Just as with these parks' plant life, elevation and availability of water determine what animals you'll see in any particular area. Zion, again, has the most diversity, with 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, and 44 species of reptiles and amphibians. Bryce Canyon also has plenty of wildlife to spot, with 59 species of mammals, 175 species of birds, and about 15 species of reptiles and amphibians. Most of the animals in the lower elevations are those of the desert -- small creatures such as lizards and snakes, kangaroo rats, rabbits, and squirrels. As the elevation increases, watch for prairie dogs, beavers, Bighorn sheep, and mule deer. In the high forests of Bryce Canyon, keep an eye out for elk, pronghorn, and, possibly, black bear.
Tip for Wildlife Watchers -- Although it's generally true that you'll see most animals -- especially mammals -- early and late in the day, finding a quiet spot can be almost as important. For instance, you're likely to see mule deer in Watchman Campground, at Zion, in midday. When practically all the campers have left for the trails or scenic drives, the deer take advantage of the quiet to stop in for a drink in the river.
Bighorn Sheep -- Named for the large, curving horns that the rams possess, desert Bighorn sheep are brown or light tan, with prominent white splotches on their rumps, faces, and legs. They inhabit isolated and harsh desert environments -- what appear to be the most inhospitable areas. Your best bet for seeing Bighorn sheep is in the steep, rocky areas on the east side of Zion National Park. They eat a variety of grasses and shrubs -- practically whatever is available -- and can go without water for more than 5 days.
Black Bears -- Although often black in the eastern United States, black bears in the West are usually brown or even tan. The males are big, up to about 6 feet tall and weighing over 500 pounds; the females are much smaller. Bears like wooded areas, usually below 7,000 feet of elevation, and there are occasional sightings in both parks. However, rather than actually seeing a bear in the flesh (or the fur), it's more likely that you'll see signs of the bear's presence, such as scat (bear droppings), decayed stumps or logs that have been torn apart for the grubs they contained, or tooth and claw marks on trees. Interestingly, bear footprints look similar to those made by humans, with the addition of a small round mark above each toe produced by the bear's claws.
Chipmunks -- Of the 22 species of chipmunks in North America, 21 can be found in the western United States. It is often difficult to tell one chipmunk species from another (at least for humans), but it's usually fairly easy to distinguish chipmunks from their cousins the squirrels, because chipmunks have black-and-white facial stripes and squirrels do not. The Uinta, least, and cliff species of chipmunks are found at both Bryce Canyon and Zion. The cliff chipmunk, which is often seen in rocky areas near cliffs, is usually the biggest of the three, sometimes reaching more than 10 inches long. The Uinta is usually seen scurrying about in pine and fir forests, such as those in both parks' campgrounds, while the least chipmunks are at home in open areas of desert terrain, such as the beginning sections of the Under the Rim Trail, at Bryce Canyon. All three have brown and gray fur, and black-and-white stripes on their backs (although the cliff chipmunks' stripes may be less distinct than the others), in addition to facial stripes.
Coyotes -- Coyotes are survivors, and they are increasing in population throughout the United States. They are seen -- or more often heard -- throughout both Zion and Bryce Canyon, where they hunt rabbits, rodents, and other small animals. Tan or yellow-gray, with bushy tails, coyotes look much like domestic dogs and usually weigh 30 to 40 pounds. They can run at over 25 mph, reaching 40 mph for short periods. One way to easily distinguish between a dog and a coyote is that coyotes run with their tails down, while domestic dogs run with their tails up. Coyote choruses are often heard at night, consisting of a series of sharp yelps, barks, and howls.
Elk -- Although not believed to be full-time residents of either park, Rocky Mountain elk are known to frequent the area and are sometimes spotted in or near the parks at the higher elevations, particularly in the fir and spruce forest at the southern end of Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Kolob Plateau in the northern part of Zion. Known for the buck's large racks of antlers, Rocky Mountain elk can reach weights of more than 1,000 pounds. Their coloring is usually brown or tan, with hints of yellow on their rumps and tails.
Mountain Lions -- These large cats, usually solid tan or beige, are also known as panthers, cougars, and pumas. They are occasionally seen in both Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. However, there have been more sightings in Zion than in Bryce Canyon in recent years, and it is believed that there are quite a few in the backcountry areas of Kolob Canyon. Because they avoid humans, your best chance of seeing one is in a remote area or along a quiet roadway late at night. At Bryce Canyon, you are most likely to see a mountain lion in the southern part of the park, in the backcountry along the Riggs Spring Loop Trail. Skilled hunters, mountain lions prefer to catch deer, and a single mountain lion can kill and consume a mule deer a week, if deer are plentiful. They also hunt coyotes, beavers, small mammals, and birds. Mountain lions will usually stash the leftovers from their kills, covering them with brush, sticks, and leaves, for later consumption.
