Spotting wildlife certainly marks one of the highlights of any day hike, especially when with children. The graceful leap of a deer into the thicket, the curious habits of a rabbit or squirrel, the noble sweep of an eagle through the skies, all serve to astonish, entertain and teach.
Animals prefer to remain hidden (except for those pesky mosquitos, of course), so seeing them can be difficult. You’ll often have to be patient, even on trails in which wildlife sightings are touted in guidebooks and brochures. Still, there are strategies any hiker can use to improve the odds of seeing wild animals.
First, some trails provide better opportunities than others to spot wildlife. Paths alongside lakes and rivers are particularly good as many animals will come to the waterbody to drink. Trails alongside or through meadows also are excellent, for they offer wide open spaces to spot animals grazing in the distance or flying overhead.
Best Times and Conditions for Spotting Wildlife
The time of day and year you opt to hit the trail also can increase your chances of seeing wildlife. You can best spot animals if you go hiking during:
Wildlife typically are more active at dawn and dusk. Knowing the types of plants some animals prefer will help you know when you’re in an area that animals feed.
You’ll be able to sight large numbers and a greater variety of birds passing through an area during spring and autumn. Wetlands and large bodies of water usually draw the most migrating birds.
Green leaves in spring and summer tend to hide animals, but as leaves fall off trees and bushes during autumn, your field of visibility will increase.
During spring and early summer, mothers often take their slow-moving offspring out to explore the world. Watch for them at the edges of woods.
Changes in Barometric Pressure
That means before and after a storm. Before a storm, many animals seek better shelter to outlast a shower; watch the skies for raptors that also know this and so go on the hunt at that time. Of course, you also must be careful to avoid lightning strikes and flashfloods.
Should you spot wildlife on a hike, always remember to keep your distance. If closing on them doesn’t scare them off, the animal probably will stand its ground and possibly even attack. In addition, it’s never cute to have a child get close to a wild animal for a picture when the creature bites or mauls them.
Don’t be tempted to feed wild animals either. Besides inviting an aggressive attack on you, it teaches animals that humans are a source of food, meaning some are less likely to hunt or graze on their own but instead become a nuisance and even a threat to people. Such is the case with many national parks bears, who’ve learned to raid dumpsters and tents and even break into vehicles for food.
Also, don’t pick up small wild animals, as their natural inclination is to bite and claw when held. Even if docile, it may bite when you get close. If it is sick and a bite occurs, you could contract a disease.
If there are reports in an area of a dangerous animal, especially one that has attacked people, don’t hike there in hopes of spotting it. While such attacks are rare, there’s no need to invite trouble.
Short of seeing wildlife, the next best thing is to catch signs of them. When passing patches of sand or dirt, watch for animal prints. Other signs of animals include scat, flattened plants where an animal may have rested, feathers, fur on fence posts, burrow holes, and scrapings on tree bark.