A Wildlife Viewing Primer

Tips on Observing the Elusive
What's wildlife viewing all about? Of course the point is to see wildlife. But there's more than that. The point is to observe wild creatures going about their business—meaning the animals either don't know a person is nearby, or they've determined the person isn't a threat and have resumed their normal activities. Watching animals this way is by far the most fun, and the most rewarding—it's a chance to play naturalist, to learn about animals firsthand.

All wildlife are inherently fearful of people. Turtles bail off the log on which they've been sunning themselves. Rabbits and deer bound off. Herons and grouse freeze, melting into their surroundings. It seems almost impossible to get close. How does anybody manage to do it?

Putting yourself in position for a great wildlife encounter isn't so difficult—though it does take practice, and patience. The following pointers will improve your wildlife viewing skills.

Hit the field early or late.
Early morning and evening are by far the most productive times for wildlife viewing: this is when just about all creatures are most active. Overcast days tend to be more productive than bright, sunny days.

Be aware of wind direction.
Mammals have especially keen noses and will flee the moment they smell you, which could be a mile or more away. As much as possible walk into the wind, or"quarter" it (moving at a 45-degree angle to the wind).

Move slowly and quietly, using all of your senses.
Take a few steps, then stop, look, and listen. Stay in one place for a bit. Your ears will locate all sorts of things—the rustling of a snake or small mammal on the ground, the calls of birds and frogs, the yip of a coyote in the distance. Use your eyes to detect movement—THEN use your binoculars to zero in on whatever you've seen.

Find a comfortable spot and sit down.
This could be at the base of a big tree, on an open ridgetop, or at the edge of a marsh. Relax and start scanning and listening. Wildlife that may have disappeared as you approached will often reappear once they think the coast is clear.

Use field guides.
Field guides are indispensable; they allow you to figure out exactly what it is you've just seen. They're filled with great tips on how to identify each and every creature on the continent, and where to look for it.

Get down with kids.
Adults look up and into the distance; young children look at the ground. Your child may be far more interested in turning over a rotted log or a stone and marveling at worms and beetles than in stalking a pair of sandhill cranes. For at least part of the outing, go at your child's pace and follow his or her interests—you'll be impressed by how many different things a three- or six-year-old can find

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »

Ask Questions