Animals of the Greater Yellowstone Region
a woefully inadequate list

Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. Yellowstone Park is home to the largest concentration of large and small mammals in the lower 48 states. Most of the animals that live in Yellowstone Park also inhabit regions of Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding states of Wyoming.

Wild animals, especially females with young, are unpredictable. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year a number of park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely. Approaching on foot within 100 yards of bears or wolves or within 25 yards of other wildlife is prohibited. Please use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife. Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to their needs, you will see more of an animal's natural behavior and activity. If you cause an animal to move, you are too close! It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.

Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check at visitor centers for detailed information.


Wildlife-Yellowstone - Images by Daryl Hunter


A trophy buck ~ through the years.

A hunt is a hunt whether you will hunt an animal for harvest or photograph it, or to catch it only to release into the river. You seek it out, stalk it, and either shoot it, catch it, or click the shutter. Either way you hope to get either food for your freezer, the thrill of the catch, or a cover of a magazine................................all in Jackson Hole and Yellowstone is a goldmine for hunting no mater the apparatus of choice. The region is resplendent with many regal antlered creatures, elk are the obvious but Mule Deer are my favorite to photograph............................rest of the story

Elk Cervus elaphus

 

A bull elk watching his harem in Jackson Hole Wyoming

Elk were named by the early settlers, but some people prefer to call it by the Shawnee name wapiti (WAA-pi-tea) meaning "white rump." The name "elk" is a bit confusing because in Europe, moose are called "elk." and the European "red deer" is the same as the North American elk, which muddies the water even further. Evidently the same naming scheme that called for the American bison to be called a buffalo.

Elk were valued by the early settlers and Native Americans as a valuable food source, hides and fur for clothing, and antlers for utensils and trophies. Today elk are economically valuable for hunting and tourism they bring to the mountains of the west.

At the turn of the century, commercial game hunters, hired riflemen and subsistence hunters had killed off most of the elk in the west. In 1910, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that fewer than 1,000 elk remained in Colorado. A 1918 survey of Forest Service lands in Idaho showed only 610 elk remained. Places where elk had been protected, these prolific animals rebounded quickly. The winters of 1897, 1909, 1911 and 1917 all coinciding with the loss of their traditional wintering grounds to cattle ranching were also very tough on them. About 10,000 elk starved in Jackson Hole during the winter of 1897, a decade before Jackson Hole became the home of the National Elk Refuge.------------------------> more about elk  

 

Mule Deer
 

Trophy Wyoming Non-typical buck mule deer

Mule deer can be found throughout the entire western United States, including the deserts of the American Southwest, Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independently, as do mules, hence the name, "Mule Deer." This stocky deer has sturdy legs and is 4 to 6-1/2 feet in length and 3 to 3-1/2 feet high at the shoulder. Most Mule deer are brown or gray in color with a small white rump patch and a small, black-tipped tail. Mule deer their fawns have white spots at birth. Buck deer have antlers that start growth in spring and are shed around December, these antlers are high and branch forward and reach a spread up to 4 feet in width bucks are larger than does. The life span of a mule deer in the wild is 10 years, but mule deer have lived for up to 25 years in captivity.

Mule deer can thrive nearly anyplace; their habitats include woodland chaparral, Sonoran desert, semi-desert, shrub woodland, Great Plains grasslands, shrub land forest, sagebrush steppe, and boreal forest. Mule deer are remarkably adaptable, of at least sixty types of habitat west of the 100th meridian in the United States, all but two or three are or once were home to mule Deer.

Mountain mule deer seasonally migrate from the higher elevations of the sub-alpine forests they inhabit during summer to lower elevations of the mountain valleys and desert lowlands. Deer prefer rocky windswept buttes where it is easier for them to find food during the winter and that provide escape from predators as needed...................................more about mule deer

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
 
Fighting Bighorn Sheep in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep make their homes in the highest parts of the mountains, where people find it difficult to go. The Grace and beauty of the Bighorn Sheep is a treasure to see if you are lucky enough to come across any. Their agility and grace in their steep and rocky home is a marvel to watch. Bighorns are considered to the most regal of all big game animals.

