A Survey About Americans and Wildlife Experiences

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Published on November 6, 2023
Last Updated on February 8, 2024

How Often Do People in the U.S. See Wild Mammals in Their Day-to-Day Lives?

This article was proofread in November 2023 by wildlife researcher Jonathan Way who runs the website Eastern Coyote Research

A deer and a faun walking along a fence close to house.
Photo by Cuyahogo jco on flirckr

Introduction

From the majestic bears of Yellowstone National Park to the squirrels in urban parks, Americans share their landscapes with a diverse array of wild mammals. But just how often do people in the US come face to face with these creatures in their day-to-day lives? To uncover the answer, we conducted a survey that delves into the wildlife experiences of Americans, shedding light on the frequency, locations, and surprising factors influencing these encounters. Our findings challenge common perceptions and offer intriguing insights into the complex relationship between Americans and the wild animals they coexist with.

Methodology

While we’re interested in wildlife in general, we decided to focus on wild mammals for this survey. Most Americans see birds daily and in the survey people also reported livestock sightings.  Zoo animals and pets would make the wildlife experience a bit more superficial than spotting wild mammals in their natural habitat. 

Limiting the survey to wild mammals made the sorting process a bit more demanding since many participants mentioned birds, zoo animals, livestock, pets, reptiles, or fish.

As we gathered more survey participants, we gradually deleted responses made from addresses outside of the US, people who would not disclose their home state, people who claim to have spotted animals non-existent in the American wild, people who have seen animals in zoos, and people who mentioned birds despite the survey being about wild mammals.

We hosted the survey on SurveyPlanet, where it is still online. To find participants, the survey was shared on multiple social media platforms such as Reddit, X, and Facebook, as well as survey-exchange services such as SurveyCircle.com, SurveySwap.io, and specific subreddits and Facebook groups meant for exchanging surveys. 

We also used ads on Facebook and Reddit. To avoid skewing our survey result in a specific direction, we made sure not to target specific groups with our ads (outside of people living in the US), and to not share our survey in groups or subreddits that might have a nature or wildlife focus.

Initially, we tried offering an Amazon gift card as a draw to the participants, but this led to many fake responses from spammers, after which we deleted all responses and started over.

Research Findings

In our survey, we asked people a wide array of questions about their most recent encounters with wild animals (and more specifically mammals). We also asked them a few clarifying demographic questions about themselves, including their age, gender, living conditions, state of residence, and more.

At the time of this writing, 243 Americans had completed the survey. While this number is high enough to conclude something general about Americans overall, we don’t have enough data to take factors into account such as state of residence or age. We do hope to be able to update these findings at a later date when we have at least 100 participants per state and per agegroup.

But without further ado, let’s get into some of the data.

Most Americans see wild mammals weekly, many daily

To our question “When did you last see a wild animal (mammal) in your day-to-day life?” 27.6% of the survey participants answered “One week ago”, followed by 23% responding “One month ago” and a surprising 16.5% answering “Today”.

Given that birds, livestock, pets, and zoo animals were ruled out, we were surprised to see how often Americans observe wild mammals in their day-to-day lives. When adding up the people who answered “Today” and those who answered “One week ago”, almost half (44.1%) of Americans say that they have seen a wild mammal within the last week.

On the other hand of the spectrum, we found that 6.2% picked “One year ago” and 4.1% picked “More than one year ago”, which means that 10.3% of Americans haven’t seen a wild mammal in a year or more.

Something interesting that we noticed when filtering our data by the respondents’ living conditions was that whereas most Americans spot wildlife (wild mammals) at least once a week (44.1%), people who live in suburban areas seem to see a lot more wild animals than other categories, with 22.6% of them selecting “Today” to indicate when they last saw a wild mammal and 52.9 % report seeing wildlife at least once a week. It’s interesting that people living in a suburban setting see wild animals more often than people who describe their living conditions as “rural”.

The wild mammal most commonly spotted by Americans is deer

Out of the 243 total respondents at the time of writing, 184 answered what kind of animal they saw. Out of those, 20.11% say they saw deer.

