While your prime motivation for visiting Mesa Verde National Park more than likely was to tour the park's cliff dwellings, there are quite a few locals you might come upon during your visit.
Among the animals you might spy while visiting the park are coyotes, desert cottontails, perhaps a gray fox and, no doubt, some squirrels.
Mesa Verde contains several habitats that support a great diversity of resident and migratory wildlife. The park has been named a Colorado Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society, and has two Protected Activity Centers and three breeding Core Areas for the threatened Mexican Spotted Owl totaling 5,312 acres. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program and The Nature Conservancy have classified all of Mesa Verde National Park within their Network of Conservation Areas (NCA) because of exceptional occurrences of rare plant and animal species.
The park's geographic isolation and its location in a geographic transition zone, help provide niches for this wide variety of animal species. Currently, about 74 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 16 species of reptiles, five species of amphibians, six species of fishes (four of which are native), and over 1,000 species of insects and other invertebrates spend at least part of the year within park boundaries. Some animal species, such as the native fishes and amphibians, are confined to rather narrow econiches in a single biotic community. Others, such as coyote, deer, and other large mammals, are found in a wide range of habitats.
Ecological relationships, such as with the rare Black Swallowtail Butterfly who's larvae feed on one of the park's rare endemic plants, the Mesa Verde Wandering Aletes, are found in the park. If we lose the plant, the butterfly may disappear as well. Some insects found in Mesa Verde and Yucca House in recent years are entirely new to Colorado and to science, such as the Mesa Verde tiger beetle and the Anasazi digger bee.
For a list of mammals found in the park, click here.
For a list of reptiles, amphibians, and fish found in the park, click here.
As you visit Mesa Verde, remember that approaching, feeding, harassing, hunting, trapping or capturing any wild animal in the park is against the law.
Birding at Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park is home to several distinct habitats. If you are an avid birder, make sure to purchase a copy of the brochure, "Checklist of the Birds" at the visitor center. This will help you locate where species are found in the park.
Most hiking trails within the park do not enter the deep canyons because federal law has closed the backcountry to protect the archaeological sites and natural resources. However, if you are visiting the park during late spring when migration and nesting are in progress, you can see many bird species at any point in the park.
Take the Petroglyph Point or Spruce Canyon Trail and look for warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, jays, hawks, chickadees, titmice, and other species. The Knife Edge Trail also has good birding. If you are lucky, you may see a peregrine falcon or a golden eagle soar from its nest out across the Montezuma Valley.
During the summer months, you can take any of the above-mentioned trails or walk the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail near Balcony House, or the short trail to the Park Point lookout. The Park Point area is a good place to see hawks, towhees, grouse and eagles, in addition to the many species listed above.
In the fall, you may want to take the Knife Edge Trail early in the morning to catch migrating warblers and hummingbirds feeding on the Indian Paint Brush.
If you are one of the few winter visitors, most trails are closed. But be on the lookout for chickadees, nuthatches, an occasional brown creeper, canyon wrens, woodpeckers, flickers, and jays during your Spruce Tree House tour. Turkey vultures usually arrive in late March and leave in early October, so the large black birds you see will likely be common ravens or the vivid black-billed magpie.
The riparian area of Mesa Verde is largely inaccessible within the park. To access a similar habitat, take one of the county roads west of Mancos and follow the road along the Mancos River. You will see ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons, possibly an American dipper, flocks of western and mountain bluebirds, lots of red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds, and bald and golden eagles. Depending on the season, you may also spot migrating waxwings, goldfinches, evening grosbeaks, a variety of flycatchers, both ruby and golden-crowned kinglets, four or five varieties of swallows, and other species as well.
Bird watching in Mesa Verde is not as impressive as some specialized areas, but it is an exciting and worthwhile experience. Ask rangers at the Far View Visitor Center or Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum for special hints if you are on the lookout for that certain species you want to add to your life list. Fill out a wildlife sighting card if you see something rare or unusual. Such sightings are added to the park's resource management data file, providing a detailed permanent record that assists researchers.