Native Americans and early settlers prized bighorn meat as the most enjoyable of All-American big-game menu choices. The Native Americans also used the horns to fashion ceremonial spoons and handles for their utensils. Horns have also been popular for many centuries as trophies for proud hunters.

The natural range of The Rocky Mountain Bighorn is from southern Canada to Colorado. During the summer they inhabit high elevation alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes and foothill country, all near rugged, rocky cliffs and bluffs, allowing for quick escape from mountain lion, wolves or bears. In winter, Bighorn prefer south facing slopes from 3,000 to 6,000 foot elevation where annual snowfall is less and the sun and wind help clear off the slopes, because they cannot paw through deep snow to feed.-----------------> more about bighorn sheep   

 

Shiras Moose

Four bull moose fighting in Grand Teton National Park

The Shiras moose also known as Wyoming moose, is the smallest of North America’s moose however it is still quite large. The Shiras moose are found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and in isolated areas of Utah, Colorado, and Washington.

The Shiras Bull Moose has smaller antlers than the Canada moose. Its body color is a rusty-brown to black with pale-brownish saddle and its legs are gray to white. The Shiras cow moose are slightly smaller than the male and does not have antlers. The bulls can grow to seven feet tall at the shoulder and can reach10 feet in length. Mature Shira's moose weigh 600 to 1400 pounds. The cow moose weigh between 500 and 1200 pounds. Bull Moose have antlers that can span five feet and weigh up to 50 pounds. It has smaller antlers than the Canada moose and the antlers are shed between November and January.

Breeding occurs from mid-September through mid-October. Cow moose attract males with both calls and the scent of estrous. Bulls as do all ungulates engage in fights with other bulls to win the right to breed the cow moose. Bull moose behavior during mating season includes scraping their antlers on trees, creating wallows to roll in, not eating causing large weight loss and they become more aggressive than usual and may charge at people and cars.-------------------------------------------->more about moose

Grizzly Bears
 

Grizzily #399 and her three cubs in Grand Teton National Park

The grizzly bear population within the Yellowstone ecosystem is estimated to be approximately 280-610 (Eberhardt and Knight 1996) bears. The park does not have a current estimate of the black bear population; black bears are considered to be common in the park.

During the last 23 years (1980-2002), bears have injured 32 people within YNP. Grizzly bears and black bears were involved in 25 (78%) and 4 (13%) of the injuries, respectively. The species of bear could not be determined for 3 (9%) of the injuries. Three injuries occurred within a developed area, 2 occurred during a bear management handling accident, and 27 occurred in backcountry areas. Of the people injured while hiking, 57% were hiking off-trail. All (100%) backcountry hiking injuries involved people hiking in groups of less than 3 people. Bear Management Area restrictions reduce the chance of bear/human encounters and the risk of bear-caused human injury in areas with known seasonal concentrations of grizzly bears.------------------------------->more about grizzly bears   

Wolves
 

Two wolves traversing a ridge below Death Canyon in the Grand Tetons

Perhaps more than any other member of the animal kingdom, wolves have historically played the villain's role. Misperceptions about wolves have abounded for centuries, historically, cultures worldwide, believed that wolves were so aggressive that they posed a risk to humans but, ironically, wolves are wary of humans because man has been killing wolves for millennia. Folklore is littered with proverbs and metaphors about this fearsome carnivore, from Peter and the Wolf in Russia to the wolf’s mysticism in Native American culture; wolves have long been a powerful symbol. Even today, wolves engender excitement merely at the possibility of an appearance on the wilderness stage.

