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Wildlife Survey Field Methods

Images (c) Rory Hill


Wildlife Survey Field Methods (WSFM) is a fully online, applied three-day course that provides an introduction and overview for nine ground-based and five aerial-based wildlife survey methods. Using live online instruction, demonstrations, and student-led field exercises, participants learn to conduct ground-based surveys using direct observation of individuals and measurement of animal signs such as scat and tracks. The aerial surveys are confined to online instruction only. Survey methods introduced are Resources Information Standards Committee (RISC) protocols, but also include methods not included in the RISC library (e.g., camera traps; basic reading of tracks, scat and sign). Course material is currently targeted on the large ungulates and carnivores of BC, with future plans to augment and customize the course to include regionally important species.

Survey methods introduced include:

  • Ground-based surveys
    • Encounter surveys
    • Spotlight survey
    • Ground counts at seasonal concentrations
    • Camera trap station
    • Pellet group counts
    • Tracks and sign
    • Snow track surveys
    • Hair capture station
    • Den surveys
  • Aerial surveys
    • Encounter surveys
    • Fixed-width surveys
    • Total counts
    • Mark-recapture-resight
    • Aerial snow tracking

In addition to traditional survey methods, participants will also determine age and sex of animals, interpret sign, and measure trackways to assist in understanding animal behaviour. This course is a hybrid; comprised one-half of scientific survey and one-half of woodcraft (identifying and interpreting sign; attracting and baiting animals).

Each NRTG course includes free, lifetime admission. Enrol once – come back anytime.

The Wildlife Survey Field Methods program is delivered as a fully online, scheduled course delivery or as a contract to organizations and groups. See How Do I Attend? below.


Upon successful completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Conduct nine (9) ground-based wildlife survey methods
  • Conduct five (5) aerial wildlife survey methods
  • Identify wildlife, tracks and behaviour
  • Choose appropriate survey methods based on target species and seasonal timing
  • Install, operate and maintain camera traps
  • Determine age and sex of animals
  • Interpret sign of animal presence
  • Measure trackways to aid in interpreting animal behaviour
  • Attract and bait animals to detect presence

Course Format

The WSFM course is three days in duration and includes a combination of online classroom theory and student-led field exercises. Each course day includes online classroom and field training with a strong emphasis on ‘hands on’ training, where participants review, learn and practice field skills under the direction of a highly qualified wildlife biologist.

This course is typically delivered weekdays and may extend 8:30am to 4:30pm or longer. Custom or ‘in-house’ course deliveries to an organization or company may vary in format.

Course Customization

The WSFM course can be customized for an organization, company or Aboriginal group based on their needs. For instance, this course can focus on specific animal species of interest or regions or time-of-year surveys (e.g., summer vs winter surveys).

Please contact us with your ideas and needs, and we’ll work with you to design and customize this course to meet specific needs.

Potential Students

Field Methods for Wildlife Surveys is intended for biologists and environmental technicians beginning their careers or seeking instruction protocols, First Nation environmental technicians required to conduct wildlife surveys in their territories, or others looking for a general introduction to a variety of large mammal wildlife scientific survey methods.


Knowledge and experience with basic field tools such as map, compass and GPS is recommended.

Personal Equipment Requirements

Waterproof field notebook (example), suitable all-weather boots, appropriate clothing for field work. Binoculars, GPS and compass are optional but recommended.

For further information, or for further assistance, please contact NRTG.  

Course Fees

Course fees will vary by course delivery location.  For further information, please contact us or refer to our Course Schedule Page.

How do I Attend?

The WSFM course is offered as a regularly scheduled online course delivery and on contract to organizations, companies and Aboriginal groups throughout the year in provinces and communities throughout Canada. Scheduled courses are posted on the NRTG Schedule.

If you would like to inquire to have us bring this course to your community or organization, please contact us for further information and consider the following: 

  1. Contact us well in advance of your preferred course start date
  2. If applicable, secure program funding
  3. Recruit course participants (most NRTG courses have minimum enrollments of 10 participants)
  4. Coordinate course participant equipment, classroom facility and contractual agreement with NRTG.

Note: See “Course Customization” above for more information about ‘in-house’ course delivery options.

Instructor Profile

Dr. Sean Mitchell has over 30 years experience in environmental sampling and analysis of wildlife populations including fish, crustaceans, birds, reptiles and mammals in four provinces. He brings an applied field-based approach to sampling and nests that within the constraints of study design to teach students not only how to conduct the field work, but also why it is important to follow particular protocols. He has also been teaching for almost fifteen years, having taught at three universities and in First Nation communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

NRTG offers this course online almost monthly in an online format year-round. It can also be requested to be delivered in-person within a community or company. This course is offered in two forms: as three consecutive days or over five evenings spaced over two and a half weeks. The first approach is intended for students able to dedicate three days to the course and the second is for those that prefer to take the course outside of regular working hours. Please refer to our Schedule page for course timing and locations. 

The course is offered via two formats: online or in community. The on-line delivery includes students from a broad geographic region and consists of approximately half morning lectures (via Zoom) and half independent completion of assigned exercises outdoors in the afternoon. That is, exercises are completed by the individual, not as a group or class. Following exercises, the class reconvenes on Zoom to discuss the assigned activity and findings. In-community deliveries are structured similarly but the instructor is in the field with the class and the activities are group- or class-based rather than completed individually.

For online deliveries we do not require you to purchase equipment for this course, but please use personal field gear if you currently have it (e.g., binoculars, field tape, compass, clinometer). For in-person deliveries, NRTG will supply the required equipment.

The most important personal equipment you can have for this course are appropriate clothing for the weather, including head covering. 

Field gear is not required to be purchased for online or in-person deliveries.

Wildlife Survey Field Methods is an introduction to methods for a wide variety of mammalian species, from shrews to bears and includes ungulates. The course Wildlife Survey Field Methods: Ungulates then expands on and explored details of methods and issues specific to ungulate surveys. The ungulate course is intended for those that conduct primarily ungulate surveys, whereas the Wildlife Survey Field Methods is for the generalist interested in methods used for a wider variety of mammals.

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