Respecting Wildlife in HCA Areas

Conservation Areas provide a wide range of opportunities for people to get out and enjoy nature and enjoy outdoor activities. Recreational activities which involve viewing wildlife such as bird watching or wildlife photography can be especially fun and rewarding.

There are some basic rules of etiquette however, that visitors should abide by when viewing wildlife in HCA Areas and elsewhere, to help protect wildlife and ensure a safe experience for all visitors:

Give wildlife space.
Avoid approaching wildlife, whether taking photos or just observing. This is especially important for large mammals like coyotes or deer, which can easily harm humans and pets. Use binoculars and observe from a distance.

Never handle wildlife.
Getting close or handling wildlife for the sake of photography or taking a selfie is not safe for you or wildlife. Many animals see humans as predators and handling them causes stress that can be deadly to them. Amphibians such as salamanders and frogs are especially sensitive to residue that can be present on human hands.

Avoid using flash photography.
Bright and sudden light can agitate many animals and cause them to either flee or become aggressive.

Do not feed or bait wildlife.
Baiting and feeding wildlife can result in animals becoming habituated (more comfortable and accustomed) to humans and areas occupied by humans. Habituation alters the natural foraging behavior of wildlife. Wildlife may become bolder and aggressive, and seek out humans or frequent areas occupied by humans, which increases the potential for human-wildlife conflicts. Feeding wildlife items which lack proper nutritional value (e.g. feeding waterfowl bread, when their natural diet includes aquatic insects, fish and vegetation) can cause them to develop health issues, or even result in death. Feeding wildlife is prohibited in the City of Hamilton under by-law 12-130.

Prohibited Activities

The following activities are prohibited in HCA Conservation Areas. Failure to follow conservation area rules and regulations can result in a monetary fine.

Pets must be kept on a leash.
Dogs can be seen as a predator/threat and wildlife may act aggressively, or become stressed if approached by a dog. Keeping your dog on a leash keeps everyone safe – your dog, you, other patrons and wildlife. Off leash dogs can also cause damage to sensitive habitats that wildlife depend on for survival. Learn more.

Do not remove vegetation.
Removing or altering vegetation, habitat surroundings, or any HCA property is not permitted (e.g. no removing branches from trees to get an unobstructed view of a bird). Removing or damaging tree branches and vegetation causes stress to wildlife who use them to stay sheltered from weather and predators.
Stay on marked trails.
Venturing off marked tails or bypassing fencing or other barriers can damage sensitive habitats, plants and wildlife. Going off trail also greatly increase the chance of personal injury, including contact with poison ivy and ticks.

Birds and Photography

Seasonal migration of birds is an exciting time for many outdoor enthusiasts and occasionally, rare birds may find their way to places they’re not normally observed. Migration is a stressful time for birds and some travel thousands of kilometres. This is why it’s important for visitors be respectful, and give these birds the quiet and space they need. When they land at stopover sites (locations where birds take a break on migratory flights), it can take them several days to recharge before they are able to continue on their journey.

Disturbing and harassing migratory birds can be deadly for them. The stress causes birds to change their normal behaviour, and instead of foraging for food, they spend their energy trying to get away from stressors caused by loud noise and other disruptions. In many cases, this excess energy expenditure from fleeing can cause birds to be unable to gain enough weight/energy to continue on their migration. This means that these birds will not be successful at reaching their migration destinations, finding mates, breeding or rearing offspring. Needlessly harassing birds to view them and/or take photos can be their death sentence. 

Rare Wildlife and Data Sharing

Don’t Share Specific Information
When photographing or observing rare or sought-after species (e.g. owls), stop and think about the impacts of sharing specific information. Sharing a photo with GPS tags and data to social media, or telling others the specific area you spotted a species, often causes an influx of people. Increased visitation can cause major harm to the species, its habitat, and other wildlife in the area.

When to Share Specifics
Data sharing is beneficial when provided to the right sources, like scientific communities, that collect and use the information to help protect rare species and their habitats. Sharing on platforms like iNaturalist and eBird is encouraged, because uploaded information is automatically hidden from public access, but can be made available for scientific use.

Here are some good tips to follow when you consider publicly sharing photos of rare or sought after species:

  • Don’t list a specific location (e.g. GPS coordinates) of where a photo was taken or a sighting was made. Use a more general description of the area (e.g. region, municipality).
  • Avoid listing or tagging the species name on social media. Industry professionals or those experienced with the species will be able to identify it easily without you posting it.
  • Avoid sharing photos with specific landmarks or spatial references in them. Even if you don’t list a location, many people can recognize where a photo was taken based on rock formations, buildings, signs or other easily recognizable features.

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