By Sean Twohy, PAWS Wildlife Center Volunteer
Making wild animals a part of your life can be a rewarding and gratifying experience!
The act of watching birds build a nest or seeing salmon in a stream can provide a sense of connectedness to the world around us – and a welcome break from the day-to-day grind of working in an office (or daily life in a bustling city like Seattle!).
Even more, these interactions lead to a sense of responsibility and community toward the other creatures who share our space. So, how can you make the most of your wildlife watching?
Here are some things to consider:
Keep a safe distance
Keeping enough space between you and wildlife ensures that whatever you’re watching can continue its natural behavior without feeling threatened or disturbed enough to flee.
Perhaps most importantly, by keeping a respectful distance you will reduce the likelihood of that wild animal becoming habituated to human presence – something that could negatively impact its survival. While there's no set standard, if the animal you’re watching becomes agitated or changes its behavior, you’re probably too close.
Don’t feed your wild neighbors
This can happen accidentally (through leaving garbage bins open or pet food outside) or on purpose; either way, it’s generally best to leave wild animals to find their own food to avoid some of the following problems:
- The animals start to rely on a food source that may disappear (when you go on vacation)
- The animals may lose their fear of people (which can disrupt an otherwise peaceful coexistence between wildlife and humans in a particular area or neighborhood)
- Feeding wildlife can have unforeseen consequences on the environment (did you know that—as well as being unhealthy for them—bread left behind by ducks causes spikes in algae and harmful bacteria, which can kill off fish and make the water dangerous for swimmers?)
Keep pets away – ideally inside!
Even the most placid and sweet-natured of pets can pose a risk to wildlife (did you know that cats are the number one killer of suburban birds?), and wildlife injuring or even killing our pets can be a distressing fact of life for many living here in the Pacific Northwest.
To enjoy wildlife on your own doorstep, be sure that any pets kept outside are safely enclosed in your yard at all times, and brought in at night. Better still—for cat owners—consider transitioning your feline friend from an outdoor to an indoor lifestyle.
Provide a natural backyard habitat
While a large green lawn has been the standard of American tradition for some time, it’s not the most enriching environment for wildlife.
If you’d like to have more wild neighbors coming to visit, consider planting borders of native flowers and foliage, don’t sweep up those fallen leaves quite so often, and maximize any sources of moisture such as water features or streams.
Trees (even dead ones) and native foliage will give birds, bats and other creatures many a useful nesting, resting or hiding spot!
Last but not least… be aware! You’re often closer than you think to a wide variety of wildlife. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything around you, and the animal’s well-being at the forefront of your mind, and your experience with it can be a great one.
Found a wild animal you think needs help? Learn how PAWS can help.
Want to find out more about interacting with wildlife? Read our do's and don'ts online guidance.
Interested in a career in wildlife rehabilitation? Check out internship/externship opportunities at PAWS.