The haunting call of owls is familiar to many, and sightings along park roads or trails are a treat. The following owl species have been documented in Wood Buffalo National Park:

  • Great Horned Owl (N)
  • Great Grey Owl (N)
  • Boreal Owl (N)
  • Barred Owl (N)
  • Long-eared Owl (N)
  • Northern Hawk Owl (D)
  • Short-eared Owl (D)
  • Snowy Owl (D, winter migrant)

Like all living creatures in the park, owls benefit from the protection of nocturnal conditions within their habitat under Wood Buffalo National Park’s designation as a Dark Sky Preserve.

Great Grey Owl
Photo: Parks Canada / John D McKinnon 

Why Monitor Nocturnal Owls in Wood Buffalo National Park?

Owls are raptors, or birds of prey. Their position high on the food chain makes them vulnerable to many environmental threats. As such, they may be valuable indicators of ecosystem health.

In the past few decades there has been increasing concern over the status of both diurnal and nocturnal raptors. Relatively little is known about the abundance and population trends of most species of nocturnal owls – both in Alberta and in the Northwest Territories, as well as across Canada and other parts of North America.

Nocturnal owl monitoring in Wood Buffalo National Park contributes to the goals of the Alberta Nocturnal Owl Survey, which is a citizen science monitoring program. These goals include:

  • obtaining information on distribution of nocturnal owls in Alberta
  • estimating relative abundance of owls
  • collecting information that will lead to estimating population trends of nocturnal owls at regional and provincial scales, as well as contribute to the Canada-wide Nocturnal Owl Survey program.
  • determining habitat associations of nocturnal owls.

The monitoring also contributes data to nocturnal owl monitoring efforts in the Northwest Territories.

Nocturnal Owl Surveys

Volunteer participating in owl survey, Wood Buffalo National Park,
Photo Parks Canada / Sharon Irwin

In Wood Buffalo National Park, resource conservation staff and volunteers conduct nocturnal owl surveys annually using the protocols from the Alberta Nocturnal Owl Survey. These protocols are based on accepted nocturnal owl survey protocols for North America.

The surveys are done in the spring between the end of March and early May. Six transects in and around the park are surveyed - five transects within Alberta, and one within the Northwest Territories. A broadcast survey technique is used.

With this methodology, the transects are visited starting 30 minutes after sunset. The surveyors make ten stops, 1.6 km apart, per transect. At each stop they first listen for and identify any random owl calls, documenting the number and types of owls heard. Then they play a recorded owl call to see if they get an increased response from a specific species. Recorded calls from three nocturnal species - Boreal Owl, Great Grey Owl, and Barred Owl - are played, and any response after each call is documented.

All five of Wood Buffalo National Park’s nocturnal owl species have been detected on surveys conducted to date. Data from the completed surveys is shared with the coordinators of nocturnal owl surveys in Alberta and Northwest Territories

How Can I Help?

Why not participate as a Citizen Scientist? If you are interested in helping with the nocturnal owl surveys in Wood Buffalo National Park, contact:

Sharon Irwin
Resource Management Officer
Wood Buffalo National Park
Ph. 867-872-7948
E-mail: Sharon.Irwin2@canada.ca