The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Region are members of the Canidae family, the Gray wolf (canis lupus), can grow to 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length. Adult males average about 100 pounds, but can weigh as much as 130 pounds. Females weigh slightly less. Gray wolves live up to 13 years old and can range in color from black, gray, or nearly white. A wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female, called the alpha pair. In each pack, the alphas are usually the only ones to breed. Most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups per year. Pack sizes vary considerably, depending on the size of the wolf population in a particular area, whether they are feeding pups and the quantity of prey available. In the northern Rocky Mountains, packs average ten wolves, but the Druid pack in Yellowstone once had 37 members. The Druid pack later split forming several smaller packs. --------------------------> more

Black Bear - Ursus Americanus
 

Black Bear, Grand Yellowstone National Park

The black bear (Ursus Americanus) ranges across forested Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia as well as much of the United States. A solitary animal most of the year, they pair up briefly during the mating season. Cubs remain with their mother for about a year, who protects which prevents them from being killed by the adult males. 

Black bears swim well and often climb trees to feed on buds and fruit. They have a keen sense of smell, acute hearing, but poor eyesight. They can be seen at any hour of the day, but are most active at night. When very young, the cubs cry when afraid and hum when contented. 

Black bears are omnivorous; their diet consists of about 75 percent vegetable matter, 15 percent carrion, and 10 percent insects and small mammals. Their love for honey is well known, and sweet, ripe corn in autumn also attracts them. 

They have few enemies, but the one they fear the most is the Grizzly. Whenever their territories overlap, the latter is given a wide berth.---------------------------> More 

Bison
 
American Bison and Grand Tetons

The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is the only place in the lower 48 states where an endemic population of wild bison has survived since prehistoric times. Perhaps no other animal symbolizes the American West like the American bison. In prehistoric times millions of these quintessential creatures of the plains roamed the North America from northern Canada, south into Mexico and from Atlantic to the pacific. No one knows how many bison were in America before Columbus arrived but the guesstimate is about sixty million. They were the largest community of wild animals that the world has ever known. For a good part of the 1800s bison were considered to be in limitless supply.

After the Civil War the push to settle the west was on, new army posts were established, coinciding with the westward push of the railroads. The army and railroads contracted with local men to supply buffalo meat to feed the troops and construction laborers.

Bison were hunted nearly to extinction in the late 1800’s--------------------------------------------> More

Pronghorn Antelope
 
Pronghorn antelope, yellowstone
Yellowstone region Pronghorn in Grand Teton National Park

When Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, the pronghorn population was reported to be in the thousands. However, the number of these animals declined as the Yellowstone area became settled. In addition, hunting continued in the park until 1883. By 1886, when the U.S. Cavalry arrived to administer the park, the pronghorn had been largely decimated. The Cavalry took measures to increase the number of these animals. Their tactics, controlling predators and providing supplemental feed, proved successful almost immediately.

The Pronghorn is a species of artiodactyl mammal native to interior western and central North America. Though not a true antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the Prong Buck, Pronghorn Antelope or simply Antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of Africa and fills a similar ecological niche due to convergent evolution. The pronghorn is the ‘real' Great Plains large mammal. Although we often associate bison with rolling prairies, they are more adapted for living in woodland habitats than the American pronghorn. In fact, the pronghorn has never found subsistence outside the High Plains and sagebrush flats of the American West.------------------> More about Pronghorn

Mountain Goats
 
Mountain Goat takes a leap of faith on the snowy cliffs just north of Alpine Wyoming

The Mountain Goats of the Greater Yellowstone eco-system make a home on the vertical planes of the Rocky Mountains where they cling and move around on the impossibly steep slopes of this unforgiving and barren terrain, Mountain Goats can survive on scant food in incredibly hostile environs. Mountain goats fit perfectly into the category of "charismatic mega-fauna." Their beauty, grace, and athleticism, is a treat to watch and their cute faces are always a thrill to see. The kids are precocious, able to move on steep slopes within hours of birth, an awe-inspiring site in itself.

