Wildlife Viewing Tips

Three swans swimming

Three swans swimming.

Wildlife are Watching!

The ultimate wildlife watching experience is behavior watching -- viewing animals without interrupting their normal activities. Instead of just a glimpse, you have an encounter -- a chance not only to identify the animal, but to identify with it.

Follow these simple tips to make NatureWatching a positive experience for you AND the critters!

  • Fade into the woodwork
  • Let animals be themselves
  • Stick to the sidelines
  • Come to your senses
  • Be easy to be with
  • Think like an animal

Fade Into the Woodwork

  • Wear natural colors and unscented lotions. Remove glasses that reflect light.
  • Walk softly so as not to snap twigs.
  • Crouch behind boulders or vegetation to hide your figure and break your outline.
  • Try not to throw a shadow.
  • Remember that your reflection may be caught in a pool of water.

Let Animals Be Themselves

  • Do not "rescue" baby animals. Mom is usually watching from a safe distance. "Rescuing" baby animals is illegal and almost always results in the death of the young animal.
  • Let animals eat their natural foods. It is illegal to feed wild animals! Sharing your sandwich may harm wild digestive systems and get animals hooked on handouts. These animals may eventually lose their fear of cars, campers, or even poachers. As a bonus, you'll learn a lot about an animal by watching what food it prefers.
  • Let patience reward you. Resist the urge to throw rocks to see a flock fly.
  • Savor the experience of being in an animal's home. Absorb all that it can teach you about living gently upon the land.

Stick to the Sidelines

  • Use binoculars or zoom lenses to get that close-up. Aim for pictures of assured, dignified animals, instead of panting, stressed victims.
  • Give nests a wide berth. Although you mean well, your visit may lead a predator to the nest or cause the parents to jump ship, exposing eggs or young to the elements.

Come to Your Senses

  • A wildlife encounter is a spectrum of sensations. Deepen awareness by tapping your sense of smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight.
  • Focus and expand your attention, taking in the foreground and then switching to take in the wide view.
  • Use your peripheral vision rather than turning your head.
  • Look for out-of-place shapes -- horizontal shapes in mostly vertical forests or an oblong shape on a tree branch.
  • Watch for out-of-place motions -- the flight of a bird, for instance, stands out against a backdrop of falling leaves.
  • Look above and below you. Animals occupy niches in all the vertical and horizontal layers of a habitat.
  • Make "mule ears". Cup your hands around the back of your ears to amplify natural sounds.
  • Heed your instincts. If the hair on the back of your neck stands up (a vestige of the days when we had fur!), an animal may be near!
  • Silence can speak volumes. Animals may fall silent when a predator is passing through an area.

Be Easy to Be With

  • Relax your muscles; animals can easily detect tension.
  • Make yourself as small and unassuming as possible.
  • Move like molasses: slow, smooth, and steady.
  • If you must advance, take a roundabout route, never directly toward an animal.
  • Avert your gaze; animals may interpret a direct stare as a threat.

Think Like an Animal

  • Imagine how the animal you are seeking spends its days. Check field guides to find out about life history and preferred habitats.
  • As a rule, a border between two habitats is a good place to see residents from both places.
  • Look in high-visitation areas: trail intersections, perches, ledges overlooking open areas, and drinking sites.
  • Take note of the season and guess whether the animal will be shopping for a mate, feathering its nest, fattening for the winter, or preparing to migrate.
  • Figure out the best time of day for viewing by imagining an animals daily schedule. When does it feed? Nap? Bathe? Drink? Dusk and dawn are usually good bets.
  • Factor in the weather. After a rain, for instance, many animals emerge to feed on displaced insects, flooded-out rodents, etc.

*text adapted from "A Guide to Ultimate Wildlife Watching", a brochure produced by National Partners in Watchable Wildlife


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