Arborist Extra Special Volunteering Superpower Put your skills to use with The Hungry Owl Project

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the basics of working responsibly around wildlife. For a major karma power up, though, why not consider doing volunteer work? Arborists, especially experienced climbers, are uniquely valuable as volunteers for groups like the Hungry Owl Project, who need help placing owl boxes and returning fledgling raptors to nests and other high places.

I had a chance to talk to Jim Cairnes, ISA, who owns and runs Small World Tree Company. Jim also volunteers with WildCare and the Hungry Owl Project, and he told me all about how arborists can put their expert skills to use as volunteers to help save and secure all types of owls, birds, other wildlife, and their itty bitty (adorable) offspring.

How long have you been a WildCare volunteer, and how did you get involved?

I’ve been involved for seven or eight years.  I started when Alex Godbe, the leader of the Hungry Owl Project, was looking for climbers to help put up owl boxes. I also use my tree climbing skills to help re-home raptors that have fallen out of their nests.

You run your own tree care company. How often do you encounter wildlife in your work? What are the animals you come in to contact with the most often?

We’re always looking for nests and we find them all the time. Today we found a jay’s nest. We probably see the most squirrel nests, but also hummingbirds, hawks, and other birds of prey.  Hungry Owl Project has a useful list of which birds to look for, at what time of year, and in what types of trees.

How did you learn about the ways to do your job well while not disturbing or endangering wild animals that live in trees?

The time of year is important. Nesting season for most animals is in the spring and early summer, so we try not to do certain types of pruning or removal then. Regardless of the time of year, we always do a climbing inspection prior to work.  I used to do this before volunteering with Hungry Owl Project, but now I know even more.  Educating tree care workers about avoiding accidental harm to wild animals is a big part of their mission, and we’re both trying to recruit more tree care workers to volunteer.

What do you feel is the general level of education about trees as wildlife habitat among most arborists? Should working better with wildlife be something that arborists are required to know more about?

Some arborists know quite a lot, but there’s a lot of work to do. Many do not know about easy, basic steps that they can take to protect and minimize harm to wildlife. There are many resources out there, and I know Hungry Owl Project is trying to develop a guideline that they can distribute to tree workers.

What are your recommended best management practices?

The pre-work survey is the most important. Always try to be observant of what’s going on in the trees and whether there are other trees around that can be used for animal habitat. If you aren’t sure about a tree removal, contact WildCare or Hungry Owl Project to do an evaluation.

Hungry Owl’s arborist education program is called Tree Life. They have some great online resources about how to avoid harming wildlife, what wildlife to look for in particular trees and during particular times, and what to do if you find an injured bird or other animal.

What should arborists who are considering volunteering their time with Hungry Owl Project know?

This work is extremely important and, while it might seem intimidating, is approachable to everybody. While being an arborist is helpful, you don’t need to be a professional tree climber.

But more than that, it’s rewarding. You get to see some incredible animals. Spring is the busiest season, and each job is only 2-3 hours, so it doesn’t need to be a huge commitment. If you want to learn more, email Alex, the Director of Hungry Owl Project, directly — [email protected].

While this post focuses on volunteer opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area, we realize we have readers located across the globe. Contact your local wildlife rehabilitation agency to find out more about volunteer positions in your community.


  1. Thanks for the great article Leda! And, as always, our unending gratitude to Jim!

  2. Ben Wilson


    i am a arborist from New Zealand and was looking to do some volenteering and just came across your website which looks like a great idea. i was wondering how i can get involved? if i could get some more information that would be great

    Kind Regards

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