Watching Wildlife – An Outdoor Activity for Life


We’ve mentioned conflicts between people and wildlife in these past posts:

Yet,  done safely, watching wildlife can be a terrific reason to get out and explore.  In fact a program called “Watchable Wildlife” has been working for decades to keep people informed and interested in wildlife.  The ulterior motive is, of course,  to build support for wildlife conservation efforts.

Watchable Wildlife Sign

Many Federal, state and even private organizations were working on wildlife conservation when, in 1990, 13 of them got together and formally created the Watchable Wildlife Program.  Those initial agencies were:

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Park Service
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Army (Corps of Engineers and Department of the Army)
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Izaak Walton League
  • National Audubon Society
  • National Wildlife Federation

They agreed to a framework for the cooperative activities needed to develop, implement, maintain and enhance a Watchable Wildlife Program on federal and state lands and to assist private landowners.  Since then the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have joined the group.

A formal organization, Watchable Wildlife, Inc. was created to support these efforts.

States Support Watchable Wildlife

The various agencies, through Watchable Wildlife, Inc. , work with almost all the 50 states to support their efforts in wildlife conservation.  Many states have developed wildlife viewing guides to help people visit wildlife without disturbing the animals or their environment.  A few of the state programs are:

To find more information about what your state has to offer,  just Google your state name followed by “watchable wildlife.”

How to Watch Wildlife

WatchingFirst,  to see wildlife you have to find it.  The state guides mentioned above are very helpful because they identify specific places where the public is invited to visit and see wildlife.  For further adventure,  decide what kinds of wildlife you would like to see, study up on their habitats and behaviors then seek out locations where they are likely to be found in the seasons and during the time of day they are likely to be there.  While you may or may not find the animal you are seeking, you are likely to find other animals to watch, if you keep alert.

Second, be one with the animals.  Be invisible, be quiet and don’t stink!  Animals don’t generally like to be watched.  They are always watching,  listening and smelling the air for threats.  If you are quiet and move slowly,  you may not be seen as a threat and thus have a better chance to watch the natural behavior of the animals.  Generally animals have a keen sense of smell.  If you are wearing any scented product (e.g. cologne, after shave, perfume,  hair products) they will smell you and probably move away from you.  You can also move into the wind so that your odor, natural or artificial, is blowing away from the animal.  If you wear natural colors you will blend better in nature and seem less threatening to animals.  One exception is during hunting season – be sure you know your state hunting regulations and wear orange so hunters can easily distinguish you from a animal.

Sit Still!Third, bring the proper equipment.  Obviously you will want to dress properly for the conditions at hand and bring food and water. If you are in bear country,  be sure to carry your bear spray. Beyond that,  don’t forget your binoculars and camera.  If you don’t have a camera and a pair of binoculars,  be sure to check out the many types of binoculars and cameras and find one that works for you.   For serious wildlife photography you will want a  quality camera with a telephoto lens, but these days even the camera in your telephone may work for you.

Fourth, sit still and listen. Once you are properly prepared and in a place where you expect to see wildlife, find a comfortable spot with a view, sit still and listen.  You will likely hear birds, so check them out with your binoculars.  As you tune your ears,  you will begin to hear other sounds like the hammering of a woodpecker or the creaks of the trees as they sway in the breeze.  If you hear rustling in the brush, the crack of twigs breaking or similar sounds,  there is probably a larger animal nearby.  Keep watching and listening.

Finally, respect the animals.  If you haven’t already done so,   read the four blog posts listed at the top of this page.  Remember that when watching wildlife you are in their world and that requires respect.  If you are watching an animal that isn’t dangerous,  let them approach if they wish, but don’t try chasing them.  Most larger animals can be dangerous, so keep your distance and don’t behave like the people mentioned in those four blog posts.

Getting Started Watching Wildlife

Barn OwlMore people watch birds than any other animal.  Bird watching is a great place to start because you can probably sit in your yard and see and hear several varieties of birds.  Further,  there is a lot of information available to help you identify birds and learn about their behaviors.  As you become more interested in birding,  you will probably want to see specific species.  At that point you can apply the techniques for watching wildlife listed  above to find and observe the bird of your interest.

Once you get out in the countryside to watch birds,  you will also be in habitats frequented by other species.  Seeking out water birds is a great place to start because it may result in seeing muskrats, beaver, frogs,turtles and other water-bases creatures.  Suddenly your wildlife watching has expanded well beyond birds.   Once hooked on watching wildlife,  you will have a series of adventures that can last a lifetime.

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