A howling survey is a type of wildlife survey which is used to identify the presence of wolves. During a howling survey, biologists can establish that wolves are present, and make estimates about the size of the wolf pack, and the demographic composition of the pack. Such surveys can be critical in areas which are too large to visually survey, allowing biologists to keep an ear, so to speak, on wolf populations.
In the course of a howling survey, biologists will stop periodically and howl, and then wait for a response. If a response is heard, the biologists document how many wolves responded, whether they were adults or juveniles, how far away they appeared to be, and where the howls came from. Biologists who work with the same wolf pack on a regular basis may even learn to identify specific individuals, and these individuals may be noted in the results of the howling survey.
There are a number of reasons to conduct a howling survey. For example, biologists may launch such a survey in response to claims of wolf sightings from members of the public. In areas where wolves have not been documented in recent years, such sightings often attract special attention, and biologists are typically eager to confirm or deny the claims that wolves are back in the area.
A howling survey can also be used to monitor a wolf pack, typically in combination with other study methods like collars and tags. When wolves live close to human civilization, regular surveys can be used to keep tabs on the habits of the pack, its size, and any potential situations which could develop into problems. Since wolves are often shy, a howling survey is sometimes the only form of contact available to biologists.
Naturalists imitate wild animal noises for a variety of other surveys as well. For example, biologists affectionately known as “hooters” make owl calls in the woods to survey owl populations, especially in regions where timber harvesting is occurring. Since most animals will respond to signs that a rival animal is in the area, such surveys can be extremely effective, especially when they are combined with hidden cameras and other tools to provide additional documentation.