How to Enjoy More Mammal Sightings

Wild. Here. Urban Nature Mammal Sighting

Yes, that's a good question:

How to enjoy more mammal sightings!

When you go out into nature, we are blessed to always have some birds overhead and to be serenaded by their songs but mammals can be much more elusive.

Sure we get to see lots of squirrels and chipmunks and suburban dwellers might enjoy rabbits and groundhogs galore (hee hee - should I tell them that they are lucky!) but what other wildlife do we get to see regularly?  When we are talking about urban nature, it can feel like certain wildlife is very difficult to see.  With loud noises (road traffic, etc.) and other (distractions), it is true that urban wildlife may be more well hidden.  But they still might be there and you may be surprised at what you might find: foxes, raccoons, minks, etc  I've found that we've been rather lucky with our mammal sightings over the years.   They are not regular (we don't see certain mammals very often) but we do occasionally find something really special!

So to help you out on your own urban nature outings here are a few tips:

Get Out Regularly

This one may be a no-brainer but do keep it in mind.  It's not a Disneyland out there - Bambi won't be frolicking with his friends right out in plain sight (despite how great that would be!).  The more you go out, the more you are likely to see wildlife.  (I use this as a reminder for myself all the time!)  Think of it like the law of probability - if you are out there enough, it's got to happen at some point! I also like to think of that it is due to the fact that you start getting to know animals habits and favourite haunts.  Which brings me to my second suggestion...

How to See more Mammals when out in Nature
-- Photo by Viliam Glazduri --

Get to Know Mammal Habitats and Habits

Did you know that porcupines has a varied diet through the year, eating buds such as elder, poplar and willow in the early spring?  Check for these types of trees when you are out and about in spring.  Another possible time to look for their habitat is winter where they eat the inner bark of their favourite trees beech, white pine and hemlock.  (1) Or another fact that I just learned is that grey squirrels take shelter in their dreys during the warmer months but shelter below ground in the winter? (2)  The more you learn about the fauna you'd like to see, will help you understand where to look for them and fine tune your observation skills.  Yes, a little bit of identification and or knowledge can go a long way!
drey (drā): nest of a squirrel, typically in the form of a mass of twigs (link) and leaves high up in the tree branches

Enjoy more Outings around Dusk and Dawn

Many animals are on the move as the ambient light shifts from the brighter sunlight to the darker evening illuminated by star & moon light.  Diurnal creatures will be searching for resting places as the sun goes down and nocturnal animals will be starting to wake up.  You'll get the bonus of crepuscular animals also!  And of course it shifts again as night becomes day again.  If you can get up and out around either of these times (also known as the "golden hours" by photographers) your chances of seeing unique mammals should increase.

Be Quiet, Calm and Slow Down

When out with friends, I find it hard not to chat but if you can have a pact of solitude (even for 15 to 20 minutes) while you enjoy a walk in a greenspace you will probably see more wildlife.  Slow down your walking in nature to a calmer pace and keep arm swinging and gesturing to a minimum.  With a slower speed and less movement overall this will ensure that there is minimal alarm to the creatures inhabiting the space.  Remember prey animals such as rabbits have almost a 360 degree view (3) as their eyes are spaced much wider than ours.  This is to help them be aware if any threatening movements.  (Cool fact - rabbits can even see above their head!)

Tips for seeing more Mammals when Out
-- Photo by V. Glazduri --


When you start slowing yourself down (at an Adagio or Lento pace), you have the time to really observe and take in the details.  Start looking for signs and activity.  Most of the time I have found that it will be some movement that will give an animal away, rather than a noise or seeing a shape (remember these animals can be camouflaged).  Pay close attention to rock piles, tree cavities, large camouflaged tree limbs (which could be a good place to rest), snags and riverbanks.  I've spotted some minks this way along riverbanks and you can also spot mammals in water (minks, otters, beavers).  Remember not too explore too closely or disturb animals that need precious energy credits to survive.
snag (snæɡ) : dead or tying tree, often missing a top or most of the smaller branches, which provides important ecological values to other organisms (link)

Do a Full Stop at least Once or Take some Shorter "stillness" Breaks

It's always worth stopping every so often and being completely still.  Allow yourself to blend into the surrounds.  This allows you to more easily capture the movement of what's around you.  If you can find a spot where you can rest for awhile that has a good vantage point.  It takes around twenty minutes for the alarm signals (especially those from birds) to die down and for wildlife to settle back to normal once you stop moving.  But it can be worth it if you do this.

Wonderful Sightings of Mammals in Urban Areas
-- Photo by V. Glazduri --

Stay Downwind

If you are sussing out a specific spot or see something far off that you want a better look at, consider where you are in relation to the mammal and the direction of the wind.  With the wind blowing at you when you are facing the animal you know that it won't as easily catch your scent.  Consider this also as you walk along a path and/or sit down in a spot.  Be aware of which way the wind is blowing so as to be aware of where the notification of your presence (by scent) is being sent.

* * *

These are seven tips that you may want to keep in mind when you go out in your favourite green spaces in the city!  Let us know if you have any more!

So what do you want to see, what would you like to spot?  Beaver? Raccoons? A Mink?  Would you like to see a fox or perhaps even something more unique to a city?  Share your mammal sighting stories or your wish list below!

A Few Final Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Be wary of skunks but not overly fearful.  Skunks are very near-sighted and they will usually perform a warning "stomping" before spraying.  Give them a wide berth, move slowly and stay up wind if you can (so they don't smell your scent).
  • Porcupines do not shoot quills.  When threatened the quills, that normally lie flat on a porcupine, will raise and they do detach easily if something comes in contact with the animal.
  • Beavers can be very protective during birthing season.  This can be a dangerous situation for dogs, if they are near to or swimming in a pond where the beaver will perceive the dog as a threat to their kits (baby beavers).
  • Seeing raccoons during the day does not necessarily mean that they are rabid.  If they are a small size, they may be teenage raccoons that are active during the day so as to avoid larger territorial nocturnal raccoons.

***ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT WILDLIFE, EVEN URBAN ONES, ARE WILD.  HAVE RESPECT FOR THESE WILD CREATURES AND DO NOT APPROACH THEM.  Even if an animal seems habituated to humans, it's better not to encourage this type of behaviour.  Do all you can to allow them to stay wild.


1) North American Porcupine (from Wildlife in Ontario)
2) Nesting Habits of Gray Squirrels (from Animals on Mom.Me)
3) Do Rabbits Have Good Vision (from Crossroads Rabbitry)

You May Also Like:

- Ottawa - the Sunset Capital of Canada (July 2016)
- Hidden Corners and Quiet Nature Spots (July 2016)
- Wild and Wonderful Urban Nature Encounters (October 2016)
- Three Places to Get Up Close to Wildlife in Ottawa (2017 Series - three posts)

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