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.
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 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
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 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
when afraid and hum when contented.
are omnivorous; their diet consists of about 75 percent
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
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
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-------------------------------------------->
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 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
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 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
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.--------------------------------------->
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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