Although the Yellowstone Ecosystem has an abundance of Mountain Goat habitat, Goats are not endemic to the region. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, there were several hundred of the shaggy cliff dwelling creatures transplanted from western Montana to the Beartooth, Absaroka, Madison, Bridger, and Crazy mountains and the Snake River Range. Hundreds of them now inhabit the high country. Some of those animals are willing to leave their preferred high-elevation habitat to cross rivers, and valleys too colonize new places. There haven’t been any transplants in the Gallatin Range, for instance, but goats thrive there today. -----------------------> more

Mountain Lion - Cougar (Puma concolor)
 
Mountain Lion in Snow, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Mountain lion returning to kill outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming

The Mountain Lion cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, cougar, or panther, is a member of the Felidae family, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable species, the cougar is found in every major North American habitat.

The Mountain lions of Yellowstone region were significantly reduced by predator control measures during the early 1900s. It is reported that 121 lions were removed from the park between the years 1904 and 1925. Then, the remaining population was estimated to be 12 individuals. Mountain lions apparently existed at very low numbers between 1925 and 1940. They maintain a secretive profile in the Yellowstone region. Although the cougar population numbered in the hundreds during the early 1900s, controlled hunts between 1904 and 1925 decimated the population. Today, twenty to thirty-five mountain lions reportedly inhabit Yellowstone Park, but sightings are rare.

Shy and elusive, mountain lions live solitary lives and practice mutual avoidance. Males and females interact for breeding when females are about 2 1/2 years old. Giving birth throughout the year, females can have litters of up to four kittens, but usually only one or two survive. Born spotted, the kittens stay with their mothers for about 18 months, after which time they will leave in search of their own home range.---------------------------------------> More

River Otter - Lontra canadensis 
 
Yellowstone River Otters in Trout Lake in North Yellowstone

The North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) is a semi-aquatic mammal native to the North American continent and is found in and along its waterways and coasts and are common in the Greater Yellowstone Eco-system.

When you get lucky it is surely a pleasure to watch them frolic and play, they are among the most playful of animals they provide the most entertainment value, whether it’s sliding down snow banks on its belly or ice fishing. They like to wrestle, chase other otters, and play capture and release with live prey. Each of these "games" helps the otter become better coordinated and helps them fit into the social structure of the group.

Seeing them around Yellowstone requires a great deal of serendipitous luck but a place that is easiest to find the in Trout Lake in Northeast Yellowstone in July. The otters there are pretty habituated to humans and are less spooky than any others I have ever seen...................More

Marmot
 
The yellow-bellied marmot

The yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris), also known as the rock chuck, is a ground squirrel in the marmot genus. They are heavy-set, brown grizzled animal with white areas on the chin and (as the name suggests) a yellowish belly. Marmots can be waddling fat in the fall, and their long fur makes them look even fatter. Adults are about 26 inches long and weigh up to about 11 pounds.

They live in the western United States and southwestern Canada, including the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada and are abundant here in the Greater Yellowstone Region. They inhabit steppes, meadows, talus fields and other open habitats, sometimes on the edge of deciduous or coniferous forests, and typically above 6,500 feet of elevation.............................More about Marmots

The Yellowstone Coyote (Canis latrans)
 
A coyote in Yellowstone National Park

A common site in the Greater Yellowstone region is coyotes hunting in the meadows for mice. It is fun to watch them stalk then leap high in the air for the decisive pounce that of ten times produces an unfortunate rodent.

The Yellowstone coyotes were living large in Yellowstone National Park for nearly a century. But after wolf reintroduction it became a different reality for the coyote. The exponential growth of the wolf population has been a bane for the former big dog of Yellowstone. The previously abundant coyotes have dropped off fifty percent from pre-wolf years. For some animals, this can be good news. Pronghorn antelope fawns, for instance, are frequent prey of coyotes. Anecdotal evidence so far is showing that Yellowstone's pronghorn population is doing better, with better fawn survival where wolves are present to keep coyote populations down..............................More about Coyotes

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
 
Red Fox kit in Jackson Hole Wyoming

You’ve probably read stories about the cunning fox trying to outwit his animal brothers and sisters. Foxes no doubt got their crafty reputation from the way they look, with their long thin faces and yellow eyes that have narrow slits for pupils. But in real life, foxes are more concerned with finding food than with playing tricks on anyone.