Mule Deer -- The most commonly seen large animals at both parks, mule deer are often spotted near the campgrounds at Zion and along the Bryce Canyon scenic drive, especially in meadows along the edge of the forest. Considered medium-size as deer go, mule deer are usually reddish brown in summer and gray during the winter, with patches of white on their rumps and throats year-round. Their most distinguishing characteristic -- which has given them their name -- is their pair of huge, mulelike ears. Bucks can weigh up to 450 pounds, while doe usually weigh about one-third of that.
Prairie Dog -- These cute little critters are not dogs at all, but members of the squirrel family, making them rodents. The species at Bryce Canyon -- the Utah prairie dog -- is listed as a threatened species, which both amuses and annoys southern Utah ranchers, who consider it a pest. Utah prairie dogs are about a foot long, reddish-tan, and have small ears. Active during the day, prairie dogs live in park meadows in busy communities comprised of burrows, with mounds of dirt at each entrance. These colonies are strategically located in areas that have enough grass and other plants to sustain them, but with vegetation that is sparse and low enough for them to be able to spot predators with enough time to dart into their burrows. Prairie dogs seem to delight in alternately running about and standing at attention, and their antics are popular with park visitors. Warning: The bacteria that cause bubonic plague has been found on fleas in prairie dog colonies in Bryce Canyon, so you should avoid getting too close. Plus, they bite.
Pronghorn -- Commonly seen in open fields in the vicinity of Bryce Canyon National Park -- both within and outside the park -- pronghorns were reintroduced into the area after practically being eliminated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sometimes called the American antelope, pronghorns are usually reddish-tan, with white on their rump, chest, stomach, lower parts of their face, and inner legs. The fastest animals in the Western Hemisphere -- and the second fastest in the world behind the African cheetah -- pronghorns can reach speeds of 70 mph, and their speed, combined with excellent eyesight, enable them to escape most potential predators.
Rabbits -- You'll probably see several species of rabbits while visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Black-tailed jackrabbits, easily recognized by their tall ears and black tails, are observed frequently along the cliffs at the rim of Bryce Canyon, and throughout Zion. Usually gaunt-looking, with mostly gray fur, they have large hind feet. The cute desert cottontails are also found at both parks, although mostly at Zion in grasslands below 5,000 feet of elevation. Desert cottontails are usually a brownish gray, with black-tipped ears and a trademark tail that looks just like a little white ball of cotton. Both species are favorite foods of the coyote.
Ringtail -- Also known as miner's cats or Ringtail cats, Ringtails are not cats at all, but relatives of the raccoon. They have foxlike faces, with big, round, dark eyes, but their most conspicuous feature is their long, bushy, black-and-white tail. The Ringtail is usually about 30 inches long, and often more than half of that length is tail. Although common in Zion and present, although not in abundance, at Bryce Canyon, Ringtails are seldom seen because they sleep all day in caves or other quiet places and emerge only after dark, when their super-sharp claws and catlike agility enable them to catch rodents, small mammals, birds, and insects. They are also not above raiding campsites. Ringtails got the nickname "miner's cats" because, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were taken into mines, where they quickly eliminated the mouse and rat populations.
Squirrels -- Practically every visitor to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks will see squirrels -- at Zion, there's an abundance of white-tailed antelope and rock squirrels, while the most commonly seen species at Bryce Canyon is the golden-mantled ground squirrel, although there are plenty of rock and red squirrels as well. Often confused with chipmunks, which are generally the same size, shape, and coloring as squirrels, they are really quite easy to tell apart -- chipmunks have stripes on the sides of their faces and squirrels do not. The golden-mantled ground squirrel, which seems to think it owns the Bryce Canyon campgrounds, is especially attractive, with a white stripe bordered by two black stripes along each side of its brownish-gray body, and reddish-brown or copper-colored head and shoulders.
American Dipper -- Also called water ouzels, these birds are seen year-round in the Narrows at Zion National Park, where they dive into the Virgin River in search of aquatic insects. Mostly slate-gray, with a stocky build, short tail, and wings, they run along the river bottom underwater, and in shallow areas appear to be water-skiing on the surface.
Chickadee -- Mountain chickadees are abundant year-round at Bryce Canyon, both below the rim and throughout the ponderosa pine forest, up to 8,500 feet of elevation. In Zion, you'll find them in the piñon-juniper forest, such as along Watchman Trail, as well as in the higher elevations. These small birds -- only about 5 inches long -- have pale, gray backs, jet-black caps and eye bands, and white cheeks, eyebrows, and chests.
