Contribution starting at $3,150
Exported from Streamline App (https://app.streamlineicons.com)
8 days (avg. $394 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
BOOK WITH A $500 DEPOSIT
Wildlife & Ecosystems

Following Forest Owls in the Western U.S.

Location
Snow Basin, Utah or Portal, Arizona, United States
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Varies
Accommodations
Wilderness Camp/Dorm
Food
Chef-prepared meals
Special diets accommodated
Team-prepared meals
A hand holding a Flammulated owl (Psiloscops flammeolus) with trees in the background
A researcher removes an owl from a nest box and hands to lead PI Dave Oleyar.
A Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii) sitting in a tree hollow in Arizona
A researcher demonstrating how to measure an owl for three students in Utah.
A group of students walking to the field site in Arizona with their teacher.
A researcher explaining how tree needles relate owls to Earthwatch volunteers
A beautiful view of mountains and trees in Arizona.
A hand holding a Flammulated owl (Psiloscops flammeolus) with trees in the background
A researcher removes an owl from a nest box and hands to lead PI Dave Oleyar.
A Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii) sitting in a tree hollow in Arizona
A researcher demonstrating how to measure an owl for three students in Utah.
A group of students walking to the field site in Arizona with their teacher.
A researcher explaining how tree needles relate owls to Earthwatch volunteers
A beautiful view of mountains and trees in Arizona.

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


A researcher securing a nest box to a tree in Utah.From 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 nest and shelter. 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. 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 to which many owls’ breeding seasons are carefully linked. Conditions inside hollows could change as well.

Join Earthwatch and partner HawkWatch International in one of two locations—in southeastern Arizona or northern Utah—to study owl ecology in several unique habitats, learn about nesting and breeding behaviors, and investigate the 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 2–7: Survey for owls, capture owls with mist nets, measure habitat, record the location of tree cavities, and monitor nests.
  • DAY 8: Departure

 

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HOW YOU WILL HELP

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

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A researcher holding an owl to teach students in Arizona.
SURVEY AND CAPTURE OWLS AT NIGHT

Listen for responses to recordings of focal owl species 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.

A piece of scientific equipment in a tree hollow.
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 the surrounding habitat.

A researcher measuring and banding an owl in Utah.
WEIGH AND BAND NESTLINGS

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

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Field conditions and research needs can change the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

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FEEDBACK & QUESTIONS

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7 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
2024 Earthwatch Participant |
Working with and learning from Dave Oleyar is a delight. This was my third time volunteering for his expeditions. It is a good mix of work information gathering and habitat locations. The heart of the work is at night calling and catching these little owls in mist nets. It can be hard being still for long hours as the temperature drops but all forgotten when an owl is captured and the skill of the staff is evident in handling these critters. This year was special with the deployment and retrieval of tiny backpack location sensors. Having a female western screech owl sit on my open hand for four minutes, waiting for it to fly away, is something I will always hold dear.
David Steele |
This was my fourth Earthwatch expedition. All have been excellent. Following Forest Owls, however, stands out for the excellent classroom instruction provided by Dr. Oleyar and his team. This instruction was well organized, well presented, and beautifully illustrated. The integration of classroom and practical instruction in the field was outstanding. We were provided an excellent foundation for understanding why we were doing what we were learning to do. The time spent in the field was greatly enhanced by the preparatory instruction. Dave O, Felicia, and Jesse were enthusiastic, always willing to answer questions, clear in their instructions and unfailingly patient. The team of volunteers was also outstanding. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and hard working. They were also very interesting people to learn with and to learn from. The Arizona mountain setting was breathtakingly beautiful.  
Earl Ferguson |
The forest owl project is more than about owls. To learn about owls, you have to learn about the environment they live in. In this project you learn about the different owl species, the forest trees they live in, the tree cavities they nest in, how those cavities are created, and more. You learn how to survey the forest trees, to find and document potential owl nesting cavities. But night is the magical time. You go with a team into the forest and listen for owls calling. It’s dark and quiet as you sit silently among the trees straining to hear the ghostly sounds in the distance. You play recorded owl calls to get the attention of owls in the vicinity. If you’re lucky an owl may come to investigate you. Following it by its calls, you may catch a glimpse of a silent shadow flying overhead. Then the adrenaline pumps and game begins. Quickly a large net is assembled and raised into the forest canopy by two of your team. There’s silent tension as another team member pretends to be an owl. Using recorded calls in the dark, they talk back and forth with target, moving around the net to lure the owl to fly through it. Fishing with sound. You hear the owl calls as it flies around you, though never hear its silent flight. It seems to teleport from place to place. Then a bump, and sudden activity—the owl is in the net. Quickly the net is brought down, and the researcher carefully extracts it from net. Tension is relieved to be replaced by happy excitement as now data can be recorded. After banding, measuring, and recording, a few may get a rare privilege to hold the owl for a brief moment before it is carefully placed on someone’s hand, and it flies back into its dark home. A feeling of quiet satisfaction as one more data point has been added for science, and an unforgettable experience has been added to your life. The forest owl project is important for the planet, and it will change the way you see the forest. But also, to look into the eyes of these elusive, mostly invisible avians, connects you in some fundamental way to the natural world that we have increasingly become isolated from. It’s a good feeling.

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