At the time of writing, the 10 most commonly spotted wild mammals of the survey were:

Wildlife speciesPercent (%) observed
Deer20.1
Squirrels15.8
Raccoons11.4
Rabbits9.8
Wild hogs or pigs (boars)8.2
Bears7.6
Groundhogs and marmots6.5
Mountain lions (cougars, pumas)4.4
Foxes3.8
Elk3.3

In this survey, people answered what they saw according to their own judgment. Many say that they saw rabbits, but it’s possible that some of these were misidentified hares (which only represent 1.63% of the respondents). Elk and deer can also be confused, and people also tend to confuse groundhogs, gophers, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. 2.72% of respondents say that they saw wolves, whereas 1.63% say they saw coyotes, but it seems more likely that the majority actually saw the more common coyote, and simply mistook them for wolves. The 4.4% of people who claim to have seen mountain lions is also a surprising finding, given how elusive they are, and it is possible that people are mistaking their last wildlife encounter for a mountain lion, or that they’re simply remembering their most spectacular wildlife encounter instead of the most recent one.

Finally, it’s intriguing that only 2.17% say they saw mice and 0.54% (one person) saw a rat, both of which are extremely common mammals all across the U.S. One explanation could be that people simply find mice and rats too banal to qualify as wildlife. Given all of these factors, it’s important to take this survey as a reflection on peoples’ experience with wildlife much more than a reflection of how common some animals really are.

People mostly spot animals in the morning and the afternoon

Out of the 243 people who completed the survey at the time of writing this, 28.4% say that the last wild mammal they saw was in the afternoon, whereas 27.2% say they spotted the animal in the morning.

  1. Afternoon, 28.4%
  2. Morning, 27.2%
  3. Sunset, 12.8%
  4. Midday, 11.9%
  5. Evening, 7%
  6. Sunrise, 6.2%
  7. Night, 4.9%

This is interesting because most wildlife and animal experts would probably agree that the hours just before and after sunset and sunrise are times of the day when many animals are most active.

It’s very likely, however, that people also observe wildlife while they commute to and from work and other daily activities, which might also explain why people spot a lot more wild mammals in the morning and the afternoon. It is likely that it is a combination of wildlife activity around crepuscular hours and people commuting which produces the afternoon/evening sighting bias.

With a larger sample size, we hope to eventually filter the time of day when people see wild animals by the age of the respondent. This would allow us to see if people above the typical retirement age would see wildlife more frequently at other times of the day than in the morning and afternoon. For the time being, however, we have a paucity of data from the older age groups, which precludes the possibility of making these comparisons .

Wild mammals are mostly spotted in the woods and in people’s backyards

27.9% of our survey respondents said they last saw a wild mammal in the woods, whereas 25.8% said that they saw them in their backyard.

  1. Woods / forest, 27.9%
  2. Yard / Backyard, 25.8%
  3. Park, 17.2%
  4. Street, 11.9%
  5. Field, 8.2%
  6. Other, 7%

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise since people tend to spend time looking at their yard almost daily, whereas most people only go out in nature once in a while. Therefore, you can safely assume that the woods is the most common place to spot wildlife.

Interestingly, when filtering the data by the gender of the respondents, we see that the majority of men spot wildlife in the woods whereas the majority of women spot wildlife in their yards. 

Americans who live in suburban areas see wildlife more often than both rural and urban inhabitants

When looking at the relationship between neighborhoods and wildlife spotting, we quite surprisingly found that the percentage of respondents who said that they last spotted a wild mammal “today” or “one week ago” is rather similar.

We would have expected people who live in rural areas to see wildlife significantly more often than people who live in urban cities, but in reality, the numbers are close to being the same.

  1. Suburban area / Outskirts of city, 47.5%
    (22.6% picked “today”)
  2. Rural area / Countryside, 42.4%
    (13.6% picked “today”)
  3. Smaller town / village, 41.7%
    (11.7% picked “today”)
  4. Urban area / Big city 40.5%
    (13.5% picked “today”)

Of note, is that a higher percentage of people who live in suburban areas say that they last saw a wild mammal “today” compared to rural, small town, and urban residents.

22.6% of people who say they live in suburban areas say that they last saw a wild mammal “today”. This is close to twice as many as people who say they live in rural (13.6%), urban (13.5%) and “small town” (11.7%) areas.

We are particularly interested in these findings and hope to soon survey more respondents to obtain a statistically significant sample size.

