Urban Wildlife

Urban Wildlife Facts

Urban Wildlife ['ûr-bŭn] ['wīld-'līf]

Animals that live in urban areas.

Wild in the City - Urban Wildlife

Squirrel in the city

Have you ever seen a wild animal in your city or town? It is often a surprise for urban dwellers to learn that their communities are home to many wild animals. From small creatures like insects, spiders, and rodents to larger animals like raccoons, hawks, and even deer, urban areas often support a wide variety of wildlife. What brings them to town? Should we feed them? How can we enjoy urban wildlife? Let's take a closer look at these questions and more.

Habitat is Home

All living things need good habitat. As long as food, water, and shelter can be found in an appropriate space, some kind of animal will be able to survive. Many of our communities provide quite a bit of habitat for wildlife. Think about your own community. You know the park you like to visit with your friends? This is an example of a possible habitat for urban wildlife. How about your backyard? Backyards that have a variety of flowers, trees, and shrubs can provide a small habitat for wildlife. Even something as simple as putting up a bird feeder and bird bath can make your yard a more attractive habitat. Your school's outdoor classroom could also be a good habitat that wildlife might use.

Bird bath time

Many Idaho communities have greenbelts that follow along rivers. While we enjoy walking and biking on the greenbelt paths, wildlife takes advantage of the habitat the greenbelt travels through. Greenbelts can also act as corridors that wildlife can travel along to get from habitat on one side of a community to habitat on another side. A series of green spaces like city parks, nature centers, or gardens can also act as a safe habitat corridor for wildlife.

A lot of our communities are located right next to good wildlife habitats, such as along rivers or at the base of foothills and mountains. Since wild animals do not read signs, they do not know where their habitat ends and the city begins. As long as the city provides good habitat, they will take advantage of the food, water, and shelter the city provides. Some of these animals will stay permanently in town, while others will move back and forth between natural and urban areas depending on their needs.

Backyard Deer

Wildlife All Around Us

Geese walking the city

What kinds of animals live in the city? You have probably seen birds in trees and shrubs or listened to their songs. You may have spotted small mammals such as mice, gophers, rabbits, and squirrels. Perhaps you have seen frogs or ducks near a pond or noticed bees pollinating flowers. Have you ever heard the sounds of crickets or watched a fuzzy caterpillar wiggle along? You may have smelled the scent of a skunk, even if you don't see it. Maybe you've even glimpsed an occasional spider in your house! All of these are examples of urban wildlife.

In addition, larger animals are city residents as well. Urban wildlife is increasing in cities all over the world. Just as in wild areas, the kinds of animals that may be seen in cities depend on factors such as climate and geography. Monkeys often inhabit cities in India and Africa, and wild boars are seen in city parks in Germany. In Alaska, moose sometimes wander into town, while in Florida, alligators are common near urban ponds and golf courses.

Why are urban wildlife numbers increasing? When humans develop land and build in natural environments, often wild animals are displaced and need to find new spaces to live. City environments often provide easy food sources and a lack of predators, so certain animals can survive well there. Some animals such as crows and squirrels are very adaptable and adjust quickly to urban conditions. Another thing that helps wildlife survive in cities is that many urban animals are nocturnal so they can largely avoid people. While humans are sleeping, they are going about the business of surviving.

Backyard Badger

Raccoons are one of the most common species of urban wildlife because they are generalists — they are not picky about what they eat and they can find adequate shelter almost anywhere. Generalists are more successful in cities than specialists, who need to eat one specific kind of food. Foxes and bobcats are also able to make their homes in cities, even though you may not often see them. Falcons sometimes build their nests on the ledges of high-rise buildings where they can successfully care for their young. Occasionally larger predators such as bears or mountain lions may venture into urban spaces in search of food, but they are rarely seen and do not stay in cities.

Raccoon in trashcan

Coyotes have become quite common in American cities. These highly adaptable predators find plenty to eat in urban areas, and they can create dens and rear their young in secluded city spaces. Coyotes have even learned to look both ways when crossing a city street! They are clever about keeping hidden; the most you are likely to see of them are the tracks and scat they leave behind.

