Viewing Wildlife in Ontario Canada

In Algonquin Park, Ontario and area there are more than 20 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, 40 mammals and more than 130 bird species.

Wildlife viewing can be as easy as placing a bird feeder near a picture window or as involved as a week long hiking or canoeing trip to remote areas. Watchable wildlife includes a wide array of animals, some as common as a familiar bird at a backyard feeder, some briefly passing through on seasonal migrations, some rarely-seen species that provide the dedicated viewer with a reward for hours of patient waiting.

Beginners should start with short trips near home to become acquainted with the natural rhythms and wildlife signs.
Wildlife viewing is an exciting activity, and much of this excitement stems from the fact that you can never be sure what you might see. Some days will be better than others, but there are several things you can do to greatly increase your chances of success. Follow these tips, to help you get started.

Choose the Season

Some of Ontario's wildlife is migratory and may be seen only at certain times of the year.
Learn the feeding habits of your quarry. Many species of wildlife can best be seen during the first and last hours of daylight.
Wildlife activity also varies with season. Some animals will not be found during the cold Ontario winter. Many kinds of birds and a few kinds of insects migrate south; many small mammals hibernate; and reptiles and amphibians burrow underground and become dormant. On the other hand, winter is often a good time to view white-tailed deer because their brown coats stand out against the snowy ground. Waterfowl are best seen in concentrations on their migrations in early spring or early fall. Spring is also an excellent time to catch large numbers of colorful birds moving through the area.

Timing is Everything
Different wildlife are active at different times of the day, so it helps to know a little about the animals you wish to see. For instance, soaring red-tailed hawks might best be viewed during the heat of a summer afternoon, while nocturnal flying squirrels can only be seen by the light of the moon. In general, more kinds of wildlife are active in the early morning and late evening than any other time of day.

Easy Does It
The best way to see more wildlife is to slow down and walk slowly and quietly. Stop often to look and listen.

Blend In
Bright colors and patterns can be very fashionable, but these colors are also easily seen by wildlife. It is best to wear earth tones or muted colors that blend in with the surroundings.

All in Good Time
Patience is a virtue for wildlife watchers. If you jump out of your car at a site expecting to see all of the listed wildlife right away, you probably will be disappointed. Animal movements and behavior patterns are very unpredictable, which can be a source of frustration--or fascination. The key is to learn where and when to go, how to look, and then just keep trying!

Move quietly, slowly and in plain view
Loud noises, sudden movement or an unannounced approach startle animals. There is probably nothing you can do to better improve your chances of seeing wildlife than to slow down or stop periodically. Animals often disappear as you arrive but may return shortly if you are quiet enough. Use your cars to locate birds. Use your peripheral vision to spot movement in trees, thick brush, and water.

Use a blind if one has been provided
Blinds, or hiding places for viewers, are sometimes built at popular viewing sites so that the movement of people does not distract the wildlife. If a blind is provided, use it.

Use calls, tape recordings of calls, or other device sparingly
Overuse of such devices can interrupt breeding cycles, drive birds from their territories, or make animals "call shy" so they don't respond to the real thing.

Divide large groups of people into small groups
Small groups of people are less disturbing, usually talk more quietly, and tend to act in a more responsible way than big groups do.

Many people do not realize that wildlife viewing can be harmful to animals and ecosystems if it is not done properly. Most wildlife watchers are genuinely concerned about the plants and animals they are trying to observe.

Never Approach Wildlife

One way people disturb animals is by trying to get too close to them to see them better or to take photos of them.
The goal of all wildlife watchers should be to observe nature without disturbing or altering it. The most common mistake people make is trying to get too close to wildlife. It's a natural urge under certain conditions, a single disturbance may lead to an animal's death. Remember that you are out in the wild to 'view' nature. Never approach an animal, no matter how cute it is. Never presume that a baby animal has been abandoned and needs your help. Some birds will abandon their nests if they feel threatened. Mother is most likely not far away, and in truth, baby animals are the most dangerous to view, as their parent can be quite aggressive if they feel you are endangering their young. While large animals instantly come to mind, this rule applies to even the smallest. For example, a mother turkey will chase, attacking with claws and beak, if she feels you are too close to her chicks. While you may not find this dangerous, believe me, it is quite scary when you are the one being chased. You also risk losing your sense of direction and becoming lost is most hazardous.

