Wildlife Watching Overview: Grand Canyon National Park

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Grand Canyon Highlights

  • More than 300 species of birds inhabit Grand Canyon National Park. Bald eagles, hawks, falcons, and the spotted owl are some of the many types of birds found in the park.
  • Near Vermillion Cliffs west from the town of Marble Canyon, you may catch a glimpse of the California condor, an endangered species that was reintroduced to the area in the winter of 1996-1997. Peregrine falcons nest in the canyons along the cliffs as well.
  • Approximately 250 species of birds can be found in the Colorado River corridor, some are permanent nesting residents while others are temporary residents using this as a stop for migration or winter habitat. Between Lees Ferry and Soap Creek, 19 species of waterfowl have been spotted in the winter at a rate of 130+ ducks per mile.

A pair of night-vision glasses would be useful for wildlife watching at Grand Canyon. Because of the hot, dry weather, many animals lay low when the sun is high. Even the lizards and snakes are less active until the temperature along the ground approaches 78 degrees—during summer at least, this too can be nighttime. Although the critters aren't always apparent, the diversity of wildlife makes this a great place for wildlife watching. Because the canyon spans over 6,000 vertical feet of elevation, its species range from 1,000 pound elk on the rims to scorpions on the canyon floor. Although you should never feed or approach any wild animal (including squirrels and ravens), seeing them can be fun.

The best places for birdwatching in Grand Canyon
It's not hard to view amazing birds at Grand Canyon. If you spend more than a few minutes at any rim overlook, you'll see swifts and swallows darting through the air after insects; red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, and vultures soaring on the thermals rising from the canyon; and ravens begging food scraps (when not impersonating raptors). At night, western pipestral bats careen through the air along the rims.

Near the river you'll find other, less common birds, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, both of which have thrived in the canyon in recent years. Rarest of all is the California Condor. The largest land bird in North America, the California condor was reintroduced to the wild near Lee's Ferry in 1996. These birds, the largest land birds in the world, often wander through Grand Canyon and have occasionally visited busy canyon overlooks.

The best places to see large mammals
Large mammals including deer, elk, and coyote abound on both canyon rims. To see elk, look in the Kaibab National Forest on the South Rim near Grandview Point. You can see deer almost anywhere, provided it's not broad daylight. Bighorn sheep occupy the canyon's interior and make occasional forays onto the rim. Coyotes sometimes frequent the dumpsters in the South Rim gateway town of Tusayan. On the North Rim, watch the meadows at twilight for deer, wild turkey, and coyote. Cat species—including bobcats and mountain lions—make very rare appearances.

The best places to see lizards
To see a lizard at Grand Canyon, look near your feet. The canyon has dozens of reptile species, spanning rim to river. Among the most colorful is the western collared lizard, which has blue, green, and yellow markings in addition to the black bands around its neck; and the chuckwalla, which can expand its skin to wedge itself between rocks. Also present are snakes, including the Grand Canyon rattlesnake, whose pinkish skin is uniquely suited to the reddish canyon soils.


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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