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ORI Volunteer Opportunities and Application


As a very small organization with many research projects, ORI relies on the support of volunteers to help keep our projects running. We also believe that offering the community the rare chance to participate in hands-on wildlife research in crucial for the future of wildlife conservation. Whether you are a student looking to gain more experience, a youth fascinated by owls, or an adult with a wild side, we want you to have the opportunity to contribute to owl research and conservation. 

We ask that volunteers make a commitment and do their best to follow through, and we prioritize volunteers that can commit to at least once per month, or for the duration of a seasonal project. Most of our projects are located in Western Montana in and around the Mission Valley, and our headquarters is located in Charlo, MT. Some of our research sites extend south to the Missoula area and north to the Flathead. There are occasionally a few opportunities for remote volunteer work, as well.


Please complete the following questionnaire regarding your volunteer interest, and an ORI employee will contact you within 2 weeks. Thanks for your support!

Current Volunteer Needs - Projects and Descriptions

Winter Raptor Survey (November – March)
Volunteers with advanced level raptor identification skills are needed to participate in the Mission Valley Winter Raptor Surveys. These surveys take place once per month (mid-month) for a full day from November to March, and volunteers will be asked to commit to at least 2 survey dates. The exact dates will be set in October. To be eligible to be a primary observer or team leader, interested applicants will need to be cleared by ORI researchers. There is also limited space available for beginning level birders and those wanting to learn more about raptor ID, so please feel free to apply at any skill level. Raptor survey days are a lot of fun, do not involve any walking, and usually end with a group pizza party!

Short-eared Owl winter survey (November – March)
This project takes place in the Mission Valley around the Charlo, MT area. Volunteers will walk transects in a team, led by an ORI researcher to find Short-eared Owls. The exact dates will be set in September, and volunteers are asked to commit to at least 2 dates per season. Volunteers must be able to walk up to 7 miles, off-trail, in uneven terrain, through grasslands, marsh, in snow, ice, mud, and harsh weather. Comfortable, water-proof boots and clothing are recommended! 

Deploying recording units for Forest Owls (March – May)

Volunteers will help to deploy audio recorders in the Mission Valley, Swan Valley, or Missoula Valley. After a brief training, volunteers can work independently in pre-determined areas, or can accompany an ORI researcher with no training required. Participants should be comfortable and understand the appropriate safety precautions in grizzly bear country, have their own 4WD vehicle for logging-road access (or be willing to hike), and be able to navigate with a GPS.

Short-eared Owl roadside surveys (March – April)

Volunteers independently drive an assigned route along back roads of the Mission Valley to survey for Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers. Must be able to accurately identify raptor and owl species by sight and sound at a distance and in low light, must have own vehicle and optics. The survey starts at 90 minutes before dusk and continues to dusk. Minimum commitment is 2 evenings before May 1.

Pellet Analysis (date TBD)

Volunteers would help with dissecting owl pellets in Charlo at the field station, cleaning and pulling out the bones for biologists to identify. Those interested can learn how to identify Montana small mammal species from bones.

Maintenance tasks at the field station

Are you handy? We could really use some help with upkeep of our facilities, including and not limited to vehicle and ATV maintenance, lawn mowing, yard work, snow plowing, fix-it tasks around the house, etc. Working out of an old farmhouse and barns, has its perks, like a beautiful view and lots of storage space, but also requires a lot of work to keep operational!

Data Entry and proofing (Year-round)

Attention to detail and computer skills required. Volunteers would be paired with a staff member to enter and proof data. This is a great opportunity for anyone not able to get out in the field or wanting extra volunteer hours. The dates and times are flexible.  Location will be Charlo or Missoula.

Video Analysis

Volunteer will get to watch and analyze videos of nesting owls and other wildlife footage. Excellent focus, attention to detail, and sharp observational skills will be necessary to collect accurate and complete data. Computer technology skills will also apply. ORI will provide training and the analysis work will be done at the ORI office in Charlo, MT. Minimum commitment of two 6-hr days required. 

Special Need: Cataloguing of Photographic Archives

Can you help us to organize and tag all of our photographs? At ORI, we have an extensive collection of photos and videos, both for data and educational purposed. We are looking to update our storage system and re-vamp the way we catalogue pictures. Experience with digital media and similar projects is preferred, and the ability to identify Montana owl species by sight would be very helpful but not required. This will require a commitment of approximately 80 hours, to be completed by the end of August, 2024.


Join our Owls-on-Call list (for Current Volunteers)

Often, we have a last-minute need for a volunteer for field work. Activities can range from nest searching, to nocturnal owl surveys, to owl banding. If you would like to be contacted for these opportunities, let us know. This is for current volunteers (who have volunteered at least once for ORI). We will contact you when opportunities pop up, which may be 1 day to 1 week ahead of time. Slots will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis.

Do you have any other special skills?

Electrician? Artist? Data analyst? We would love to hear how you want to contribute to ORI!

What Would You Like to Volunteer For?

Thanks for applying to volunteer with us! We'll get back to you soon.

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