Wildlife Viewing Guidelines: Watchable Wildlife

Perhaps you’ve taken an interest in watching the animals that pass through your backyard. Or perhaps you’re planning a trip to a national park. Whatever the reason, you’ve become interested in observing wildlife, and you’re curious about how to do so without risking your own safety or disturbing the animals you see. You’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll discuss some important wildlife viewing guidelines to keep in mind.

How Do We Observe Wildlife?

How Do We Observe Wildlife

You can observe wildlife in many ways. The trick is to keep your eyes open and pay attention to what’s going on around you, no matter where you may be.

Some of the ways in which we observe wildlife include:

  • Watching and listening: This may seem like an obvious one, but you can easily miss the wildlife around you if you aren’t observant. Even if you only have your own backyard to observe, always be on the lookout to see what you can see, and listen for animal sounds you may not have heard before.
  • Having a natural curiosity: In addition to being observant, you will notice more if you are curious about the things you see and hear. Your natural curiosity will lead you to further explore and observe animal behaviors you may not notice otherwise.
  • Going to nature preserves: If there is a nature preserve in your area, visit it often. Nature preserves are great places to see more of the local wildlife, in its natural habitat, then you would ever find in your backyard alone. 
  • Watching in your own backyard: Of course, if you don’t have a nature preserve nearby, or you can’t visit it, your backyard can still host an abundance of wildlife. You may want to put up bird feeders and nesting boxes to attract birds, or you may simply enjoy watching raccoons, foxes, armadillos, or other animals passing through.
  • Watching videos: What if you live in the middle of a crowded city and don’t even have a backyard? If you have no way of viewing wildlife in person, you might be able to find videos of wildlife observation, such as the one below.

How Can I Watch Wildlife Safely?

Whether you’re watching animals in your backyard, at a local nature preserve, or at a national park, following these safety tips from the National Park Service will allow you to safely observe wildlife:

  • Give the animals space: The number one rule of wildlife observation is to not get too close. We’ll talk more about how close is too close in a minute, but a good general rule of thumb is to keep enough distance between you and the animal so it doesn’t feel the need to react or respond to your presence.
  • Do not disturb: In addition to keeping your physical distance, you shouldn’t do anything to attract or trouble the local wildlife. Stay on designated walking paths, don’t use bird or wildlife calls of any kind, and keep dogs on a leash at all times.

Even if you’re just watching animals in your backyard, it’s best to leave them alone. Don’t just give them the physical space, but don’t behave in any way that causes them to react to your presence.

  • Be careful when driving: If you’re driving through a national park or any rural area, the chances of encountering wildlife go up dramatically. But even if you’re driving through the city, you should drive carefully and responsibly, always being observant of any wildlife that may be on the road.
  • Put away food and trash: If you’re camping or picnicking in an area with wildlife, put away any leftovers immediately after eating and clean the area thoroughly, making sure no trash or bits of food are left behind. The smell of food can attract wildlife to the area, encouraging animals to get too close to you or to approach other people in the future.
  • Behave responsibly: In addition to the tips outlined above, always endeavor to behave in a responsible, cautious manner. Respect the wildlife you observe and don’t attempt to disturb it in any way.

How Close Can You Get to an Animal?

It depends on the type of animal–according to the National Park Service, the minimum distance you should maintain is 25 yards for most types of wildlife and 100 yards for predatory animals. If you plan to visit a national park, it’s best to find out beforehand about that park’s specific rules and regulations regarding wildlife.

Of course, the rules may be a little more relaxed or unclear when it comes to viewing animals in your backyard.

Small animals such as squirrels and birds will likely allow you to get much closer than 25 yards. These animals are generally harmless and have become acclimated to being in close proximity to humans. 

That said, it is still best not to touch these animals. Don’t feed them if you come across them in the wild; the exception, of course, would be setting up backyard bird feeders for them to gather food from.

It’s worth noting that you can’t always control the distance between you and wildlife if you are approached by an animal. 

If an animal begins to approach you, regardless of the type of animal it is (eagle, alligator, or wolf), don’t panic. Never attempt to feed it; instead, back away slowly, making the effort to maintain a safe distance, until the animal has lost interest in you.

If you are approached by an animal in a national park, notify a park ranger. If wildlife in your own neighborhood becomes a threat, you may need to contact the local animal control or wildlife removal service.

Is Approaching Wildlife Illegal?

Typically yes, it is illegal to approach wildlife–especially in a national park. According to the National Park Service, it is “illegal to feed, touch, tease, frighten, or intentionally disturb wildlife.” 

Outside of national parks, it depends somewhat on the animal in question, but it is generally not a good idea to approach wildlife of any kind–even if it seems like nothing more than a harmless squirrel or chipmunk.

For safe viewing of all types of wildlife, observe from a distance–as noted above, animals shouldn’t feel the need to react to your presence. They are unpredictable and even seemingly harmless animals may cause injury to themselves or you if you get too close.


Whether observing wildlife in a national park or your own backyard, there are a few safety tips you should follow. Never get too close to an animal, don’t attempt to disturb or attract them in any way, and behave in a responsible manner that shows respect for the wildlife around you. The same applies to any trees, insects or fungi you’ll encounter during your observations.

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