Finding Urban Nature

Finding Urban Nature

Get ideas for spotting nature in cities.


3 - 12+


Biology, Ecology, Experiential Learning

Photo: Dozens of people picnic on blankets in a large park surrounded by hi-rise buildings.
Photograph by Anthony Smith, MyShot

Most of the time, when people think about nature, they think of places untouched by humans. “Nature” is often considered something that exists far away from cities. In reality, the division between nature and city is blurry. There is nature all around the city, even inside our homes.

Photograph of a city garden.
Volunteer at a Community Garden

Volunteer at a community garden and help plant vegetables, fruit, and flowers. This is a great way to interact with nature because not only are you working with plants, but you also get to dig in the dirt! Are there any worms or other bugs crawling around in the garden? Learn more at the American Community Gardening Association.

Illustration: Complex reasons for the seasons.
Seasons in the City

What does your city look like in different seasons? Pick two spots—for example, one can be outside your house or apartment and the other in a park—and snap photos in those spots each season. As you are taking pictures, you might want to take notes of things you observe, such as if you hear birds chirping or leaves rustling in the wind, or if you smell flowers or fresh cut grass, or if the air feels hot and sticky or cold and dry. Once you’ve completed the year cycle, look at your pictures and notes to compare the four seasons.

Photograph of hatchlings.
Bird Cams

On stormy days or if it’s too late to go outdoors, experience nature by watching webcams of all kinds of birds. Visit Celebrate Urban Birds to learn more. Search the internet to see if an organization in your city has a webcam on a local bird.

Photograph of people planting trees.
Plant Trees

Many city agencies and organizations have initiatives to plant more trees in their cities. Having more trees helps reduce the urban heat island effect and promotes the well-being of city dwellers! Check out the Arbor Day website to see if there are ways to help plant trees in your city.

Photograph of an insect on a plotted plant.
Flowerpot Neighborhood Tour

Go around your neighborhood and take pictures of the flowers that people have planted on their stoops or hung from their windows. Don’t pick the flowers! Do you notice any bees, butterflies, or other insects floating around near the planters? Are certain flowers more unique or rare than others?

Photo of garlic mustard.
Volunteer for a Park Invasive Species Removal

A great way to learn about plants in your city is to volunteer for invasive species removal. Invasive species can harm native plants and animals. Search for an organization in your city through the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center.

Photograph of a conservatory at a botanical garden.
Visit a Botanical Garden

See how many different species of plants you can find. Do you notice any insects or animals pollinating the flowers? To find a garden or arboretum near your home, search the American Horticultural Society's garden directory.

Picture of a woman photographing plants.
Photograph Nature

Keep a camera handy for impromptu photography sessions and bring your camera along when you visit the park and other community locations. You can even take photos of the treasures right in your backyard. Keep a scrapbook of photographs taken around town and share them with out-of-town guests who want to learn more about your community.

Photograph of an early morning scene.
Early Morning Walk

Even in the busiest city you can find more animals in the early morning before the day’s bustle begins. Walk around your neighborhood, or your neighborhood park, as close to sunrise as possible, and see what animals you can spot. You might see bugs, worms, birds, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, rats, and mice. (Animals that many people think of as pests are part of nature too!) Keep a journal and/or take photos of what you see.

Photograph of an urban landscape.
Compare Urban Habitats

An urban landscape can vary greatly even in the same city. There might be some places in your city that only have tall buildings and other places where there are houses with lawns or small backyards. There might be other areas that are wooded. Pick two locations in your city that are very different from one another. Go to each spot at the same time every day with your notebook and camera. Observe your surroundings, and take a lot of notes and pictures of what you see. How do these two areas compare? Does one area have more plants? What are the different animals and plants that you notice? What are the characteristics of the two different places that might affect the living things that you notice?

Photograph of the sky.
Sky Photo Collage

Go outside every day to a spot where you can see as much sky as possible. Take a photo of the sky each day. See if there are any clouds, birds, or unique sunset or sunrise colors. Does the sky look different on days when it is really cold or really hot? What other things do you notice? Make a collage (either with print photos or on your computer) of your favorites!

Photograph of ants carrying leaves on the forest floor.
Collect Leaves

Take a walk and collect fallen leaves from different trees around the city. Bring them back home and see if you can identify the type of tree from the leaf. Use a site like iNaturalist to help with the identification.

Picture of the opening ceremony of BioBlitz 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Conduct a BioBlitz

Build awareness of biodiversity by gathering your school community on campus for a BioBlitz event, to explore and collect data on the diversity of animals, plants, and other organisms in a place. Use the iNaturalist app to load photos and help identify species while contributing data for scientific research.

idea image
Observe Wildlife Anywhere

Photograph plants, animals, and other organisms on your own or as part of a BioBlitz. Use the iNaturalist app or to upload your observations and add them to a global database of biodiversity to support local to global research projects.

Underwater photo of a manatee.
Visit a Wildlife Refuge

Yes, there are wildlife refuges in cities! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has an online tool to find the refuges closest to you, and many are accessible via public transportation. You can visit on your own or maybe even join a ranger-led activity.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Livia Mazur, National Geographic Society
Jessica Shea, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
Photo Researcher
Livia Mazur, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 1, 2024

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