It’s the beginning of spring migration season, when animals emerge from their winter nestling places… or in our family cat’s case, a sweet timeshare in Palm Springs.
As humans, we’re hopefully spending more time in nature, too, which means deep opps to spot wildlife on their home turf. But seeing a sea otter IRL isn’t just fun—witnessing animals in their natural habitat can boost our mental health as well as our impulse to protect and regenerate the planet—something pinpointed by psychologists, conservationists, and of course, The Rolling Stones. (Wild Horses didn’t write itself…)
But as Wild Advocate Isabella Gomez puts it, “Animals were here first. We’re the visitors.” Which means when we’re on their turf—running a trail, hitting a beach, or even driving down a suburban highway—we need to treat wild animals with the respect and safety they deserve. That's true whether you're studying conservation vs. preservation, because above all, animals are living things just like us.
Here’s how to see your favorite wild animals without freaking them out (or freaking out yourself).
Where: 38 out of 50 states are part of a hawk’s migration pattern, with dedicated sites in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Michigan.
When: Late March through mid-May
Why We Need Them: Birds of prey are apex predators, so they keep the population of other animals—especially rodents and insects—in check. They’re also among the first to get sick because of pollution or pesticides, making them key barometers for healthy air and water.
Don’t: Leave home without binoculars if you want a great view—these birds are high fliers!
Do: Bring layers if you’re on a hawk walk. Their migration patterns follow shorelines and mountain ridges, so it might get windy.
Fun Fact: Female hawks are bigger and stronger than male hawks, and if the males want to mate? They’re required to perform tricks in the air for 10 minutes to prove their stamina. (We approve.)
Where: The East Coast, Deep South, Pacific Northwest, and Great Lakes regions
When: Late March and early April
Why We Need Them: Monarchs are pollinators and they help sustain our farmland.
Don’t: Touch or capture a butterfly, and do your best to keep pets at a distance.
Do: Find “butterfly snack bars” like zinnia patches, and if you’re able, plant some yourself! That helps monarchs get non-pesticide nutrients on the go.
Fun Fact: A monarch butterfly can travel up to 2500 miles during migration. That’s like driving from Austin, Texas to Ecuador.
Where: New England, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Pacific Northwest, Northern California… Basically, if it isn’t a desert, an otter will live there.
Why We Need Them: By snacking on sea urchins and shellfish, otters protect kelp forests and algae from getting over-consumed. That speeds up the conversion of carbon to oxygen in the ocean, which is, as you know, a huge deal. (Also, otters are very cute, and watching them can actually have health benefits for humans!)
Don’t: Try to feed them. Their teeth and claws are actually really sharp!
Do: Check out this live feed of Monterey Bay sea otters if you can’t see them in your local waterways.
Fun Fact: Unlike several members of the Wild Elements team, otters know how to whistle!
BISONWhere: Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska
When: Anytime, though if you’re viewing them at a National Park, please keep to official park hours.
Why We Need Them: Through their grazing, bison create natural habitats for various birds and prairie dogs, a keystone species in the American west. In the winter, Bison help clear paths through the snow for other animals to find food and water. Bison also help scatter seeds through their fur and hooves, keeping native plants flowering along the prairie.
Don’t: Try to ride a bison, ever. This is not Oregon Trail, and a bison will charge if it feels threatened. Let them live in peace—no car horns, no yelling—and give these fuzzy giants their space when you see them.
Do: See if you can spot small striped birds (magpies) on a bison’s back and horns. These little fliers eat insects off a bison’s fur, creating a natural win-win—the magpies get fed and the bison get rid of pests—called “symbiosis.”
Fun Fact: Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour and jump tall fences… even though on average, they weigh between 1000 and 2000 pounds.