Learn how to spot wildlife with these tips you can use in your neighborhood, on a hike or at the zoo

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Birds in Your Backyard

These days we seem to be connected to so many devices. We all have screen time—clicking, posting, and “liking”—but what about green time? Connecting to nature is a wonderful way to clear your mind and revitalize your spirit. Even more so when you can appreciate the wildlife that we share our habitat with.

Whether you’re out looking for them, or come across a few animals on a hike, learning how to spot and observe wildlife without disturbing their habitat can make your experience even more rewarding. Here are some wildlife watching tips to help you get the most out of your outdoor adventures:

GatherYour Gear

First things first—don't forget the tools of the trade that help you find your way, and to identify what you’re seeing. Depending on where you’re going that could include binoculars, a guidebook or journal—or even a wildlife identification app loaded onto your phone. And, of course, remember your reusable water bottle!

Notice the Little Things

Whether you’re sitting in your yard, a neighborhood park, or enjoying one of the many green spaces throughout our Northwest, take time to notice some of the little things about what you see—or hear. Sitting still and listening to the sounds around you can be a great starting point. It will also give you time to take in some of the finer details of what you’re looking at, or to notice movement in the trees or brush around you. Be on the lookout for signs that an animal has recently crossed the path you’re on. Maybe you'll spot some tracks, animal droppings, or other telltale signs that we share the habitat with wildlife.

Identify What You See

If you’re on the lookout for birds, it’s helpful to learn the sizes and silhouettes of common birds. Using charts like this can quickly help to distinguish one bird from another. It can also offer a frame of reference to compare a bird you see with one that is commonly known. Determining whether a bird is “smaller than a sparrow” or “bigger than a robin” is a first step towards learning to identify the species you might see.

Then, focus in on other features or attributes. What do its eyes look like? What about its feet? Does it have sharp claws, or webbed feet? What could each of those different kinds of feet tell you about how that bird lives, finds food, or gets around?

Different Beaks Serve Different Purposes

Taking note of the shape and size of the beak (or bill) can offer clues as to what that bird eats and what habitats it frequents.


Other helpful characteristics to be aware of are what color the bird’s feathers are (its plumage), what kind of sound(s) it makes—chirps, songs, clicks or calls—and whether it shows any special behaviors. It is also good to take note of the bird’s location. Is it on the ground, in a shrub or bush, clinging to the side of a tree, in or near water? These can all be important clues that help identify its species.

Finally, one of the most important things to remember when observing wildlife is to be safe and tread lightly. Respect the space of any animals you see, and be sure not to disturb the habitat. If you notice that an animal changes its behavior in response to your presence, you might be too close for comfort. Give them room to roam so that we can safely share the habitat with our wild neighbors.

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Woodland Park Zoo saves wildlife and inspires everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.

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Woodland Park Zoo recognizes that these are the lands of the Tribal signatories of the Treaty of Point Elliott. We acknowledge their stewardship of this place continues to this day and that it is our responsibility to join them to restore the relationship with the living world around us.

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