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Respecting Wildlife – Ethical Encounters

With Covid an over-riding part of our lives, many folks have begun to see and appreciate nature like never before!

Whenever we encounter nature, while our actions may seem harmless to us, they might actually be dangerous to the wildlife. It can be negatively impacted by what we do and how we do it. Having studied wildlife my whole life, I can’t count how often people tell me how great it was to see how close they could get to this animal or that bird. While I appreciate their enthusiasm and support their interest, this is unacceptable and harmful. So, I want to share some tips with you on the proper way to view and approach wildlife.

One of the greatest draws in nature is birds; ‘friendly,’ co-operative, and always engaging!

Owls, in particular, draw a lot of attention. Mysterious and the stuff of folklore, they never fail to please. We see them as a peaceful creature that tolerates us without effect. Nothing could be farther from the truth! While what I am going to say is in reference to owls, the principles are the same for all wildlife encounters.

Owls need to hunt to live. If we see one out in the open, they are hunting, it’s simple as that. Prey may seem abundant, but catching prey isn’t always easy. Many failed attempts usually precede a successful capture. If the owl fails and misses even one meal, this can be fatal over a few days as their energy budget is upset. If we stand between them and the prey, they have to look elsewhere, or they might remain there, distracted. No predator can hunt successfully when distracted.

We may think an owl is tolerating us, but more likely, they are hungry, and once they find a good hunting location, their fear is overridden by the need to survive. Migrant owls, such as the Snowy, may have travelled thousands of kilometres to get here, so they are already stressed and weakened. Even healthy-looking birds can be very skinny under those feathers; don’t be fooled! We still think it’s winter, but Great Horned and Screech Owls might already have eggs or young in the nest. Disturbing them may mean the young don’t get enough food and die. This is a very sad and unnecessary outcome.

So what should we do? Well, don’t NOT look for them, it’s okay, as long as you always do it with the well-being of the animal foremost in your mind. Don’t get too close. If the owl (or any animal) looks at you directly; you’re too close. Stay on the edge of the habitat and use your binoculars or a scope for viewing and a telephoto lens for photography. Stay hidden behind your car, a bush, or a tree. Avoid the use of flash photography, especially after dark. Eliminate noise to avoid interfering with a bird’s auditory hunting. If you’re viewing from a car, turn off the engine; if you’re with others, talk in a whisper, if it’s necessary to talk at all.

Do not use audio recordings to draw a bird out. Do not alter the landscape to get a better picture, don’t cut branches or trim foliage when a roosting bird is found. Do not intentionally ‘flush’ an animal to see it fly or run. If a bird flies away or an animal runs on its own, do not pursue it. Do not disturb roosting owls, as they might become dinner for a larger predator. You’ve had your encounter – just be satisfied with that. Do not feed owls or other birds of prey anything, such as mice, which may cause them to get used to people and can result in collisions with cars.

Please use discretion when sharing the location of an owl or other significant wildlife. Usually, it’s best to provide details only to people you can trust to treat the animal safely and with respect. Simply stated, if an animal is staring at you, it is concerned about you!

Don’t be afraid to enjoy nature, just do it on their terms and with their survival in mind. Thank-you for caring!

Geoff on-line, at and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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