Wildlife In Canyonlands

This harsh landscape hides its wildlife well, except for the ubiquitous lizards scampering here and there.

Birds are the most visible animals in Canyonlands. Even on the hottest summer day, turkey vultures and white-throated swifts circle above the canyons. During winter, juncos and white-crowned sparrows forage around trees and shrubs. While Canyonlands may not be considered a bird watching hot spot, 273 species have been seen in the park, including seasonal and year-round residents as well as migrants.

Other creatures you're likely to see are of the small variety -- rodents such as kangaroo rats and woodrats -- as well as ringtails, fox, and skunks. There also are desert cottontails and black-tailed jackrabbits that, as is the case with the park's mule deer, might end up as a meal for Canyonlands' bobcats and the always elusive mountain lions.

Canyonlands also is home to desert bighorn sheep, though they're tough to spot. These animals roam the park's talus slopes and side canyons along the rivers, foraging on plants and negotiating the steep, rocky terrain with the greatest of ease. Once in danger of becoming extinct, the desert bighorn are now making a tentative comeback that has been fueled by the healthy herds in Canyonlands.

Canyonlands’ hot climate and lack of water seems to favor small mammals. Because of their size, these animals are less able to migrate, but have an easier time finding shelter and require less food and water to live. Rodents are numerous: there are nine species of mice and rats alone. Beavers, the largest North American rodent, are found along the Colorado and Green rivers. Since the rivers are too swift and broad to dam, beavers burrow dens in the banks.

Along with cacti and sand dunes, snakes and lizards are icons of the desert. The only reptiles found in Canyonlands are snakes and lizards, underappreciated, sometimes feared, animals that play an important role in the high desert ecosystem. Lizards and snakes help control insect and rodent populations.

After birds, lizards are the most active animals once daytime temperatures reach 90 degrees and higher. They are usually visible sunbathing on rocks or chasing insects with their lightning-quick reflexes. Lizards found in Canyonlands include the northern whiptail, the desert spiny, and the colorful western collared lizard.

Most of the snakes found in Canyonlands are harmless and nocturnal. All will escape from human confrontations given the opportunity. The midget-faded rattlesnake, a small subspecies of the western rattlesnake, has extremely toxic venom. However, full venom injections occur in only one third of all bites. The midget-faded rattlesnake lives in burrows and rock crevices and is mostly active at night.

An interesting fall visitor to Canyonlands is the black bear. An unusual sight in the red rock canyons, black bears follow river and stream corridors, like Salt Creek Canyon in the Needles District, that flow from nearby mountains. These visits generally occur in late August and September when prickly pear cacti and hackberry trees bear their fruit. The bears return to the mountains before winter.

Curious about what birds, animals, fish, amphibians, and reptiles you might encounter in the park? Search the list from this page.