A great way to spark children’s interest and enthusiasm in all things related to caring for our environment is to encourage them to take an interest in wild animals. There is nothing quite like the rush of excitement that a young child will feel when he gets close to his first fox, coyote, or eagle.
If you lived in the wilds of Africa, your children would have the thrill of watching elephants, lions, and gazelles. But even for those of us who live in the middle of a big city, wildlife is all around us. We just need to look a bit harder…
Your Local Park
A park is an obvious place to start looking for your local urban wildlife. Your city might have ballparks, dog parks, or historical parks. Your nearest park might be a bit of everything, with games and also places full of grass and trees. Chances are that there is a park nearby your home where, if you sit quietly on a bench and pay attention, you will start to notice some wildlife.
The first thing you are likely to notice will probably be some birds! City birds are generally quite accustomed to being quite close to humans, and they may even approach you, hoping you will have some breadcrumbs to give them.
Try looking for birds a bit more carefully than you have in the past. Predators such as hawks may sit still at the top of a tree for long periods of time without moving. Keep an eye out for birds flying in and out of trees, and in the spring you might be lucky and spot where they are nesting. Look out for trees with holes in their trunks, as some kinds of birds nest in hollow trees.
Squirrels or chipmunks may be common in your area. They are great fun to watch; look out for them chasing each other and playing, or foraging for food in the undergrowth. At the right time of year, you will see young squirrels, which you can recognize by their smaller size and thinner tails.
When you take nature walks in your local park, try these ideas:
Avoid the crowds and walk through patches of trees or grass where there are less people
Walk quietly, and you will see more wildlife
If you see an animal and want to get closer, approach it from an angle and don’t stare straight at it; this way it will be less likely to think you are about to hunt it!
Carry a notebook and pencil to record your observations
Take your time and see how many different animals you can spot
As well as different kinds of animals, try to observe animals of the same species exhibiting a variety of behaviors
Streets, Alleys, and Sidewalks
City wildlife is not restricted to the green bits. Especially at dusk and dawn, animals like foxes and opossums often roam the city, usually looking for food; our trash cans provide a good source of nutrition! If you’re walking through the city when it’s dark, keep your eyes open and you may be surprised at what you see. Remember to go along quietly, and listen carefully too – you will probably hear the rustling of mice and rats.
The nocturnal mammals, along with the silent but spectacular owls, are best spotted at night. During the day, you’re more likely to see birds and insects. Even on a barren bit of sidewalk, you might find a highway of ants going to and from their nest.
If there is a pond, lake, or stream in your city, you can have great fun discovering what animals live in the water. Ducks and gulls might be the first you spot, but a bit of deeper investigation with a net and a jam jar could reveal anything from water spiders and shrimps to frogs and salamanders. If you catch these, perhaps to make a drawing of them in your nature notebook, it is always kindest to put them gently back in the same location that you found them, once you’ve finished studying them.
Whether you have a small dirt backyard, a patch of grass, or even just a balcony or window box, the outdoor bit of your own home is a great place to watch animals. The more you can do to make your backyard a friendly place for animals, the more variety you will see. Animals will appreciate clean drinking water, and a variety of plants will make a richer habitat that will be enjoyed by insects like butterflies and bees as well as birds and small mammals. Your own backyard can turn into a little haven that will help make the city a more wildlife-friendly place!