Contribution starting at $2,495
Exported from Streamline App (
7 days (avg. $356 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
Wildlife & Ecosystems

Following Forest Owls in the Western U.S.

Snow Basin, Utah or Portal, Arizona, United States
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Single Rooms possible
Couples Rooms possible
Research Station
Internet access
Chef-prepared meals
Special diets accommodated


This Earthwatch project has added safety measures to allow for responsible fielding of volunteers and field staff at this time.


This project has added safety measures to allow for responsible fielding of volunteers and field staff at this time.

Those measures include

  • Proof of vaccination requirement
  • Decreased overall team size to allow for physical distancing
  • Face mask requirements
  • Single accommodations
  • Adjusted transportation arrangements
  • Increased cleaning and sanitization

When reading the Online Expedition Briefing, please keep these adjustments in mind.

volunteers studying owl nests
volunteers studying owls
volunteers studying owls
volunteers in the woods
view of mountains and forest
volunteers studying owl nests
volunteers studying owls
volunteers studying owls
volunteers in the woods
view of mountains and forest

All small forest owls rely on tree cavities for nesting. But what happens when these cavities begin to disappear?

volunteers study owlsFrom deep within aspen groves in northern Utah to the riparian canyon and coniferous forests in southeastern Arizona, a suite of small forest owl species—many roughly the size of a human hand—seek out tree cavities, hollow openings such as those carved by woodpeckers, to build their nests. The majority of species are nocturnal, hunting for insects, small mammals, and birds under the cover of darkness, taking moths, beetles, centipedes, lizards, and even the occasional bat on the wing.

But climate change threatens to disrupt the routine of some of these species. Scientists predict that within this century, aspen forests may all but disappear in many areas. Natural tree cavities will disappear too, affecting not only owls, but other species that rely on these cavities for nesting. Climate-related changes may also disturb the owls’ food sources—for example, warmer temperatures could affect the timing of when insects or mice emerge from eggs and burrows, events which many owl’s breeding seasons are carefully linked to.

Join Earthwatch and partner HawkWatch International in one of two locations—in northern Utah or southeastern Arizona—to study owl ecology in several unique habitats, learn about nesting and breeding behaviors, and investigate potential impacts climate change will have on owls and other wildlife. During the day, you’ll measure owl habitat—locating tree cavities and taking GPS and other measurements. At night, you’ll listen for the low-pitched ‘boop’ of the Flammulated Owl, the high-pitched laughing of Elf Owls, or the non-stop ‘reverse signal’ tooting of the Northern Saw-whet owl while you survey for, capture, and band owls that fly above you.



A Typical Itinerary

  • DAY 1   Arrival, introductions, travel to field station
  • DAYS 2-6   Survey for owls, capture owls with mist nets, measure habitat, record location of tree cavities
  • DAY 7   Departure




When you arrive, the researchers will teach you the basics of working with small forest owls. You will be well prepared to help them:


surveying and capturing owls at night
Survey and capture owls at night

Listen for responses to recordings of target species of owls used to assess their presence. You’ll help to set up and take down lightweight mist nets with pockets that catch and hold the owls. When you catch one of these little birds, you’ll help the researchers take its measurements, photograph it, and attach a band before releasing it back into the wild.

measuring owl habitat
Measure the habitat

Search for natural tree cavities and record their GPS locations. Search cavities for evidence of owl usage using mirror poles or specialized video cameras. Measure tree height, canopy cover, tree density, and vegetation in surrounding habitat.

weighing and banding owl nestlings
Weigh and band nestlings

Depending on the season, help researchers to weigh nestlings (young owls) found in the cavities or nest boxes and attach bands.


Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.





3 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
Suzanne Roberts | August 16, 2019
I participated in Following Forest Owls last year in Utah and had such a wonderful time I decided to sign up for the expedition in Arizona this year. I loved it! Dave Oleyar and Markus Mika did an excellent job explaining the goals of their research and preparing us for the field work. They enjoyed talking about their research and patiently answered all of our team's questions. They are both passionate about their work, and I find that incredibly inspiring.
Nancy Cook | July 10, 2017
Holding an owl in your hand is an awesome, life-changing event, and everyone on the team was able to experience that. The work of the expedition is satisfying and meaningful. The leaders are knowledgeable and excellent teachers. All of us left knowing more, and vowing to see trees, forests, and owls in a new way. Following Forest Owls was an exceptional experience.
Miguel Carias | July 5, 2017
This ignite expedition was flat out tremendous. It began with meeting the rest of my team at the airport on terminal 3 at LAX. We were all lost and nervous but we got along right from the start, playing card games while waiting to board the airplane. Once we arrived at Tuscon, Arizona, we met up with our team facilitators, Merissa and Josh. We then met our lead scientists, Dave and Felicia. They took us to get some pizza at Tuscon then drove us to the Southwestern Research Station. We ate dinner and then went to our dorms to unpack. That night, we just spent some time trying to get to know everyone. The next two weeks consisted of so many fantastic experiences. We took the next two days to get familiar with the different tree species near the area, learning how to use all the equipment, and learning about the different owls we would perhaps encounter. On the fourth day, we began to go to different elevations and spots to conduct cavity searches, take tree density measures, and went out at night trying to catch some owls. Over the course of the trip, we caught Whiskered Screech Owls, Western Screech Owls, and a few Northern Pygmy Owls. We would go to a spot and first listen quietly for about five minutes to see if any owls were present in the area. Them, either if we got a response or not, we would play on a small speaker, owl calls and hope that would enhance the response from any owls in the area. Once they got close, we would set up a net that was incredibly delicate, but also successful in catching any owls that would fly into it. Once caught, Dave or Felicia would untangle the owl and we would record some measurements on it. Then we would release them after we had banded them on their leg. The food that we ate was really delicious. There was a cafeteria next to the station and boy was it good. It would range from tacos to beef to pizza to spaghetti. There was also desert which was always a treat. The stars at night were also a sight to see and they were so bright and vivid as oppose to in Los Angeles. Over the course of the trip, we got to know each other pretty well. I loved every single person i met on this expedition and hope to keep in contact with them for the rest of my life. I recommend anyone to apply to earth watch ignite and get the opportunity to explore the outdoors while helping scientists with their research on these different species of wildlife. This was for sure an experience i will never forget. Thank you Earth Watch.

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