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Conservation > Living with Wildlife Tips for living with wildlife

We've all had it happen. You look up from the trail just in time to see an animal dive out of sight-- a swoop of wing, a flash of antler, a slap of beaver's tail.

The truth is, most animals see and hear and smell us long before we catch their drift. They size us up, and, depending on how far away we are and how we act, they decide whether to stay, defend themselves, or flee.

Fortunately, there are simple ways you can help blend into an animal's surroundings. In return, you'll be treated to a wildlife show.

Please Don't Feed Wildlife

There has been a huge growth in the number of people who, in addition to feeding birds, also directly or indirectly feed deer, bear and other animals around their homes and cabins. Feeding of wildlife places wildlife at risk and puts them on a collision course with humans. Help keep wildlife from coming into conflict with people because when that happens, everyone loses.

The Reality of Feeding

  • Supplemental feeding encourages wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are not part of their natural diets.
  • Human foods are usually nutritionally inadequate for wildlife and may lead to subsequent health problems.
  • Young animals that are taught to depend on humans sometimes never develop normal foraging behavior, and could starve if the artificial food sources are removed or more likely become nuisances and come in conflict with humans.
  • Wildlife lose their fear of humans and learn that they can boldly forage for human food, consequently conflicts, nuisance behavior, and risks to human safety are sure to occur.
  • Wild animals being fed by humans may congregate in unnaturally high numbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for diseases to spread. As populations of deer, raccoons, skunks and others grow unnaturally from being fed, a small number of diseased animals mixed in close quarters with a large group spread the disease to the whole group. Diseases such as rabies, distemper and many others are dependent on high animal populations.
  • Artificial feeding can increase wild animal populations causing more competition over resources. This can lead to more incidence of fighting over resources and injury among animals.
  • Feeding wildlife, especially prey species such as deer, squirrels and rabbits, often causes a domino or food chain effect. Due to such feeding, the prey densities increase, which in turn attracts predators such as coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. Example: Increase deer numbers in your yard and you may be inviting a mountain lion for a free meal.

When it's ok to intervene

Intervention should be done under guidance of a trained professional. Look for tips and tricks for nuisance animals at the bottom of the Living With WIldlife page. If you are concerend about the health of an animal click on the "Find an injured or orphaned animal?" tab for more information.

Putting out the unwelcome mat

Wildlife damage is an increasing problem due to expanding human populations and loss of wildlife habitat. Wildlife often find our yards and gardens as rewarding substitutes for lost or changed habitats.

The key to living with wildlife is learning to understand them.

Mother Nature controls wildlife populations through the availability of food, water and shelter. Animals are opportunistic, and will take advantage of any source of food, water and shelter. Understanding the feeding habits, seasonal cycles, reproduction and other behavioral patterns will help you develop a strategy to prevent wildlife damage and live with wildlife.

Welcoming wildlife into your yard

A hummingbird sips nectar from a columbine blossom near the kitchen window. In the distance, chickadees splash in the birdbath while a cottontail nibbles grass beneath a bush. With some research and thoughtful planning, you can transform your yard into an inviting space for wildlife.

Providing backyard wildlife habitat need not be expensive if you phase in plantings over a period of several years and do some of the work yourself. Maintenance should cost no more than the average lawn and, in fact, may be less expensive and time consuming since wildlife benefits from a wilder, less-manicured space.

Creating wildlife habitat in your yard means not only bringing in rabbits and songbirds, but those species' predators, and other unintended backyard visitors such as skunks. This is important to keep in mind when deciding to create a habitat in your yard. 

Wildlife watching tips

If you long to be "wrapped up in watching," follow these tips from experienced behavior watchers. With the right combination of patience and know-how, you'll be able to witness wildlife without startling them or sapping their energy. It's a feeling you'll never forget!

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.

Have you noticed the new binocular signs along the highway? They mark hundreds of wildlife viewing areas that are described in state guidebooks. Remember though, wildlife can't read the signs. They lurk everywhere, and if you act respectfully, you may encounter animals while traveling to or from the viewing site. "On the way" is all part of the adventure!

Fade into the Woodwork

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

Let Animals Be Themselves

  • Resist the temptation to "save" baby animals. Mom is usually watching from a safe distance.
  • Let animals eat their natural foods. 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 foods 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 stressed, panting 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.

How to Use Binoculars

  • Find the subject with your unaided eyes.
  • Bring the eyepieces just under your eyes.
  • Sight the subject over the tops of the eyepieces.
  • Slowly bring the binoculars to your eyes.

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 a mostly vertical forest 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, the 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 animal's 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.

Camera Tips

  • Use at least a 400 mm lens.
  • Have the sun at your back.
  • Afternoon light is best.
  • Aim for featuring wildlife within its natural surroundings, not a full-frame profile.