This feature is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Arizona Wildlife Views.
Go wild at night!
Getting the chance to see a wide variety of animals after the sun goes down is an exciting activity available to anyone in Arizona. Whether you live in a rural area or a city, it can be very rewarding to find great nighttime wildlife-viewing experiences.
Some mammals are fairly common even in suburban settings. Animals such as raccoons, rabbits, foxes, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, javelinas and rodents use the cover of darkness for activity. Look for them at dawn or dusk.
Bats are observed most easily at dusk, when bird activity ceases. Look for their rapid wing beats and erratic flight. Bats may be found devouring insects around lights and open water sources throughout the night. Nectar-feeding bats and moths can be seen at hummingbird feeders. To help with visibility, set up a soft lighting system.
At dusk you also may see moths hovering over flower gardens. Many species are attracted to streetlights as well. To get a better look at moths, hang a bedsheet outdoors and shine a white light directly on it. Using a portable ultraviolet light (“black light”) will attract a great variety of other insects as well.
Wildlife is around you at night, whether you are in a city or in the wilds. Nighttime wildlife watching is great for family participation. Families can learn together and be well-rewarded for the effort. Remember, watching wildlife at night is like any pastime — the more you learn and practice, the better you get at it, and the more fun you will have!
How can I watch wildlife at night?
First, there’s no sense in looking for animals where they aren’t. Scout around in the morning to detect fresh evidence of nighttime activities. Places where you find gnawed branches, droppings, tracks and well-used travel paths warrant another visit at night.
Next, listening is important for locating and identifying wildlife at night. Most of the year, owls can be heard, each calling its own distinctive hoot or whine. Late in their breeding season, northern mockingbird males may be in top form, whistling and chirping dozens of imitations in the calm night hours. Coyotes yip and howl, foxes yap, deer snort. After a heavy summer rain, a nocturnal symphony of frogs may be performing. Beetles and other flying insects are on the move, their delicate wings fluttering with a low buzz.
Third, for those given to high-tech gadgets, try using night-vision viewing devices. This equipment reveals the nighttime world in a soft, greenish light, and provides an entirely new dimension to wildlife viewing after sunset. Alternatives include LED flashlights or flashlights with low-impact red beams. (Placing red cellophane over the white beam of a normal flashlight also works.)
Flashlights with white beams also help you search for animal eye shine. Deer eyes reflect bright green light, while raccoon eyes shine yellow-gold. Cottontail rabbits and bullfrogs have pink eye shine. Even the eyes of spiders shine as light passes by.
Finally, explore edges of lakes, ponds, streams and rivers at night. Crayfish, frogs, snakes, fish, large aquatic insects and all sorts of interesting animals prowl next to shore. Work along the water’s edge with a flashlight. Watch for movement and eye shine through the water.
Now you’re ready to explore the night in search of wildlife. With a little luck, learning a new skill with simple equipment can allow you to show family and friends the true meaning of the phrase, “wild night life.”
—Joe Yarchin, Arizona Game and Fish Department watchable wildlife program manager