature Challenge encourages people to get outside and learn about nature in their neighborhood


Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

Since its inception in 2016, the City Nature Challenge has grown from a two-city endeavor based in California to a massive event with more than 400 cities participating worldwide.

The Land of Enchantment jumped on board in 2019, with people from Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties joining in on the fun. The gist of the challenge is simple: For a four-day period – in this case from April 28 through May 1 – participants from those areas log all of their nature observations into the iNaturalist app – whether they be plants, insects, animals or even evidence of life.

“I know that the impetus for it and the interest on all of our parts is just to get people outside and get people looking at nature, animals and plants around Albuquerque – trying to get people more excited and paying closer attention to what’s around them,” said Fiana Shapiro, one of the local organizers for the event.

“What’s really cool about the Nature Challenge in general is that it is like a snapshot of what wildlife is around and is being found over that four-day period across the entire world … It’s just such a cool idea and knowing that hundreds of cities and so many countries and people around the world are doing the same thing at the same time where they live is just a really exciting thing that brings people together. It also allows, from a scientific perspective, a better look at what wildlife is active during the time that we’re looking.”

It’s recommended that participants in the City Nature Challenge upload their photos to the iNaturalist app on their phones, but they can also use the website if necessary.

People are encouraged to take clear photos, use multiple angles and crop effectively. No further qualifications or skills are needed to take part. One only needs a sense of curiosity and a willingness to observe their surroundings.

“We stress that anyone and everyone can participate in this,” Shapiro said. “You don’t have to know anything about identification. If you just want to get outside and walk around your neighborhood and take photos of things and have no idea what they are, that’s totally fine.”

Once submitted, the app will suggest possible identifications based on the location and content of the photos. That alone isn’t foolproof, of course, but once a photo is categorized in say, “birds,” those with expertise in that area can provide more specific identifications of the sightings.

A significant portion of the identification happens after the four-day observation period, Shapiro says.

Participation has been rising with each successive challenge. Last year featured over 400 observers and more than 600 identifiers, and Shapiro expects to have more than 500 people uploading photos in the Albuquerque area this time around.

“I think using iNaturalist in general, and especially during the City Nature Challenge, is a great way to get yourself to focus in and really look closer and pay attention to little bugs in your yard and tracks of animals and things that you might not normally look for at all,’ Shapiro said. “I think people tend to be surprised at how many different species they can find in a very urban area or right outside their home, their workplace or wherever they are. They don’t have to go far to find a lot of wildlife. It’s just a great activity for any age.”

Adding to the challenge element is the leaderboard, which tracks the most total observations as well as the most different species found.

Those with an ambitious bent can reach the hundreds in these categories. Really, though, there is no way to “win” the challenge.

“It’s not being marketed as a competition,” Shapiro said. “It’s more seen as a collaboration between countries and cities and tons of people to just take part in this great endeavor to document wildlife and help scientists, too.”