Coyote in yard

'Tis the Season

The wildlife you see in your community is often dependent on the time of year. Winter is a time when you might see more wildlife or different kinds of wildlife in town than during the summer months. As snow covers food in the high country, many animals move into lower elevation areas. Here, the snow is not as deep, making it easier to find food. It is also warmer, which increases winter survival.

Deer and elk tend to use the same general areas each winter. These areas are called “winter range” and they are very important for these animals' survival. Unfortunately, some of our communities are close to the winter range. Sometimes, houses are built right in the winter range. This can cause problems for both wildlife and people. Hungry wildlife will find food where they can find it, even in your backyard! This can be a problem for homeowners who spend a lot of money to landscape their yard only to find out that the plants they used are a favorite food of wintering deer. Careful planning can help make sure that we do not build in winter range needed by wildlife.

Mule Deer in winter range


Imagine yourself at some big event in an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar things. You do not recognize anything. It is loud and filled with unfamiliar smells. Suddenly, you are separated from your family. You are lost!

Lost Moose

Some of the wildlife that ends up in town seems to simply be lost. This can happen to the bull elk in Boise, the mountain lion in Pocatello, or the moose in Coeur d'Alene. For whatever reason, the animal got off-track and ended up in town with no idea how to leave. These animals are often frightened and may react unpredictably. If you ever see an animal like this, call Fish and Game. Biologists can help safely remove the animal and return it to the wild where it knows how to get around.

Food, Glorious Food!

When you are hungry, what is the first thing you do? You probably search the kitchen. Wildlife is not much different. When hunger strikes, they search their habitat for food. If they do not find it, they move on to another area to look for food. This could lead them into town, especially in the fall and winter. In the city, plant-eating wildlife will find berries, fruits, grasses, and shrubs. Meat-eaters will find mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and insects. And omnivores will find a wide variety of food.

Raccoon and skunk stealing food

People in urban areas provide wildlife with food both on purpose and by accident. Any kind of food left outdoors is a possible food for wildlife. Pet food left on the patio attracts raccoons and skunks. A garden full of vegetables might be irresistible to deer. The open barbeque on the deck could attract a bear. Since wildlife cannot grocery shop, they have to rely on the food they find, and where and when they find it. If the food source is reliable, they will return time and again to eat, and they often bring their friends. This is why the single raccoon that ate your cat's food turns into six raccoons by the next week.

Many people feed birds. They put up feeders with different kinds of food to attract different kinds of birds. Unlike animals such as deer and raccoons, birds do not become dependent upon feeders. If feeders are empty, birds simply move on to another area where they can find food.

Birds eating in the park

So, is feeding wildlife bad? The answer is usually, yes. Except for birds, animals can become dependent on hand-outs from people. In addition, the food we think wildlife needs may not be good for them. Wild animals have very specific nutritional requirements. Many of the foods we think are similar to wild foods cannot be digested by wildlife or do not have the proper nutrients. This means that the animals you are trying to help are not helped at all.

Feeding wildlife can also increase the spread of disease. When we feed wildlife, the animals sometimes gather in very large numbers. If one of them is sick, it is much more likely that the sick animal will spread disease to the rest of the group. It is kind of like the sick student in your classroom who passes his cold on to everyone else in the class.

Another important reason not to feed wildlife is safety. Animals that become used to people are no longer afraid of people. They can become aggressive. The people trying to feed wildlife can get chased, bitten, kicked, or worse. Wildlife is called “wild” for a reason. They are not like our pets but are instead wild creatures that are adapted to their way of life, not ours.

Enjoying Urban Wildlife

Wildlife is part of an urban ecosystem, and most people enjoy sharing the city with wildlife. Having wildlife visit your backyard is exciting. It can provide you and your family with a connection to the natural world, even if your backyard is in town. Here are some ways to learn about and enjoy the urban wildlife in your community:

  • Set up a bird feeder and learn to identify the birds that use the feeders. Keep a list of the species you observe.
  • Check for animal tracks and scat in your yard, neighborhood, and favorite nearby park. Use a field guide to identify the tracks and to determine what the animal was doing.
  • Put up bird houses in your yard.
  • Plant a butterfly or hummingbird garden in your yard.
  • If your family has a garden, avoid using pesticides. This will encourage native beneficial insects.
  • Keep a pair of binoculars near a window to observe wildlife.
  • Plant native plants in your yard to provide food and shelter.
  • Build a small pond in your yard as a family project.
  • Put a toad house in your flowerbed.
  • Talk to your parents about supporting the preservation of green space in your community.
  • Talk to your teacher and principal about building an outdoor classroom or garden at your school.
  • Start a nature club at your school.
  • Take photographs of the animals you see. Use them to make a collage or wildlife journal.
  • Talk to your parents about putting up an outdoor night camera in your yard. See what kinds of nocturnal visitors come around.
  • Practice good wildlife watching skills — keep quiet and still and always observe at a distance.

