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Birds & Wildlife: How to See 'Em: An Introduction to Wildlife Viewing

Watching wildlife is a lifelong learning experience. It can begin at any age and everyone can participate. This quick introduction will help you understand more about where and when to look, what to look for, and how to look for wildlife in almost any environment.

Wildlife is everywhere

You can see many species right in your own backyard, in the city park, or in your garden. Anywhere you go, wildlife is there.

But you don't find everything everywhere

All animals have specific needs that make them likely to be seen in certain places. Learning about these needs and habits will make your viewing far more rewarding.

Why don't people see wildlife? Often, it's just because they are not thinking about looking for wildlife. To begin to see more wildlife, focus on looking for it.

Where to Look

  • Look to the "edge"
    • Watch the edges of the forest, field or stream. Many wildlife species spend time along habitat edges.
  • Look in the right places
    • Learning a little about what an animal needs gives clues to where you can find it.
    • Different species have different requirements for water, food, shelter, and adequate space.

When to Look

  • Time of day
    • Dawn and dusk are often the best times.
    • Some animals are active in daylight hours. Others are out only at night.
  • Season of the year
    • Some only appear during certain seasons, such as when migrating.
    • Some sleep through winter cold or summer heat.
    • Mating seasons make wildlife easier to find.
  • Consider the weather
    • Wildlife and birds are often active in poor weather.
    • Most wildlife seek cover during really bad weather.
    • Many animals come out just after the weather breaks.

What to Look For

  • Movement
    • Motion is the big giveaway.
      • Your eye may catch a glimpse of something walking, flying, feeding, or scratching.
  • Shapes
    • Look for parts of an animal, such as its head, tail, ear, wing, or antler.
    • Notice things out of place, such as strange shapes, or contrasts between patterns and textures.
    • Focus on lines that do not match the surroundings, such as horizontal lines in a vertical landscape or curves among straight lines.
  • Color
    • Look for color contrasts against the natural background.
  • What lives there
    • Look for animal signs that give you clues to what lives there.
      • Watch for tracks, trails, rubbing spots, nests, droppings, tunnels, food remains, webs, gnawed wood, or dams.

How to Look: Quietly Active Viewing

The key to both finding and watching wildlife is "quietly active viewing." (Children can be good viewers. Dogs rarely are. Take your children with you. Leave your dog at home!)

What are the techniques involved in "quietly active viewing?" They are as follows:

  • Look in different ways than you may be used to.
    • Scan the landscape with "soft eyes," not with the hard, tightly-focused vision so often required in the workplace and elsewhere.
    • Look at a distance, then in the foreground and back.
    • Use peripheral vision.
  • Use binoculars and scopes.
    • They magnify, and focus your vision. They allow you to watch with less risk to humans or animals.
  • Use all your senses, including smelling and hearing.
  • Move slowly and quietly. Stop frequently.
  • Be patient. Give wildlife a chance to get used to your presence.
  • Until you are very, very practiced at moving stealthily, don't make a production out of sneaking! Stalking is a predator behavior and scares wildlife away.
  • Avoid eye contact. Staring makes wildlife nervous.

How to Blend In

  • Wear muted colors and quiet fabrics. Natural fabrics such as wool, cotton, and leather are generally quieter than synthetics.
  • Use the lay of the land.
    • Hills, hollows, and gullies provide cover.
    • Avoid the skyline.
  • Use light to your advantage.
    • Stand or sit with the sun behind you.
    • Stay in the shadows.
  • Talk softly, if you must talk at all.

Adapted from the Wildlife Viewing Pages of the State of Colorado Online Division of Wildlife
- Colorado Division of Wildlife

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