Up close— really close— with WV wildlife
Want to meet West Virginia’s wild and wonderful critters?
The state is home to more than 57 species of amphibians and reptiles, 70 wild mammals, 178 types of fish and nearly 300 different birds. You can spot them across the vast wilderness of the Mountain State, or even get up close and personal with them at wildlife facilities and events.
Here are just a few great places to watch wildlife, both native and exotic:
1. Three Rivers Avian Center
Three Rivers Avian Center in Hinton specializes in the conservation, veterinary care and rehabilitation of native wild birds. TRAC is open for public tours on select days. Aspiring photographers also can sign up for a photo workshop featuring a variety of hawks, owls and other raptors.
The facility is probably best known for its award-winning “Wings of Wonder – West Virginia Birds of Prey” program. TRAC directors Ron and Wendy Perrone showcase several of their resident raptors to lead an educational presentation about the birds and how they connect with the ecosystem.
2. Potomac Eagle Train Excursions
More than 90% of Potomac Eagle train trips spot a bald eagle. This scenic train travels through a remote, beautiful area along the South Branch of the Potomac River in the mountains of eastern West Virginia.
The 3-hour ride passes through “The Trough,” a narrow mountain valley where the water is so clear you can see the fish. This is where researchers discovered the state’s first bald eagle nest in 1981.
3. West Virginia State Wildlife Center
View native and introduced animals in their habitats at the West Virginia Wildlife Center in Upshur County, along a 1.25 mile-long wheelchair-accessible interpretive trail. In addition to animals like black bear and foxes, you can also see mountain lions and wolves, which once called West Virginia home.
The wildlife center is also home to French Creek Freddie, West Virginia’s own psychic groundhog, who determines whether we’ll be in for an early spring or 6 more weeks of winter.
The center is also home to 2 adorable bear cubs who arrived in the spring of 2015!
4. The Good Zoo and Benedum Theater
More than 50 species– many rare or endangered— call The Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling home. Get a peek at the African wild dogs, meerkats, spectacled bears, lemurs, red pandas, river otters and more. The Discovery Lab features poison dart frogs, tamarin monkeys and other small animals.
As you explore, ride a train through the zoo grounds, visit a barn full of friendly farm animals or watch a nature program in the Benedum Theater. The zoo offers a variety of camps and outreach programs for children, as well as programs for adults, like the West Virginia Master Naturalist program.
5. Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory
Get eye-level— or even above— the birds of prey at Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory. The observatory sits on Peters Mountain 3,800 feet above sea level in the Jefferson National Forest, providing spectacular views of the soaring raptors.
Help volunteer bird watchers count hawks, eagles, falcons and ospreys as they migrate by the observatory, or join the Pipestem annual eagle surveys around the New, Bluestone and Greenbrier rivers. No experience necessary; beginners can pair up with experienced birders to scout the skies for these majestic birds.
6. Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo
Nestled in the woods of Preston County, Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo is home to 300 animals of 40 different species. Residents include chimpanzees, ringtail lemurs, grizzly bears, African lions, Bengal tigers, capybaras, camels, emus, African elephants and more. You can even feed the giraffes or have your photo taken with a baby animal!
7. West Virginia State Parks Programs
West Virginia State Parks and Forests have variety of wildlife programs and events:
- During the Canaan Valley Birding Festival in June, attendees have identified at least 130 species. Canaan’s high elevation is a breeding ground for unique neo-tropical birds.
- Tygart Lake State Park has a bird banding and survey weekend every spring and summer.
- Night owls (pun intended) are invited to join Joey Herron at Valley Falls State Park in the fall to observe and help with saw-whet owl banding. These tiny birds can fit in the palm of your hand.
- Herpetologist Jim Fregonara presents Snakes of West Virginia several state park and forest venues throughout the year. Meet live snakes and learn the important role they play in the ecosystem.
8. WVU Animal Sciences Farm’s Kiddie Days
The WVU Animal Sciences Farm houses turkey, cattle, sheep and more, including a whopping 800 chickens! Each spring, the farm opens up for Kiddie Days, a chance for kids to see the working farm firsthand and learn where their food comes from. See a little of everything, from skills of service dogs to sheep shearing demonstrations. The baby animals are always a highlight!
9. PIGS Animal Sanctuary
PIGS Animal Sanctuary in Shepherdstown specializes in caring for potbellied pigs and farm pigs, but also shelters hundreds of other farm and domestic animals— including cats, dogs, horses, goats and many others.
While the sanctuary does try to find homes for many residents, it also serves as a permanent home for up to 500 animals. Visit these amazing creatures during their open houses, or make an appointment for a tour— because what pig doesn’t love a good belly rub?
Explore on Your Own
You don’t have to go far to spot wildlife in West Virginia. White-tailed deer, raccoons and even black bears roam the woodlands, and even wander into town sometimes. So the best place to start your search might be your own backyard.
For field guides and checklists on the Mountain State’s furry, feathery, scaly and slithery critters, visit the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife page.
What interesting animals have you spotted in West Virginia?
This post was last updated on October 19, 2017