Become a Citizen Scientist

Every spring, Virginia Working Landscapes recruits citizen scientists to assist with plant, bird, mammal, and pollinator surveys across the Piedmont of northern Virginia.  These surveys are part of an ongoing study of working grasslands that examines species diversity under various management regimes and at different stages of warm season grass establishment.  Training and surveys are supported by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA.

There is no need to be an expert naturalist to participate in the surveys (although both the plant and bird surveys demand a working knowledge of local flora and birds), all that is required is an interest in learning and sufficient time to dedicate to the project.  Each survey will have a mandatory introductory meeting that will cover important information such as survey protocols, identification skills and site assignments.

Additionally, as of 2018, all VWL volunteers will be required to register as a volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo.  FONZ manages one of the largest single-unit volunteer forces in the Smithsonian Institution, which supports nearly every function of daily life at the Zoo and beyond.  FONZ requires participants to be be a minimum of 18 years old, submit a Registration Application on the FONZ website, and (when selected) pass a Smithsonian background check. 

If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, please contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 



Pollinator Surveys

Training includes information on pollinator life history, survey collection protocols in the field, identification of the most common bees and butterflies and specimen preparation for taxonomic identification. Citizen scientists are expected to process and store specimens properly, fill in survey sheets and deliver or coordinate delivery of samples to the pollinator survey coordinator. The final identification of specimens will be completed by para-taxonomists.

  • Surveys are performed in late May-June and August.
  • Each survey takes about 4 hours per site over two consecutive days (2 hrs each day) plus the additional time it takes to sort and identify the bees.
  • Survey dates can be at the volunteers’ convenience within the specified sampling periods (Spring = June, Summer = August).
  • Must be able to commit a minimum of 30 to 40 hrs (plus travel to our survey sites).
  • Survey training, supplies and equipment provided.

Bird Surveys

Introductory training includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection and site assignments. A practice survey session for new volunteers is then held one month later and focuses on point count techniques. Knowledge of local bird species is essential.

  • Survey season begins May 15th and runs until June 30th.
  • Point counts are carried out within 3 hours of sunrise and take approximately 45-60 minutes per site (three 10-minute counts).
  • Time commitment is a minimum of 6 survey sessions plus training (estimated 15 hrs not including travel).
  • You will need personal binoculars and a field guide, all other survey supplies provided.

Plant Surveys

Training includes protocols, identification skills, and specimen preparation. There is no need to be an expert in Virginia’s native flora, but we do ask that you have familiarity with Virginia flora, and the ability to key out unknown specimens with a dichotomous key and our reference collection. It is possible to pair with a more experienced person.

  • Surveys are performed in June and again from the last week of July through August.
  • Each site takes approximately 6-8 hours to survey.
  • Must be able to commit at least 5 days (an estimated 30-40 hrs plus travel), but the scheduling of the survey days is relatively flexible.
  • Supplies and equipment provided.

Mammal Surveys

This survey uses camera-traps and our custom eMammal software to determine the occurrence of a wide range of mammals. Volunteers will use a GPS device to navigate to predetermined locations and setup cameras. Cameras will be left to survey for 3 weeks at a time without scent or food lure. Every 3 weeks they will retrieve the camera, replace memory card and batteries, and place camera in new location (estimated 1 hour per camera). Volunteers will then upload photographs and metadata using eMammal software (approximately 1 hour per survey period), where it will be reviewed by project staff.

  • Surveys are performed May through November.
  • Each site takes approximately 2 hours per survey period.
  • Participants will need a personal GPS device, all other survey supplies provided.



  • 1An opportunity to apply your naturalist skills to ground breaking scientific research.
  • 2Training and knowledge of identification of key elements in Virginia grassland communities.
  • 3Training in survey and preparation protocols for specific guilds (birds, plants, pollinators).
  • 4Opportunities to network and communicate with others of similar interests.
  • 5Admission to VWL workshops.



  • 1Email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to join our volunteer applicant email list.
  • 2Participation in introductory training sessions and sampling days.
  • 3Agreement to join the FONZ network, and undergo fingerprinting and background check.
  • 4Completion of assigned field surveys within the allotted time period.
  • 5Prompt replies to emails concerning logistics and data management.



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Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.