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes, as well as being the most geographically diverse member of the Carnivora, being distributed across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America, and the Asian steppes. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australasia, where it is considered harmful to native mammal and bird populations, as is the case with many non-endemic species. Because of these factors, it is listed as Least Concern for extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  .......................more about Red Fox

Beavers  (genus Castor)
 
Beaver packing willows to his lodge

The beaver is utterly familiar, forty inches long, and over a foot upright, a beaver seems like a little person with a fondness for engineering. Beavers live throughout North America. They have brown fur and large, flat tails. They are among the most skilled builders in the animal kingdom. American beavers build structures called dams that stop flowing water. These dams help create wetlands. This provides habitat for mammals, fish, frogs, turtles, birds, and ducks. Their handiwork can be seen throughout the Greater Yellowstone System.

Native American legend across the country holds that the Great Spirit build the land, make the seas, and fill both well with animals and people: Long, long ago when the Great Waters surged in a blind and shoreless world, the gigantic beaver swam and dove and spoke with the Great Spirit. The two of them brought up all the mud they could carry, digging out the caves and canyons and shaping the mud into hills and dales, making mountains where cataracts plunged and sang. Some tribes believe that thunder was caused by the great beaver slapping his tail........................more about beavers

Yellowstone Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
 
Bald Eagle leaving nest
Bald Eagles are again a common site along the rivers and lakes of the Greater Yellowstone Region, and they always bring a thrill to my tour and wildlife safari guests whenever they set their eyes on one of these magnificent birds. The bald eagle holds a position in the pecking order that parallels that of the grizzly. Of all the birds in the park, visitors are most interested in spotting this photogenic species. The Yellowstone/Grand Teton area is now home to one of largest populations of eagles in the continental United States They can be found along the lakes and rivers of Yellowstone where they perch in trees watching for fish. The Yellowstone Plateau, Snake River, Yellowstone Lake, and headwaters of the Madison River are prime spotting areas for this spectacular bird........................more about Bald Eagles
Pine Marten (Martes americana)
 
Pine Marten / American Marten

Life is full of surprises; you will rarely find a grizzly bear photographer as thrilled as when they get the opportunity to photograph a Pine Marten or long tail weasel during the course of their pursuit of photographing grizzlies. Grizzlies are easy for them to find, to get the opportunity to photograph a Pine Marten or a weasel it is a rare event.

Greater Yellowstone's American Marten or Pine Marten as they are colloquially know around here is a North American member of the family Mustelidae (Martes americana). The name "Pine Marten" is derived from the common but distinct Eurasian species of Martes....................More about Pine Martens

Yellowstone Owls
 
Great Grey Owl coming in for a landing

Here in the Greater Yellowstone area we have a good population of a variety of owls. Owls being mostly nocturnal are seldom seen by Yellowstone visitors, but they surely are a treat for the photographers who succeed at seeking them out.

The most common is the Great Horned Owl which is one of the most widespread owls in North America. Great Horned Owls can vary in color from reddish brown to a grey or black and white. The underside is a light grey with dark bars and a white band of feathers on the upper breast. They have large, staring yellow-orange eyes, bordered in most races by an orange-buff facial disc. The name is derived from tufts of feathers that appear to be "horns" Great Horned Owls hunt by perching on snags and poles and watching for prey, or by gliding slowly above the ground. From high perches they dive down to the ground with wings folded, before snatching prey. Their prey is usually killed instantly when grasped by its large talons. .......................... more about Yellowstone owls

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