The discovery of raccoon tracks in the snow or the sight of a hawk soaring over your school can add some excitement to your day. It is nice to know that even in our urban communities, we can still enjoy a bit of wild Idaho. Enjoy your wild neighbors!

Top 10 Questions

March 2011

Thanks to Adare Evans and Gregg Losinski, Conservation Educators, Idaho Department of Fish and Game for the answers.

  1. What would happen if an animal, like a bear, came into our house looking for food?

    If an animal, like a bear, comes into your house, you really need to leave the house and call Fish and Game. If they are not available, call the sheriff's office in town. Leave the area no matter the size of the animal. Do not try to handle it yourself. Call the experts for help. (From Trinity in Mrs. McCoy's class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)

  2. How do wild things survive in urban areas without their usual surroundings?

    A lot of times they don't and that's why we don't encourage them to be there. Once they are around humans, there are all kinds of things that they are not used to. This can catch them off-guard and cause them to become injured or potentially feel threatened, causing them to lash out. Wildlife places are where wildlife belongs. (From Abby in Mrs. Hunt's class at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise)

  3. Should we leave out food for animals so they don't starve?

    At Fish and Game, we try not to feed wild animals at all. The only time we might try to feed an animal, like deer or elk, is if we want to draw them away from an area. For example, if deer have started eating a farmer's crop, or a herd of elk have gotten very close to major crossroads, we may use food to draw them away from those areas. Animals are really smart and can usually find food on their own. (From Docker in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

  4. Why are there so many geese in the city?

    Certain species do really well around humans, and geese are one of those species. Town is a safe place for geese because their predators usually stay away. Also, people like to feed geese, even though they shouldn't, so the geese have a food source. The geese tell their friends about it and more and more come, increasing the population. (From Jack at Roosevelt Elementary School in Boise)

  5. How long do animals stay in the city?

    It depends on the animal and the time of year. In Boise, we have lots of deer that come down looking for food. When they come into town, sometimes mountain lions come too. In the winter, we might see more of them, but when the snow starts to melt, the animals head back into the woods or into the hills. (From Brooklyn in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

  6. Why do animals get into our garage?

    We have many neat things in our garages that animals may want to eat or nest in. Things that we may think are garbage or even yucky smelling can be very tempting to an animal. (From Dalton in Mrs. McCoy's class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)

  7. Why are people allowed to keep wild animals as pets?

    You should not keep a wild animal as a pet. Some people have special permits for having a wild animal, but in general, the public is not allowed to collect wildlife. (From Taylor in Mrs. Nicolescu's class at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

  8. What do you do if you see a lost animal?

    The best thing to do is leave it alone. Often an animal can find its own way out of a city or town. If you get too close and the animal is sick or injured, this could become a dangerous situation. Leave the animal alone, but if it becomes a problem, you should call Fish and Game. They can lead you to the experts that can handle the problem. (From Nicky in Mrs. Woodall's class at Dalton Elementary School in Dalton Gardens)

  9. Where do all the animals go when we build more and more homes and buildings in their habitat?

    Some species will be able to adapt and they are able to live around humans. Some may be without the proper things that they need to live and they may die. And those that have the capability to migrate far away will do so. (From Madison in Mrs. Schweitzer's class at Riverside Elementary School in Boise)

  10. How can we prevent animals from coming into our cities and towns?

    The best things we can do to prevent this is to be careful and smart about what we leave out that may attract wild animals. We should not leave garbage or even barbecues out. Bird feeders are wonderful for attracting birds, but they can also attract other animals. You may need to change your bird feeder situation or the time of year you put it out if its attracting other animals. Try to think ahead about what and how you leave things out. (From Haley in Mrs. McCoy's class at Donnelly Elementary School in Donnelly)