Tips for Observing Nocturnal Animals | Still Playing School

Tips for Observing Nocturnal Animals

We're fascinated by all animals but there is something extra mysterious about nocturnal creatures. Kids are naturally curious about these animals that stay awake while most of us are sleeping. Here are our tips for observing nocturnal animals with kids. 

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Observing nocturnal animals can be a bit tricky when they are out and about when our kids are (hopefully) asleep! What can we do to study these animals authentically in their habitats?

1. Get outside at dusk and dawn.
We are very fortunate to have a pair of great horned owls living very close to our home. While we've never seen these amazing animals first hand yet our neighbor has and that was very early while she was out walking her dog. Nocturnal animals are waking up when we're getting ready for bed and vice versa so twice a day our paths might naturally cross at dusk and dawn. Try to catch a glimpse of a nocturnal animal by going outside when the sun is setting or as it's rising (if you have an early bird kiddo like we do)!

2. Use all of your senses.
Remember that observation isn't merely seeing an animal directly with your eyes. We identified out great horned owl by sound first comparing the calls we heard to recordings on the internet of different birds that live in our area. Months later we realized we actually were listening to a mated pair when we heard both birds calling back and forth to each other. Listening is observing and so is looking for signs that nocturnal animals leave from the night later when we're awake in the day. Look for tracks and scat to see what nighttime creatures live in your area!

3. Do not disturb. 

While we all want to see animals up close and personal, this might not always be the best case for ourselves or the wildlife. Please don't shine bright lights in hopes of seeing nocturnal creatures. Remind children that these animals are adapted for the night life with eyes that see very well in the dark which also means they are sensitive to sudden bright lights. Taking spotlights or flashlights out at night can blind them temporarily. Other nocturnal animals like skunks have natural defenses to keep humans away! Using extreme measures to see these animals startles them out of their typical behaviors so while we momentarily see that they are there, we aren't authenticly observing them if we flood them with light. Above all, teach children to do no harm while observing nature.

4. Visit zoos and check out webcams. 

Again, animals in their natural habitats are always the most ideal, but if all else fails you can often see nocturnal animals sleeping during the day at zoos and other wildlife parks. Our local zoo has a nocturnal building kept dark during the day so you can see the animals active when you are too! We love webcam observations since we can watch (and record) creatures all around the world. Check out this bat cam and this owl cam as a very examples!

We'll regularly be joining up with Stir the Wonder to bring you more exciting posts and ideas for observing nature with kids! I've always been intrigued and admired the photos of creatures and plants that Stir the Wonder shares on Instagram. Since we do the same, I asked her to partner up with me to create this interactive nature series for kids! Please join in the fun by tagging your nature photos with #kidsnaturehunt so we can all enjoy the beautiful world around us.

Nature Exploration Kit from Stir the Wonder

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