Although people are social distancing and businesses remain closed, there are still lots of natural resources related activities that can be done to stay active and entertained during this challenging time. The Natural Resource Stewardship team has gathered many ideas and suggestions on this page to make it easy to find fun things to do.
Learn to identify Iowa's plants and animals
Going outside and exploring nature can be far more interesting when you know what species are living around you. Check out these resources to learn how to identify the plants and animals that you may find throughout the state.
- Our interactive tree identification key can help you figure out what trees are growing in your backyard or along your favorite trail in a park.
- The app, iNaturalist, linked and described in this article, is an effective tool to help you identify various plants and animals you encounter.
- The Iowa Wildflowers app, which can be downloaded for Android or Apple devices, is also a useful tool for identifying the many beautiful blooming plants you may find in Iowa.
- Cornell University's All About Birds website has lots of useful information about identifying birds by sight and from their songs and their Merlin bird ID app can be downloaded to a mobile device.
- This article from the Iowa DNR provides useful links to identification guides for other wildlife you may want to identify such as fish, insects, spiders, reptiles and amphibians, and mushrooms.
When you are out exploring Iowa's natural areas you may find some invasive plant species. Check out our Invasive Species in Iowa page to learn how to identify some of the common invasive plants in Iowa and how you can help protect our native habitats by removing them or preventing their spread.
Identifying animal tracks can be another way to discover new things about Iowa's wildlife. The Tracking Wildlife article from the ISU Extension Words on Wellness blog talks about identifying tracks and links to an Iowa DNR resource on animal track identification. The Mammals of Iowa Field Guide is also a good resource for identifying tracks of Iowa's mammals.
Build something for the birds, bats, or bees
- Our Woodworking for Wildlife page has several woodworking designs, including birdhouses, a bat box, and a bench.
- Did you know that not all bees live in a large hive? Learn about Creating a Solitary Bee Hotel in this article from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. The Xerces Society also has information on and pictures of different types of Nests for Native Bees you can build.
Learn about natural resources from home
- Check out two new coloring books available for free on the Extension Store that teach youth about native bees and apple orchards.
- Download these free Iowa state parks coloring sheets by Paula Streeter, an Associate Teaching Professor at Iowa State University's College of Design
- The WaterRocks! youth education program has a YouTube Channel that features lots of videos about Iowa's water, soil, and other natural resources.
- Check out our upcoming events page for more online opportunities to learn about wildlife, water quality, forestry, and other natural resources related topics.
- Polk County Conservation has an At Home Learning Resources page with lots of fun nature related activities for kids. Be sure to also check out other resources that may be available in your local county from Extension and County Conservation staff.
Find a new natural area to explore
There are many great places in Iowa to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Go out and discover a new area near you but checking out the following websites:
- Iowa DNR wildlife management areas by county
- Iowa DNR Public Hunting Atlas (These areas are not just for hunting, they are open all year and are often much less crowded than parks.)
- My County Parks by county
- Iowa's State Parks
- Iowa's State Forests
- National Wildlife Refuges in Iowa
Fun activities for homeschool
Check out the collection of outdoor exploration activities for kids put together by Iowa 4-H, which include directions for the following:
- Take an adventure walk where the flip of a coin determines if you turn left or right at an intersection. Bonus scavenger hunt list included.
- Signs of Spring: listen to a short audio-book about bears and hibernation and go for an outdoor scavenger hunt.
- Conduct a soil erosion experiment to learn how to conserve topsoil and increase water quality.
- Outdoor art: collect rocks and decorate them with messages of kindness
- Collect leaves and flowers to create fabric art with their natural pigment.