Following Forest Owls in the Western US

Wildlife & Ecosystems

Following Forest Owls in the Western U.S.

Help researchers study the nesting behavior of Flammulated Owls in Utah and Arizona to better understand how this species is influenced by climate change.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

In many western U.S. states, populations of many small forest owl species are understudied and potentially threatened by habitat loss due to the effects of forest harvest practices and climate change.

Researchers are testing strategies to protect the Flammulated Owl and other forest owl species from habitat loss, such as using nest boxes to replace disappearing tree cavities.

Despite their currently cultural popularity, many aspects about the ecology and conservation of some forest owl species remain mysteries. The nocturnal and secretive nature of many species makes studying them a challenge. Efforts to fill knowledge gaps for these species are particularly important in the light of climate change.

A Flammulated Owl peeps its head out of a nest box.

A Flammulated Owl peeps its head out of a nest box.

Most owls seek out tree cavities, hollow openings such as those carved by woodpeckers, to shelter and nest in. But climate change may also threaten this important component of their habitat. Scientists predict that within this century, aspen and other types of forest may all but disappear in many areas. Natural tree cavities will likely disappear along with them, affecting not only owls, but other species that rely on these cavities for shelter or breeding. Researchers have limited knowledge about nest cavities—what is the typical ‘lifespan’ for a hole in a tree? Does this lifespan vary based on forest type? How does a changing climate influence these things, and how do they in turn impact wildlife communities that depend on cavities?.

Researchers have begun to introduce nest boxes that could replace natural tree cavities and help to keep the populations afloat. While this strategy has been effective in Utah, where Flammulated Owls and Saw-whet Owls use the nest boxes regularly, in other regions, the boxes remain empty of these species.

Researchers are puzzled as to why this strategy might work in one location for a species, but not in others. Perhaps it has to do with the availability of natural cavities in the region or even the way the boxes themselves are hung. One thing is clear: the team needs your help to better understand natural cavity dynamics and why nest box usage in Utah has been more common than in other locations. This knowledge will enable managers to protect and promote suitable habitat for small forest owls, including the Flammulated Owl, across their ranges.

About the research area

Snow Basin, Utah or Portal, Arizona, United States, North America & Arctic

Daily life in the field


This is a summary:

The Scientists


Senior Scientist, HawkWatch International

ABOUT Dave Oleyar

Dr. Dave Oleyar is investigating the habitat and nesting behaviors of Flammulated Owls in northern Utah and southeastern Arizona to increasing knowledge of this species and to determine how to best mitigate the effects of climate change and keep the populations afloat.


Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


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