Imagine the following scene. You step as quietly as you can from your vehicle in the forest, where it’s so dark, that you cannot see your hand in front of your face. You walk several feet to the front of your vehicle, and meet with the rest of the wolf howl survey group. Everyone waits patiently for the sound of the vehicle’s engines to quiet down. Then, you hear the first of several low human made howls, and you listen for the response from wild gray wolves. Finally you hear them respond! The howling is music to your ears. It’s the sound of a wild gray wolf pack. You listen to every wolf howl, coming from the entire wolf pack, pups included, and it’s an intrinsically magical sound; filling up your spirit with pure delight! The sound of wild wolves howling is an ancient sound that has been missing in the forest until recently. Join me on a howl survey. There’s no charge. You’ll need to drive to the northwoods and meet with us. You can contact me through email firstname.lastname@example.org Kids welcome so bring the whole family.
The howling survey continues to be a valuable citizen science program.
Adrian P. Wydeven Timber Wolf Alliance Council, Chair Certified Wildlife Biologist (TWS)
Timber Wolf Alliance (TWA) and Timber Wolf Information Network (TWIN) picked up the coordination of the howl survey in summer 2020. For more information on how you can learn more about volunteering Contact TWA here.
I’ve been conducting summer wolf howl surveys since the year 2000.
On a cool autumn evening in October we drove down an unpaved-country road in search of the wild Wisconsin wolf. It was a perfect night for a wolf howl survey. There was a full moon out that night. The night air was cool with no breeze. A perfect night to make our human-howls carry through the night air.
We stopped the car deep in the woods, and quietly exited the vehicle. We walked to a spot in front of the car about 50 feet away. We waited for the sounds of the car motor to die-down. Jeff made the first howl with no response. Then, I howled, and there was a response. We heard wolves howl from our left about a hundred yards away.
The forest canopy blocked out any moonlight making it impossible to see your hand in front of your face. That’s how dark it was in the forest that night.
Then, shortly after we heard the howls, a lone howl cut through the night air, and to my surprise, was not far from where I stood. I frooze, didn’t even breathe, because that’s how close the lone wolf was to me. I listened for any sounds that would reveal the position of the lone wolf. There was no sound, no sounds of rustling leaves, not a sound to be heard; except the sound of my heart pounding in my chest.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Did a wolf just howl right next me me?
We figured the howl was around 70 feet from my position, and in the forest to my right. We must of interrupted this lone wolf, who was about to cross the road. We were in between the lone wolf and the rest of their family. We didn’t want to disturb them any further, and so we got back in the car and left the area.
I’ll never forget that night. It’s etched into my memory forever; The call of the wild lone wolf, 2006, while helping to monitor wolves for the Wisconsin Wolf Recovery Program.
Featured image is from a trail camera in northern Wisconsin.
Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin was started in 2012 to draw attention to the plight of wolves in Wisconsin. Wolves were being hunted with hound dogs, trapped and killed shortly after being taken off the endangered species list 2012.
In loving memory of “White Eyes” who died in 2009 after being hit by a vehicle. She leaves a lasting legacy as one of the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin.
I was assigned a wolf tracking block in the year 2000 that had a new alpha female wolf. I set out exploring the new wolf territory. I spent summers scouting this block, and winters surveying for wolf tracks.
Part of monitoring wolves is conducting wolf howl surveys during summer and fall seasons.
Photograph of wolf range in Douglas county Wisconsin by Rachel Tilseth
While conducting wolf howl surveys, I was favored with a howl from the entire wolf family, and on one evening was startled by a lone wolf howl right next to me. I was even privileged to see two wolf silhouettes in the moonlight as they howled back to me.
White Eyes’s pack only had 5 family members.
This meant that five wolves was the maximum number of wolves for this 24 square mile range. This wolf pack of 5 members couldn’t afford to leave a yearling to babysit the pups. Every adult was needed to hunt and the pups were to young to join them on a hunt. The puppies were usually stashed in a brushy area for safe keeping while the pack was off hunting.
On a warm July summer night in 2002 I was about to find out that a wolf’s trust could be broken.
I was on a howl survey that night when White Eyes stashed her two pups, then headed off to hunt.
That night on my first howl, White Eyes’ two pups responded back to me to my surprise.
“How adorable they are” I thought to myself. One pup was light and the other was dark in color. One wolf pup was obviously an alpha, as was demonstrated with his or her aggressive behavior.
I dared not linger, because that could bring danger to the pups. However, I did name them “Salt and Pepper.” And I left the area that night.
Something changed that following year of 2003. The wolves didn’t howl back to me.
I wasn’t able to get a peep out of “White Eyes” or any of her pack members. I was getting worried that maybe something happened to them.
Finally one night on a howl survey, I said to my son Jacob, “you try a howl.” he did and was able to get several of White Eyes’s family to respond back to his howl.
What did that tell me about White eyes? It told me , that a wolf’s trust could be broken.
I spent 2 years building a relationship with White Eyes, and in one summer lost her trust, because I got too close to her pups. All of this made me realize, that I was a tolerated human observer; not a wolf babysitter.
It took another year before the relationship was back, and I was allowed to hear the family howls again. I was able to hear them howl again, just before sunset, and while they were hunting at midnight. I learned to steer clear of White Eyes’s pups.
Photograph is of one of White Eyes’s pack members tracks as they trotted down a snow covered road in Douglas county Wisconsin. Photograph taken by Rachel Tilseth.