Introduction to Monitoring

Monitoring is a process in which data are collected consistently from the same location over time. Data may be collected daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Monitoring protocols, such as the number of observation stations and the amount of time spent at each, are dependant on the type of information the observer wishes to obtain. State biologists are especially interested in month-to-month changes in the abundance and distribution of wildlife. For this reason, WildlifeMapping data forms were designed to accept data summarized monthly.

Monitoring provides biologists with data that is more useful than those collected randomly. It can be approached at different levels. At a beginning level, one could go to a particular study site (park, meadow, wetland) at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly) and record everything you see for a minimum of 3 minutes. At an intermediate level, the observer might record observations at distinctive stations within a particular site and characterize each by their coarse scale (greater than the size of a football field) habitat type. An advanced level of monitoring might involve recording observations for fine scale (less than the size of a football field) habitats. This might require a number of stations within a given habitat type.

Daily and Weekly Monitoring

WildlifeMappers submit their observational data to VDGIF once a month. Even if a site is being monitored on a more frequent basis, perhaps daily or weekly, the WildlifeMapper will submit a single value for each species sighted. Since the wildlife observed at a frequently monitored station are often the same individuals returning repeatedly, reporting a monthly total would inflate, or over-represent, each species' true population size. The best indicator of a species' population size is the maximum number of individuals observed at a site during the month being reported.


During the month of April, you sat at your breakfast table every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM and recorded the number of birds that visited your bird feeder for an interval of 15 minutes. Your weekly records are as follows:

1st Sunday 2nd Sunday 3rd Sunday 4th Sunday
5 Blue jays 6 Blue jays 4 Blue jays 5 Blue jays
2 Cardinals 2 Carolina chickadees 2 Cardinals 2 Cardinals
4 Carolina chickadees 3 House finches 25 Cedar waxwings 4 Carolina chickadees
3 House finches 2 House finches

For the month, you would report the following:

  • 6 Blue jays
  • 2 Cardinals
  • 4 Carolina chickadees
  • 3 House finches
  • 25 Cedar waxwings

Time of Monitoring

There are many variables that might affect the number of individuals (and number of species) observed at a site during the course of a month. A few of the more obvious ones include time of day, weather, the presence of other species, and the amount of time spent in observation. If you decide to monitor a particular site or station on a regular basis, your data will be more meaningful if you standardize your procedures. This means taking your observations at the same time of day and for the same length of time every time monitor a site. Note that in the just described example, observations were made for 15 minutes every Sunday morning, commencing at 8:00 AM. While the day of the week is not important, the time of day is. The amount of time you spend observing wildlife is up to you, but as best you can, be consistent in the amount of time spent at each observation. The WildlifeMapping program does require a minimum of three minutes of observation per site or station, but longer times are certainly acceptable and often desirable. Weather is a variable you can't control, but noting general weather conditions at the start of your observations is a useful part of standard monitoring procedures.

Annual Monitoring

As mentioned, biologists are especially interested in the month-to-month changes in the abundance and distribution of species. Monthly data are recorded and mapped and, in turn, compiled annually. Multiple year data are important in determining long-term population trends, especially for species of concern and those that are state or federally listed as threatened or endangered. They are also important in tracking irruptive species, those whose populations undergo pronounced, often rapid, fluctuations in number. It is therefore useful for WildlifeMappers to submit annual reports for sites that they may only visit once a year, such as a favorite vacation site or an annual trek to visit a friend or relative.