Volunteering on the NSCNA Saw-whet Owl Project

The Ned Smith Center’s saw-whet owl migration study is possible only through the efforts of a dedicated team of trained, highly motivated volunteers. Openings are limited, and requests to help far exceed our ability to fill them, but we welcome interest from potential volunteers interested in banding or radio-telemetry.

Banding takes place from early October through late November (and in some years, again during late February and March) at three sites in Dauphin, Cumberland and Schuylkill counties in eastern and central Pennsylvania. The nets are open from dusk until at least midnight, frequently later, and within reason, volunteers are expected to stay until the site is closed for the night.

Volunteering on the NSCNA’s saw-whet project gives people a chance to work with one of Pennsylvania’s most interesting wild animals, while helping in an exciting research project.

Banding is conducted every night, weather permitting. Volunteers work under the supervision of one of the 18 licensed banders on the team, usually in a team of one bander and two to four volunteers. Crew members are asked to help at least one night each week during the banding season.

New volunteers must realistically expect to be assigned week nights more often than weekends. Some sites are in remote locations, and the trails between the banding shelter and the nets, while not long, are in some cases quite steep, and must be hiked every 30 to 60 minutes.

Prior banding experience is not necessary, although we are obviously eager to welcome those with experience in banding or other research projects. On rare occasion we will accept children over age 12 on the crew, based on interest, enthusiasm and a firm commitment of parental support.

Learning to remove owls from mist nets takes time, dexterity and patience, and new volunteers are asked to participate in preseason training before joining the owl crews.

To apply as a saw-whet volunteer, email project director Scott Weidensaul.

If you’re just interested in seeing a saw-whet owl, but don’t want to commit to being a volunteer, attend the annual Halloween Owls program.

Ned Smith Center