Wildlife Watching Ethics

Southern Leopard Frog

Observing wildlife in their natural habitat is a privilege. It is your responsibility to keep the wildlife wild by being respectful of all animals and their habitats when visiting the refuge. If you see someone feeding, harassing, creating an unsafe situation, or other wildlife violation, please report it to Federal Wildlife Officers by calling 1-800-307-5789.

Wildlife Watching Ethics

Resist the temptation to feed wildlife.
The actions that you take when visiting the refuge could actually result in an animal’s death. Most wildlife (including alligators) will avoid humans, but wildlife that have been fed by humans will eventually associate humans with food. Alligators can become very dangerous when fed, and are termed “nuisance gators”. Unfortunately, alligators that have been fed by visitors have had to be euthanized. Please help us keep the wildlife wild and allow them to hunt and forage naturally for their food.

View from a distance.

  • Do not pursue wildlife.
  • Give wildlife plenty of space with a wide escape route.
  • Invest in a zoom lens, binoculars, or a spotting scope to view wildlife up close. (Hint: Binoculars are available for loan from the Friends of Loxahatchee’s gift shop in the visitor center.)
  • If an animal changes its behavior, you are too close.
  • Follow the “rule of thumb”. With your arm extended and making a “thumbs up” sign, if you can cover the entire animal with your thumb, you are likely at a comfortable viewing distance for both you and the animal.

Be respectful of sensitive areas.
Rookeries and nesting areas exist on the refuge. Visitors who are wanting a closer look may cause parents or young to flee or become separated, leaving young animals vulnerable to predators and other dangers.

Respect other visitors.
Be aware that other visitors enjoy watching wildlife, too. Please enhance the experience and enjoyment of the refuge for others by showing mutual respect.

What kinds of wildlife live at the refuge?

Over 257 species of birds, 23 species of mammals, at least 60 species of reptiles and amphibians, over 50 species of fish, and approximately 40 species of butterflies can be found here.

Visitors might catch a glimpse of endangered and threatened species such as the wood stork and snail kite while looking for migratory songbirds, secretive marsh birds, shorebirds, and wading birds that visit throughout the year.

Year-round residents include pileated woodpeckers, alligators, herons, egrets, and bobcats.

Where can I go to see wildlife?

Visitors enjoy viewing wildlife around the refuge’s wetlands and cypress swamp by walking along the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, Marsh Trail, Butterfly Garden, throughout the A, B, and C Impoundments, and along the L-40 and L-39 perimeter levees.

Water-based observation and photography is encouraged along the 5.5-mile Canoe Trail, within the 58-mile perimeter canal, and in 30,000 acres at southern end of the Refuge Interior. View the Fishing and Boating Regulations brochure on this page to learn more about boating on the refuge.

The refuge currently has over 50 miles of pedestrian, bicycling, and paddling trails. Photography blinds and observation towers with spotting scopes are available to encourage and enhance wildlife viewing and photography.

When is the best time to see wildlife?

Wildlife viewing varies both daily and seasonally, but is usually best during the early morning or evening hours when most animals are out searching for food.

If you get to the refuge early in the morning, you may get to enjoy the sweet songs of cardinals, mockingbirds, doves, wrens, and more during their morning chorus.

How do I increase my chances of seeing wildlife?

  • Wear earth-colored clothing.
  • Be still and move slowly.
  • Be as quiet as possible. Refrain from yelling and shouting. We know how exciting it is to see that special critter, but if you yell then it might be scared away.
  • While pets will soon be allowed in designated areas, you will have a better chance of seeing wildlife if you leave pets at home. The sounds and smells of your pet can scare wildlife away.