Women spot wild mammals more often than men do

When comparing the answers of the male and female respondents, it’s interesting that women appear to spot wild mammals a lot more often than men do.

When asked when they last saw a wild mammal in their day-to-day lives, men answer:

  1. One month ago (29.3%)
  2. One week ago (24.8%)
  3. Today (15.8%)


The remaining men who answered three or more months make 30.1%

Women on the other hand answered the following:

  1. One week ago (33.3%)
  2. Today (17.7%)
  3. One month ago (14.6%)

The remaining women who answered three or more months make 34.4%

Most women (33.3%)  tend to see wild mammals weekly whereas most men (29.3%) only see wild mammals once a month. 

We might be able to find a reason for this by looking at the places where men and women see wildlife:

Men spot wildlife in the woods, women in the backyard

When comparing the male and female respondents’ answers to the question of where they last spotted a wild mammal, it becomes clear that women mostly see wildlife in their backyards, whereas men mostly spot wild mammals in the woods.

When asking men where they last saw a wild mammal they answer the following:

  1. Woods / forest (33.6%)
  2. Yard / backyard (22.4%)
  3. Park (14.9%)
  4. Field (11.9%)
  5. Street (9.7%)
  6. Other (5.2%)

When asking women the same question, they answer:

  1. Yard / backyard (32.3%)
  2. Woods / forest (22.9)
  3. Park (16.7%)
  4. Street (13.5)
  5. Other (9.4)
  6. Field (3.1%)

It’s difficult to conclude anything from these findings, but one might speculate that more men than women enjoy going to the woods, and that women are more observant when it comes to spotting wildlife in their yards.

When taking into account the findings mentioned above, that women tend to spot wildlife more often than men, one can speculate that women, perhaps, are more alert to their everyday surroundings, noticing the wildlife that come near their own houses much more than men do.

Men, on the other hand, might be more inclined to seek out wildlife experiences in nature, but since enjoying the outdoors is rarely an everyday thing, they spot wild animals less often than women who simply observe their everyday surroundings.

Finally, when looking at 2019 numbers, we know that 69.2% of men are part of the active labor force, which is 11.8% more than women, of which 57.4% take part in the active labor force. This might explain why women tend to observe wildlife more often in the home, whereas men observe wild animals outside of the home.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our survey on Americans and their wildlife experiences reveals some really interesting insights. A significant portion of Americans frequently encounter wild mammals in their day-to-day lives, with many having seen one as recently as “today” (the day of taking the survey) or within the past week, challenging common perceptions about wildlife interactions. 

The timing of these encounters aligns with people’s daily routines, such as commuting, predominantly in the morning and afternoon. Since it’s common knowledge that many wild mammals are most active around sunset and sunrise, it might indicate that people mostly experience wildlife when leaving for work and coming back in the afternoon.

Living conditions play a surprising role, as suburban areas seem to offer more frequent wildlife sightings compared to small-town, urban, and even rural environments. This challenges stereotypes about where one might expect to encounter wild animals, and it makes us wonder how suburban areas do a better job than even rural areas at providing wildlife experiences.

Moreover, the survey highlights a gender difference in wildlife observations, with women reporting more frequent encounters with wild mammals than men. This could be linked to where these encounters occur, with women often spotting wildlife in their backyards and men in the woods, possibly reflecting recreational preferences.

These findings offer potentially valuable insights into the American public’s relationship with wildlife. They could inform wildlife conservation efforts, urban planning, and education about local wildlife. Moreover, they encourage further research and a deeper understanding of these intriguing patterns.

Authors

    by
  • Tommy
    (Author)

    Hi, I'm Tommy! I'm the founder of Floofmania.com. I am an animal enthusiast and self-proclaimed wildlife expert as well as a dog trainer and breeder of the breed Löwchen. Since I was a kid, I’ve been wildly fascinated by animals, both from growing up in a rural area where there were always animals around, but especially from seeing them in the wild.

  • Jonathan Way
    (Expert)

    Jon is Floofmania's coyote and coywolf expert. He lends a hand in fact-checking, proofreading and editing our content about coyotes. Jonathan (Jon) Way has a B.S. (UMass Amherst), M.S. (UConn Storrs), and doctorate (Boston College) related to the study of eastern coyotes, also known as coywolves. He is also the author of several books and peer-reviewed studies of which you can read more on his website.

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