Watch the video of the wobbly legged, cinnamon-tufted, brand-new-to-the-world bison calf and then just try to remember what was stressing you out. Seeing the grass-nibbling newborn, awkwardly standing in the mountain-rimmed plains, is calming; plus, it was the firstborn of the season at Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. More than 400 other baby bison were expected to follow this month, bringing the park's bison population to 1,300, give or take.
Since the March 22 birth was announced, Mark Hendrix, Custer's resource program manager, says he's seen an increase in visitors seeking a dose of baby animal cuteness. Animal viewing is the number-one reason that visitors go to the park, and odds are good they'll catch a glimpse of the bison herd when driving Wildlife Loop Road, an 18-mile paved path that circles through wide-open prairie and rolling hills. "It's … your unlucky day if you don't see one," Hendrix says.
That's not the only animal population that will be growing this spring at the park. Hendrix says that into summer, visitors will be able to spot newly minted white-tailed deer and mule deer, baby pronghorn antelope, elk calves, and bighorn lambs. "It should be a great year," he says. "We've been really wet this spring, a lot of moisture, so we should have a lot of green grass for all the wildlife that'll be born in the park this year."
Here are just a few of the parks and zoos where you might be able to get a glimpse of all the adorability. For information about any national park or preserve, go to nps.gov and search for the specific park.
Always remember that you should never approach any wildlife in the wild.
The park, which is located mainly in Wyoming but also Montana and Idaho, is home to the most free-roaming wildlife of any of the Lower 48 states. This year, visitors can be on the lookout for bison calves (born April to May), elk calves (born May to June) and bighorn lambs (born in May); black bears and grizzly bears born in the winter will have exited dens with their mothers (April or May). To up your odds of spotting some babies, head to the Northern Range of Yellowstone, including Lamar Valley, which has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the park. A number of park tours are available, including the Wake Up to Wildlife tour, which features a guide driving visitors by bus to the animal action.
Super colonies of wading birds are forming at this wetlands preserve in Florida for the first time since the 1940s. A super colony refers to tens of thousands of nesting birds, and here that means egrets, herons, Roseate spoonbills, wood storks, and more. Officials expect the birds will have many mouths to feed this spring. Visitors can view the birds with binoculars from the Shark Valley Tower and at the Anhinga Trail. While in the park, keep your eye out for baby river otters. Sightings have been reported, but the animals tend to be reclusive. Also, be on the lookout for young alligators plodding around. Visitors are cautioned to remain at least 15 feet from any wildlife in the park.
In the Alaskan wilderness, winter tends to take its time, and so baby animals frequently arrive later at Denali National Park than in the Lower 48. Many young animals experience their first breath as the busy summer season begins picking up. Bus tours (from $90 for adults and from $40 for children) are the best way to safely spot wildlife in the summer, because private vehicles are prohibited in much of the park. If you go, look for moose and caribou calves, Dall lambs, and gray wolf pups, all of which are born in May or June; and grizzly and black bears cubs, which are born in January or February.
Zoos around the country
It's babies everywhere at the nation's zoos. In late March, the Denver Zoo welcomed a bright-eyed Sumatran orangutan, which is a critically endangered species. Her name is Cerah, which means bright in Indonesian. Also new to Denver Zoo: four bouncing, bounding African wild dogs. The endangered pups were born in November, and only recently entered their habitat for viewing. And a Linne's two-toed sloth named Baby Ruth, born in late January, has been a huge hit with visitors.
The Indianapolis Zoo is home to three new critically endangered babies. Two are ring-tailed lemurs, born March 14, and the other is Carina, an addra gazelle calf that zookeepers have bottle-fed and cared for because her mom didn't show any enough interest.
In Chicago, at Brookfield Zoo, visitors can peep at a tiny chocolate-colored reindeer. The fawn was just 12 pounds when she was born April 2, and is growing quickly. At Lincoln Park Zoo there, a downy African penguin chick hatched in February; it's the first of the endangered species to hatch and be reared at the zoo.
After 13 weeks in the den at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, twin sloth bear cubs — which, true to their name, look like a bear crossed with a sloth — moved out on display.