Wildlife Viewing Tips

HikersWildlife is everywhere. To begin to see more wildlife, focus on looking for it. All animals have specific needs that make them more likely seen in certain places. Learning more about these needs and habits will make your viewing more rewarding.

Following are some tips that, with the right combination of patience and know-how, will enable you to have experiences you won’t soon forget.

When to Look for Wildlife

Generally, more wildlife activity occurs in the first and last hours of daylight than at any other time of day. That’s when you should be out, too. Choose the right season because some of Arizona’s wildlife can be seen only at certain times of the year. Many birds migrate north or south in spring and fall.

How to Look to Look for Wildlife

You best improve your chances of seeing wildlife by slowing down and moving quietly. Take time to sit and wait for wildlife to appear. Wildlife viewing requires patience.

Moving noisily in the wild and talking, even in a normal voice, won’t aid your cause. Be as unobtrusive as possible. Use all of your senses, including smelling and hearing.

The proper use of a good pair of binoculars can’t be overemphasized. Most looks at wildlife are from a distance. A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will open a whole new world of wildlife viewing.

Where to Look for Wildlife



Many wildlife species, especially deer and elk, spend time along the edges of differing types of habitat, such as where the forest meets a meadow. They seek the shelter of cover for protection, but they use habitat edges for forage or to seek prey.

Learning about what a particular animal needs gives clues as to where you can find it. For instance, a black bear has different requirements than a tree squirrel for food, water, shelter, and adequate space.

Learn to look for movement, shapes, and color contrasts against the natural background. Motion is a giveaway that an animal is close by. Quite often, only a part of an animal, such as its head, ear, tail, or antler, will be visible instead of its entire body.

Finding signs or clues of wildlife, such as tracks, nests, rubbing spots, trails, or gnawed wood, also indicate that animals are in the area.

Ethical Wildlife Viewing Tips

At the Arizona Game and Fish Department, we want you to be a welcome guest in the homes of wildlife, and we offer the following suggestions to help minimize wildlife disturbance:

  • Observe animals from a distance they consider safe: Get your “close-up” by using binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto camera lenses. You are probably too close if most of the animals are looking with heads up and ears pointed toward you, appear nervous or are jumpy when you move or make a noise.
  • Move slowly and casually, not directly at the animals: Allow them to keep you in view. Most wildlife rely on their eyesight and sense of smell to keep them from danger.
  • Use the animals’ behavior as a guide: Limit the time you spend with wildlife, just as you would when visiting any friend’s home.
  • Always let wildlife eat their natural foods: Never feed them. Sharing your food can harm their digestive systems and get them hooked on handouts.
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

Learn to Use Field Guides

Field guides can tell you what habitats an animal prefers, when it is active, what it eats, and much more. Guides are available for nearly every kind of plant and animal in Arizona. Check guides to find out the history of wildlife.


Remember that some wildlife is dangerous. Arizona is home to rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and black bears. Be aware that in certain areas these animals could be nearby, and maintain a safe distance if you encounter them.

Make sure come prepared. Many wildlife-viewing sites in Arizona are remote and have no facilities. Always carry water, even in the winter. Whether it is in the mountains or in the middle of the desert, dress appropriately for the site you plan to visit.