You're not my mother
It is fairly common to see young or "baby" animals by themselves during spring. Although they may appear to be orphaned or abandoned, this is rarely the case. Too often, well-meaning people remove young animals from the wild, thinking they are saving them, when in fact the parents of the young were standing by, just out of sight. Even if an animal is an orphan, you should leave it alone. Many animals will defend themselves by scratching or biting. Also, your scent on a young animal may hamper efforts to return it to the wild. Report orphaned animals to the site manager.

Let it be
Chasing an animal may lead directly to its death, such as causing it to run onto a highway or jump into a river. Chasing also has an indirect impact too. When an animal is forced to flee, it uses up energy that it needs to survive. Don't stare directly at large animals such as moose elk, or bears. They may interpret this as a threat, causing unpredictable results. Pets and wildlife do not mix. If given the chance, domestic animals will almost always chase or harass wildlife, and may also spread or receive diseases from wildlife. Pets are best left at home, but if you do bring one along, be sure you keep it on a leash and under control--especially during the spring and summer nesting season.

If you are too close, the animal's behavior may tell you so
You need to continually be aware of the animal's response because what may be okay one minute, might not be okay the next. Some general clues to watch for are:

    • the animal runs away OR runs toward you
    • the animal appears nervous and keeps looking at you with head up and ears pointing toward you
    • the animal doesn't resume its normal activity, or "settle down"

If you are looking at baby birds in a nest, fish in a pond, etc., remember that they can't leave and that you are interrupting normal behavior. Make your observation brief, then move on.

Finding out about the animal will help you judge an appropriate distance
It is safer for the animal and more enjoyable for you if you understand the biology and behavior of the animal; what kind of environment it inhabits; and how it interacts with the environment.

Don't chase an animal
Don't chase an animal trying to get better glimpse or photo. Don't follow animals or behave in any way that might be seen as "harassment." And don't allow your pets do it either. A spooked animal might become injured or killed trying to flee, or it may abandon a nest or quit feeding during a time of critical energy need

Don't feed animals
Feeding wildlife supplies more food than would normally be provided by nature. Human fed animals lose their fear of humans when you do feed them. The consequence of that lost fear is that it puts the animal in danger. You are never sure what you will be luring in when feeding animals, you may be putting food out for the foxes, but the skunks or bears may be eating it too.

Tread softly
Avoid trampling through flowers, shrubs, grasses, vines, water, etc. Damage to the habitat affects all species in the ecosystem. Where trails are available, use them.

Don't make a path
If no path is available, don't make one. One set of tracks invites another, so if you are in a group, spread out so that you aren't all stepping on the same fragile places repeatedly. Mountain bikes or motorized vehicles should stay on established paths or roads.

Do not disturb the flowers, seeds or vegetation
It's a great temptation to pick flowers, gather berries and seeds or dig up wild plants to move to your garden. Plants are part of the food chain for wild creatures and help make up a part of their habitat.

Leave no litter, Leave it better than you found it
Few things can spoil the atmosphere of an adventure in the great outdoors faster than the sight of an old soda can or broken bottle.
Always leave nature the way you found it, if anything, cleaner. It goes without saying that you should always pack out your trash or dispose of it properly. If you encounter trash along the way, be a good friend to the wildlife you are viewing and pick up the trash. Remember, viewing wildlife is a privilege, help take care of nature so the generation after us can also participate in this wonderful hobby!

Respect the rights of your fellow viewers
Other viewers have a right to see the undisturbed wildlife that you are viewing. If you arrive at a site that already has other people watching wildlife, be considerate as you approach. Shutting your car doors, talking too loudly, or moving too quickly might frighten the wildlife and ruin the experience for everyone.

Respect the property of others
Do your viewing on public land whenever possible. In Washington it is your responsibility to know if you are on private property. (Private property does not need to be posted or fenced.) If it is necessary to cross private property, always ask permission of the landowners before doing so. Leave gates as you found them. Don't break down fences. Obey signs.