Eagles -- Both golden and bald eagles are seen fairly frequently at Bryce Canyon, especially near the cliffs along the rim. Both are occasionally seen at Zion, where golden eagles are sometimes spotted in the canyons and on the plateaus, while bald eagles are more commonly seen near water, including the Virgin River and its tributaries. Both species are large, with wingspans usually over 6 feet. The golden eagle is dark -- brown and black -- with light gold on the back of its neck. The bald eagle looks much like the golden eagle when young, but it develops a white head and tail and a more solidly black body as it matures. Bald eagles have yellow bills, which are larger than the dark gray bills of golden eagles. While golden eagles eat rabbits and large rodents, bald eagles generally prefer fish, which is why they are usually seen near bodies of water. A few golden eagles are year-round residents of both parks; fall through spring is the best time to see bald eagles.
Heron -- Large birds with long legs and necks, great blue herons are ideally suited for wading in the reservoirs and rivers of Zion National Park in search of a fish dinner. They will also eat insects, smaller birds, and rodents. They are sometimes seen as they migrate through the area in spring or fall. Great blue herons often stand over 4 feet tall, and have wingspans of almost 6 feet. In color, however, they are not really blue but mostly gray, with some black and white. They have a long, pointed yellow bill. Occasionally they are also seen in or near Bryce Canyon National Park.
Hummingbirds -- These colorful little birds are delightful to watch, as they hover at flowers sipping nectar, perform rambunctious aerial mating dances, or warn other hummingbirds away with tail-fanning and other displays. (You might also notice that hummingbirds can fly backward -- they're the only birds known to do this.) Among the species at Zion are the black-chinned, Costa's, broad-tailed, and rufous; while at Bryce Canyon, you will most likely see the black-chinned and broad-tailed, although rufous are occasionally spotted. The most colorful among these are the rufous: The males are a startling reddish-brown with an iridescent red-orange throat, while females have green backs with areas of reddish-brown on their tails and flanks.
Jays -- Among the noisiest and most raucous-sounding birds, jays are almost always heard before they are seen, although because of their size -- sometimes a foot long -- these year-round residents of both parks are easy to spot as well. Scrub jays, seen at numerous locations at both Zion and Bryce Canyon, often have a brilliant blue back, white or gray underneath, and a black mask. Steller's Jays are bright blue on their lower half and flat black above, with a prominent crest on the top of their heads. Piñon jays are deep blue, almost all over, with a bit of white on their throats and possibly other markings.
Nuthatches -- Seen year-round throughout both Bryce Canyon and Zion, especially at higher elevations, Nuthatches are known for their ability to walk down tree trunks with their heads aimed straight down. The white-breasted Nuthatch is the species most commonly spotted at Zion, sometimes along the upper sections of the West Rim Trail or in the Kolob Canyon area; it's also seen in various locations throughout Bryce Canyon. A white-breasted Nuthatch is about 6 inches long, with a blue back; a white face, chest, and belly; and a black cap on its head. The pygmy Nuthatch is commonly seen in the ponderosa pine forests in Bryce and occasionally observed in Zion. This tiny bird, rarely more than 4 1/2 inches from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail, is bluish-gray on its back and sides, white or light gray underneath, and has a dark cap on its head. Also frequently seen at Bryce Canyon -- generally in the forests above 8,500 feet -- but only occasionally at Zion, are red-breasted Nuthatches, which, not surprisingly, are recognized by their red or rust-colored chests. They have blue-gray backs and dark crowns, plus white eyebrows and a dark line behind each eye.
Peregrine Falcon -- Fairly common along the cliffs just below the rim at Bryce Canyon, and occasionally seen at Zion, peregrine falcons have wingspans that often exceed 3 feet, which helps make them one of the world's fastest birds, able to exceed 200 mph. They're known to breed at Zion and sometimes nest in the Weeping Rock area. Their back and wings are usually slate-gray or blue-gray, and this color projects vertically down their face in bands over their eyes. The rest of their face and neck is a light gray or white, and underneath, these falcons are usually a medium gray. During peregrine falcon nesting, which takes place from early spring to July, some areas at Zion National Park are off-limits to rock climbers. Pesticides drastically reduced the number of peregrine falcons in America in the 1950s and 1960s; and by 1970, there were only 39 breeding pairs known to exist in the continental United States. But after years on the endangered species list, they are on the increase again, thanks to a ban on many pesticides; in 1999, there were sufficient numbers of the birds that they were removed from the list. Interestingly, you'll also see peregrines in cities, where they nest on tall buildings or bridges and dine on pigeons.
