Wildlife viewing is growing in the U.S., with some 86 million people taking part in 2016, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wildlife viewing includes closely observing, feeding and photographing wildlife, visiting parks and natural areas to see wildlife, and maintaining plantings and natural areas at home to benefit wildlife. Whether you enjoy watching birds from your back porch or plan your trips to wildlife management areas around what plants and animals you might see, it all counts as wildlife viewing.
Wildlife Viewing 101
- Observe animals from a safe distance, for you and for them. Use binoculars, a spotting scope or camera with a telephoto lens for a closer look.
- Move slowly and cautiously. Avoid nests and dens. Learn to recognize and respect wildlife alarm signals. If the animal’s behavior changes as you approach it, chances are you are too close.
- Do not feed wild animals. Put their safety and health first by leaving them to forage for natural foods. Note: This does not include feeders for birds and squirrels. Also: Be BearWise at home.
- Do not harass, chase or harm wildlife. Harassing wildlife is not only illegal, it can be dangerous for you and the animal. Do not disturb resting wildlife. This can cause them to expend energy needed to help survive winter or seasonal migrations.
- Be considerate. Respect wildlife, habitats, other people and property. Leave pets at home.
- Observe rules and regulations. Stay on marked trails and roads, and off private lands unless you have permission. Observe site and local requirements regarding dogs.
Please practice safety in all wildlife viewing. For example, when snorkeling for fish, children should be closely supervised and adults should not snorkel alone.
Binoculars are essential piece for any wildlife viewer, but especially for watching birds or butterflies. A quality pair of binoculars will improve your overall experience by reducing eyestrain and increasing your ability to spot and identify species. The National Audubon Society has a useful guide on choosing a pair.
A spotting scope takes viewing opportunities to the next level with increased magnification. Scopes can be mounted on a tripod and are extremely useful for spotting distant birds or other wildlife.
A mask and snorkel are all you really need to observe fishes and other aquatic species in streams and rivers with good water clarity. A wetsuit provides warmth and additional protection. Most fish watchers favor tennis shoes or wading boots rather than fins when in shallow rocky streams.
Field guides are a primary source of information for wildlife identification. Choosing the right guide and becoming familiar with it is key to enhancing your experience. Select one based on the region you will be visiting and learn the species in that area. Guides can be photo- or illustration-based.
- Audubon Field Guides (available for birds, fishes, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, insects and more)
- Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia
- Dragonflies & Damselflies of Georgia and the Southeast
- Frogs and Toads of the Southeast
- Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America
- Lizards and Crocodilians of the Southeast
- Salamanders of the Southeast
- Snakes of the Southeast
- Snorkeling the Hidden Rivers of Southern Appalachia (North American Native Fishes Association)
- Turtles of the Southeast
- Peterson Field Guides (available for birds, fishes, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, insects and more)
- National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America
- Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
- Georgia Biodiversity Portal
- Georgia’s Freshwater Fishes
- UGA Museum of Natural History
- UGA Savannah River Ecology Lab
- Go Outdoors Georgia: Explore wildlife trail sites and state lands with DNR’s free, on-the-go guide.
- LeafSnap: Identify thousands of plants, flowers, fruits and trees with advanced artificial intelligence.
- Seek: Use image recognition technology from iNaturalist to identify plants and animals.
- Merlin Bird ID: Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free bird ID help for birds for the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.
- Audubon Bird Guide: National Audubon Society’s free field guide to more than 800 species of North American birds.
- Sibley eGuide to Birds: The entire content of the Sibley Guide to Birds, along with songs and calls of nearly every species.
- Audubon Christmas Bird Count
- Camp TALON
- DNR Youth Birding Competition
- DNR Youth Christmas Bird Count
- Great Backyard Bird Count
- Great Georgia Pollinator Census
Best Places to Go
- Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests
- Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites
- National Park Service Lands
- National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs)
- Public Fishing Areas (PFAs)
- Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)
- Bird Day
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Georgia Audubon Society
- Georgia Birding Hotspots
- Georgia Ornithological Society
- Partners in Flight
- U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative
- North American Waterfowl Management Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
- Waterbird Conservation for the Americas (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Wildlife Viewing Grants
DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section administers a small-grants program for wildlife viewing projects. Funding is provided by Georgia’s Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Learn more about the grants.