Respect the right of way
Park your car in designated areas and only drive on designated roads, even if you have a vehicle that will go over any terrain.

Get permission
Private land in Ontario is protected by law and you must have permission from the landowner before you can enter legally. When visiting public lands, be aware of and respect all property boundaries.

Stay on the trails (where appropriate)
At some wildlife viewing sites, visitors are encouraged to hike wherever they please. However, other sites may contain rare plants or fragile ecosystems where access must be limited to protect the resource from trampling, soil compaction, or erosion. Obey all site regulations and report violations to the site manager.

Use Equipment to Help
There is a tremendous variety of equipment and accessories available to help you get the most out of your wildlife viewing excursions. Binoculars, field identification guides, road maps and a backpack with snacks and liquids can all add to a day's enjoyment afield. All of these are optional--you don't have to own any fancy equipment to see wildlife--however, these things can greatly enhance your viewing experiences.

Use field guides. Field guides can tell you the best dates to see migratory wildlife. They can also tell you what habitats an animal prefers, when it is active, and what it eats.

Use binoculars. A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will open up a whole new world of wildlife viewing. With a twenty power spotting scope, for instance, it is possible to see a moose standing 1.5 miles away.

Know where you are going. This sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised at how many people just take a drive into the countryside, park their vehicle, and walk into the woods. While many may return unharmed, many more become lost. Planning, deciding on a destination, and getting a map of the area to familiarize yourself with where you will be going, are the first steps to be taken. Many maps will also point out areas of interest and places specifically for viewing wildlife. Going out into the 'wild' is not necessary to view wildlife even. There are many marked trails in Ontario to follow. These are an excellent way to try out this hobby.

Clothing and Footwear
Dress appropriately. A sturdy pair of hiking boots is a priority. Make sure they fit properly, as a pair of ill fitting boots can be a danger in itself. They should also be waterproof, as this will help keep feet warm if you end up out longer than intended. Even morning dew can soak feet, and wet feet equal cold feet. Dress in layers. Outdoor temperatures can vary drastically nearly everywhere, summer, fall, winter and spring. The hottest day of summer in can be followed by freezing temperatures overnight. While you may not plan on being out overnight, always be prepared ahead. Always plan for the unexpected when dealing with nature.

A backpack is a necessity for even a short excursion. You should try on a backpack for fit. Wider straps are always a good bet. This will help distribute the weight evenly. Check stitching, make sure it has been constructed well. A backpack that falls apart right away will do you no good. Make sure it is comfortable and has enough room for the basic supplies that should be carried with you. Always pack a basic first aid kit, water, map, compass, (know how to use the compass), bug spray, and a pair of binoculars or viewing glasses.

A 'field identification' guide is a good investment. These come in everything from full sized volumes to pocket sized guides. These are available for everything from mammals to fish, birds, particular regions, states, etc. One I have found to be particularly helpful is a guide to animal tracks. Many times while out viewing wildlife, the most I have encountered is the animal's footprints. This handy little book allows me to 'see' what animal has just walked where I am now standing.
A journal of where you have went and what wildlife you viewed or tracks seen, is a good way to enjoy your hobby even after getting back home. This can be as simple as a spiral notebook.

Don't get bugged
If you spend time outdoors in Ontario during late spring and summer, know that insect pests are going to be part of the experience. Mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, and ticks can be very abundant. The key is to be prepared so they don't ruin your experience. Sometimes a little bug spray is all you will need; other times you will find long pants, long sleeves, a headnet, and bug spray to be essential. When you return, be sure to check yourself thoroughly for ticks--especially the tiny deer tick which can be a carrier of Lyme's disease.

Besides the animals themselves, watchable wildlife describes an increasingly popular pursuit for many residents. Wildlife viewing is a pastime that can be enjoyed in any season, in any corner of the province, by any age group. Unlike some activities, special equipment is not required. Wildlife watchers need to come equipped only with a sense of appreciation for the provinces living resources and the knowledge of where to look for them. We hope you will find the nature section helpful in meeting that need.