Red-Tailed Hawk -- Year-round residents of both Bryce Canyon and Zion, red-tailed hawks are always on the lookout for small rodents, the mainstay of their diet. They're often seen as they glide over open areas in search of prey -- watch for them over the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon -- or perch in a tree at the edge of a meadow, watching for any movement in the grass. Stocky, with wingspans of about 4 feet, red-tails are named for their rust-colored tails. Their chests and faces are usually white, and their upper parts are variable, from light to dark brown.
Swallows -- Known for their long, pointed wings and superb grace while flying, flocks of swallows are often seen in both parks during the summer, soaring over the meadows and plateaus, and along the cliffs at the rim of Bryce Canyon. The most commonly seen species are violet-green swallows -- pretty little birds with striking, metallic-green backs, bright violet on their tails, and white faces and lower parts. Also watch for cliff swallows in both parks, not only near cliffs but also in the woods along the Virgin River at Zion. Cliff swallows have mostly blue-gray upper parts, with white below, but also often have dark auburn throats and foreheads.
Swifts -- This speedy bird (hence the name) not only catches and consumes its dinner of insects while flying, but also never perches, clinging instead to trees trunks and other vertical surfaces. White-throated swifts are found during the summer in the canyons and cliffs at both Zion and Bryce Canyon, often in the same areas as violet-green swallows . White-throated swifts are basically black and white -- the wings, tail, and top of the head are black; the lower face, throat, and most of the chest are white.
Turkey Vulture-- Birders in both Zion and Bryce Canyon have reported sightings of turkey vultures, also called buzzards, which are about the same size as eagles and, when flying, are sometimes mistaken for golden eagles. The main visual difference is that the turkey vulture has a red head, and, unlike the golden eagle, it can glide seemingly forever without flapping its wings, riding on columns of warm air known as thermals.
Reptiles & Amphibians
Canyon Treet Frog -- Often camouflaged among rocks near pools and streams in Zion National Park's side canyons, the canyon tree frog is generally olive, gray, or brown, with indistinct dark patches on its back. From 1 1/4 to 2 1/4 inches long, it often has a light spot below its eye. During the spring mating season, you can often hear a lively chorus of tree frogs.
Great Basin Rattlesnake -- A subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake, the Great Basin Rattlesnake is found both above and below the rim at Bryce Canyon, and in most areas of Zion. Generally they hibernate in winter, so you will most likely encounter them only April through October. Sometimes growing to more than 5 feet long, they are usually gray or light brown with dark patches on their backs. They have wide, triangular-shaped flat heads, and bony, interlocking segments on their tails, which produce a buzzing or hissing noise when shaken -- this usually happens when the snake is agitated. Each time the snake sheds its skin, which can occur up to five times a year, the rattle gets a new segment. These snakes are highly poisonous, but usually only attack humans when they feel threatened. Because they are mainly nocturnal, those walking in isolated areas at night should use flashlights to avoid stepping on them.
Mountain Short-Horned Lizard -- These little lizards -- usually between 2 and 4 inches long -- are found in abundance in a variety of habitats in Bryce Canyon National Park and at higher elevations at Zion. They are active mostly during the day, and their diet consists mainly of ants, but they will also eat other insects and even small snakes. Mountain short-horned lizards have a broad, flat body, short tail, and short horns on the back of their heads. They are usually reddish brown, with darker spots on their backs.
Northern Sagebrush Lizard -- Commonly seen on trails below the rim at Bryce Canyon National Park and in the dry, open areas of rocks and sagebrush at Zion, the northern sagebrush lizard is slim, at least compared to the mountain short-horned lizard discussed above, and brown to grayish-green in color; the males have blue markings on their bellies. This lizard may also have stripes of various shades of brown or light tan running the length of its body.
Zion Snail -- One creature unique to Zion National Park is the Zion snail, which you'll only find clinging to wet canyon walls in a 4-mile section of the Narrows along the Virgin River -- the Riverside Walk as it enters the Narrows is a good place to see them. The walls are kept moist by seeps and springs, which also nurture hanging gardens. This tiny snail, complete with shell, is a mere eighth of an inch or less across, and to the naked eye appears to be just a dark brown or black speck on a shiny, wet wall. They hold onto the slick walls with a suction-cup foot, which in proportion to the creature's size is the biggest foot of any snail, a phenomenon that has caused some park rangers to refer to the Zion snail as "our little bigfoot." Please do not attempt to touch these fragile creatures.
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