Backyard Challenge: 5 Tips for Spotting Wildlife

One of the most common questions I receive from park visitors is “Where is the wildlife?” Here are few specific strategies to help you see more wildlife:

A bald eagle hides in the trees along the Whitewater River (Photo by Jack Sutton)

1. Slow down
Being in a rush can sometimes scare wildlife. Whether they can sense your feelings of rush is up for debate, but what is hard to deny is that we make more noise when we are in a hurry. By walking more quietly, the wildlife won’t be as anxious. Or even better …

2. Stop completely
Take a few minutes to sit down on a bench or lean against a sturdy tree. For animals, movement can be a sign of a predator. Staying still creates fewer disturbances and allows you to focus on pay attention to your surroundings. Not only is it good for wildlife viewing, but also great for the mind.

Silence is crucial to sneaking up on sunbathing turtles

3. Learn about wildlife
Naturally, if you want to observe ducks, you would probably go to a pond. However, some birds and mammals have more specific habitat requirements. Reading and researching the life histories and habits of animals can clue you in to where these animals could be found. Stop by a Great Parks’ visitor center and talk to one of the naturalists – they are also good sources of information as to the habits and patterns of the local fauna of each park.

4. Locate larders and lacks
Just like people like to go grocery stores with a good selection of food, so do wildlife. That walnut tree becomes a virtual larder for squirrels in the fall. The locust trees are a haven for insects during the spring. In contrast, lacks are areas without much food or shelter. On cold days, birds gravitate to sunny spots and openings. High winds usually force birds to take cover, so hilltops and ridges might not be the best spot to find birds during windy conditions. It’s all about reading the conditions for that day and figuring out where the animals would be more comfortable at that time.

5. Watch for first in or last out
Many animals are crepuscular, which means they are active during twilight hours (the periods of time around dawn and dusk). At dusk, many diurnal, or daytime, animals are heading to their beds. Get out on a trail at dawn or just before dusk, since they are great times for these animals to cross your path.

Dawn and dusk are the best times to cross paths with animals

But to sum it up, there are two main ways to see more animals in the parks: create fewer disturbances and expand your senses. You might even come up with your own strategies and patterns to see more wildlife!

Want more nature education fun that you can do at home? Click here for all of our backyard challenges.

Adam McCosham, Hub Naturalist, Miami Whitewater Forest