Wildly Friendly Animal Encounters

Fun animal encounters for families and friends each spring.
Kids with sheep
Photography courtesy of Hillside Homestead

When warming air brings people out of a late winter hibernation, it’s a great time to visit with furry and feathered friends as they emerge from dens, migrate across waterways and frolic in their own distinct versions of a spring-has-come happy dance. Here are five ways to enjoy Michigan’s wilder side, all with a nod toward conservation.

Band owls on Whitefish Point: Each spring, summer and fall, starting March 15, a pair of scientists set up a research station in the birding gift shop at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. They welcome others as they take bird measurements and chat about their broader findings while letting the luckiest of the group pet a tiny saw-whet owl and send it off to fly. This is the nation’s top site for owl banding. Visitors help by adopting an owl or joining a count. As many as 25,000 hawks soar across the point each spring. wpbo.org

Brush a rhino, feed a moose: Potter Park Zoo, Lansing: If interaction sparks caring, which sparks a conservation ethic, then Michigan’s original zoo — nearly 100 years old — is doing something right, particularly with the little-known, bucket list-worthy animal encounters offered behind the scenes for a fee. Visitors leave with a special connection to residents like Doppsee, an endangered black rhino who unexpectedly loves back scratches and cuddles, or orphaned Alaskan moose Meeko. The donations help zoo conservation efforts and research and the on-site breeding and release of the rare Puerto Rican crested toad. Go May 16 to visit animals after hours while sipping and tasting at the annual Wine & Stein event. potterparkzoo.org

At Hidden Ponds, your horseback ride does more than just bring smiles and get you onto scenic trails; it helps support a rescue effort with a twist.

Have coffee with a kitten, Ferndale: The main requirement if you dine at the Catfe Lounge is that you keep the lid on your latte; one can only surmise that has something to do with the cats roaming tables and shelves and rubbing lovingly against legs and arms. This nonprofit restaurant, with a suggested $10 donation per visit, doubles as the primary adoption and fostering hub for cats. catfelounge.com

Relax to ‘chicken TV,’ Suttons Bay: You might say you’re helping preserve the past when you book Hillside Homestead through Airbnb and have for yourself or family a circa-1900 farmhouse preserved down to the pump organ in the parlor or old-fashioned wood stove. Book the ala carte breakfast, and owner/historic interpreter Susan Odom will cook the eggs you can gather from the chickens paired with bacon she cures herself. Spring views include blossoms in surrounding orchards. hillsidehomestead.com

Hen with chicks
Photography courtesy of Hillside Homestead

Ride and Rescue, Coldwater: At Hidden Ponds, your horseback ride does more than just bring smiles and get you onto scenic trails; it helps support a rescue effort with a twist. The ranch takes in abused and neglected horses, and their rehabilitation is accomplished in part with the help of troubled teens who get rehabilitation of their own in the helping. bit.ly/HiddenPonds

Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who shares her travel savvy with BLUE readers every issue.

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