Bryce Canyon National Park Wildlife Viewing Overview

Gorp.com

The forests and meadows of Bryce Canyon support a remarkable diversity of animal life. At the bottom of the food chain is a huge rodent population that feeds directly on seeds, nuts, and other vegetable material. Chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmots, pine squirrels, and prairie dogs are active during the day and are replaced at dusk by their nocturnal counterparts—mice, woodrats, voles, and gophers. These small mammals, together with jackrabbits and cottontails, are preyed upon by small populations of night hunters, including badgers, skunks, bobcats, weasels, ringtailed cats, gray foxes, and coyotes.

Mule deer are the largest mammals at Bryce Canyon. They can usually be seen on summer mornings and evenings in meadows along park roads. By browsing on shrubs and young trees along the margin of the forest they help maintain the meadow environment. But unchecked numbers of deer can quickly outstrip available vegetation. Cougars, also called pumas and mountain lions, are perhaps the most secretive animals at Bryce Canyon—and with good reason. Man has critically reduced the cougar population with guns, traps, and poison. These big cats are still hunted on public lands surrounding the park. The rugged slickrock country below the Pink Cliffs is one of the last refuge areas for these graceful animals in western North America. Mule deer and cougars have a mutually beneficial prey-predator relationship. A single cougar may kill up to 50 deer each year, taking the young, old, and sick members of the herd and preserving a balanced, healthy deer population.

During the summer porcupines feed on leaves, berries, nuts, bark, and wildflowers. When winters are particularly snowy, these animals may be forced to depend upon young ponderosa pine and other trees for food. Since their quills can be deadly to most carnivores, porcupine have few natural enemies.

More than 164 species of birds visit Bryce Canyon annually, with the greatest variety between May and October. Predacious, omnivorous, and herbivorous species are supported by a broad food base of insects, berries, nuts, and rodents. Swifts and swallows can be seen darting for insects along cliff faces; woodpeckers and nuthatches concentrate their efforts in tall trees; meadowlarks, bluebirds, and robins are most active in meadow areas.

By October most species begin to prepare for winter. Mule deer, cougars, and coyotes migrate to lower elevations. Most bird species migrate to warmer climates: Jays, nuthatches, ravens, hawks, and owls are notable exceptions. Blue grouse are permanent residents also, subsisting on spruce and fir needles during long winters. Marmots and ground squirrels hibernate until spring.

Man has greatly reduced, and in some cases eliminated, large mammal species that originally existed at Bryce Canyon. The grizzly bear and timber wolf are gone; elk, cougar, bighorn sheep, and black bear are rare. Unfortunately, the park is not large enough to afford adequate protection for these animals, which will slowly disappear in the face of human population pressure.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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