Avoid getting too close
One way people disturb animals is by trying to get too close to them to see them better or to take photos of them. Keep in mind that you are in their home or territory and that if you get TOO CLOSE, you will be perceived as threatening. A rewarding viewing experience is one where the observers get to see the wildlife, going about their natural activities without being disturbed.
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.
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"
Make your observation brief, then move on
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.
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.
Move quietly, slowly and in plain view
Loud noises, sudden movement or an unannounced approach startle animals.
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.
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
Pick up your own trash.
Don't alter the environment by feeding the animals
Feeding wildlife supplies more food than would normally be provided by nature.
Another reason NOT to feed the animals is that they lose their fear of humans when you do feed them.
The consequence of that lost fear is that it puts the animal in danger.
Another reason NOT to feed wildlife is that you are never sure what you will be luring in.
You may be putting food out for the foxes, but the skunks may be eating it too.
And a final reason not to feed wildlife is that it is illegal in national parks and refuges.
Besides federal sites, in many states feeding certain species is a illegal act punishable by fines.
Respect the rights of your fellow viewers
Other viewers have a right to see the undisturbed wildlife that you are viewing.
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.