WILDLIFE OF THE GRAND CANYON
There are many species of animals living in the Grand Canyon, of which, the most notable are the mountain lion, California condor, Grand Canyon rattlesnake, Arizona Bark scorpion, big-horn sheep and over 20 species of bats.
to download our Grand Canyon Animal Checklist to keep a record of the animals you see on your hike.
The following animals do live there and you may be lucky to catch a glimpse.
Sherpa Sam says: "Don’t be too disappointed if you don’t see many animals or insects on your trip. It may be because they have already seen you and are keeping a low profile".
Mule deer (Odocoileus Hemionus) and Elk (Cevus Elaphus)
Mule deer are the most commonly sighted mammals in the Grand Canyon especially in the South Rim.
Elk are related to the deer family but much larger than most species. They can often be seen grazing near the forested areas of Grandview Point at the South Rim and the entrance of the North Rim.
Warning: You are advised to drive at low speeds to avoid potential confrontations with these beautiful animals as they often dart in front of cars.
Fun fact: Mule deer are indigenous to western North America and get their name because their ears are large like a mule’s.
Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)
The Mountain Lion is often referred to as the cougar and is the second heaviest cat in the Americas after the jaguar. They are rarely seen in the canyon as they are solitary and secretive and hunt at night.
Ringtail cats (Bassariscus astutus)
The Ringtail cat belongs to the racoon family and is mainly found in America’s arid regions including the Grand Canyon. Again, these cats are nocturnal so you may not see one.
Warning: they can forage for food in campgrounds so if you are camping, keep your food well packed up and out of reach!
Coyotes (Canis latrans)
Coyotes are widely distributed throughout America. They are a common sight at the Grand Canyon and can be seen both in the canyon and on the tops of the rims.
They mainly eat rodents and carrion but are also not averse to sneaking into campsites and rummaging in garbage bins in search of food. They can quickly adapt to human-modified environments.
The Grand Canyon is home to 22 species of bats and provides much needed sheltered habitat as more and more bat habitats are destroyed across much of the world. There are several species of bats found on the Kaibab Plateau — big brown bats, silver-haired bats and Mexican free-tailed bats all live in the area. They all have one thing in common: they are voracious insect eaters. A small bat can eat up to 5,000 insects a night! They can live up to 35 years.
In North America, bats are also under massive threat from a fungal disease which enjoys cold temperatures with high humidity called White-Nose Syndrome.
Big Horn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
It is thought the ancestors of this native of North America travelled through the Bering land bridge from Siberia to North America. Their numbers proliferated over the years until European colonisation of the New World which saw a dramatic reduction in populations due to overhunting, competition for grazing and lack of immunity to new diseases.
Conservation efforts in the last few decades have seen numbers recovering and they can now be seen along the canyon walls, climbing, walking and jumping among the precipitous terrain.
Fun Fact: Due to their ability to survive in some of the West’s most inhospitable environments, Bighorn sheep have a significant position in native American mythology, associated with the sky they are considered sacred guardian spirits rather than a food source.
"I was hiking in the Grand Canyon [at] the Bright Angel Trail [and] ran across these canyon dwellers about a half-mile or so into the journey. As I was dropping down the trail and rounding a switchback... on a ledge was this herd of bighorns. I was thrilled and excited, so I started shooting pictures. It's amazing how sure-footed these creatures are, and to see how they maneuver is an awesome lesson in nature by itself."
The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
Within the Grand Canyon, you can see a large number of birds of prey. The Californian condor is the most noticeable despite being on the endangered list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They almost became extinct in the 20th century until a captive breeding programme began in 1983.
In 1996, six young condors were released back into the wild at Vermilion Cliffs, just north of the Grand Canyon. This re-introduction program has been a great success with over 70 condors now living in the area of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Croatalus oreganus abyssus)
The rattle on the end of the snake’s tail is made of modified scales which make a rattling sound. This scares away any would-be predator. By dispensing with an enemy without a fight, the rattlesnake preserves itself and reserves its venom for hunting.
Warning: There are 7 highly venomous reptile species in the Grand Canyon - 6 species of rattlesnake and the Gila Monster (lizard). Only view them from a distance!
The Chukwalla Lizard (Sauromalus ater)
The Chuckwalla lizard is the second largest lizard in the U.S. and can measure up to 18 inches. They can be seen soaking up the sun on the banks of the Colorado river at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, They are harmless creatures and if disturbed, gulp air to inflate their bodies and wedge themselves in a tight rock.
Fun fact: The Chuckwalla lizard needs to raise its body temperature to 100-105 degrees F before it can forage for food.
The Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus)
North America’s most venomous scorpion is the Arizona Bark scorpion and it lives in the Grand Canyon. During winter months they travel in packs of between 20-30.
Fun fact: Females are pregnant for 9 months and babies are glued to their mothers’ backs for 3 weeks until they can fend for themselves.
Warning: Its bite can cause excruciating pain for 24-72 hours with temporary loss of breath and convulsions.
Bark scorpions love to climb and can climb blankets and sheets looking for shelter - so keep your bedding off the floor!
Bird species from the Grand Canyon
Thanks to the rich and diverse ecosystems present in the Grand canyon, some 447 bird species can be found in the Grand Canyon National Park including some raptors such as eagles (bald eagle, golden eagle), hawks, falcons, ospreys, owls, condors and vultures to name but a few. Their sizes can go from quite small, like the Northern pygmy owl, to enormous such as the California condor.
You might be lucky enough to spot one of those birds of prey flying in the sky or perched on a tree but it's much rarer to spot a hunt in progress. Most of these raptors feed almost exclusively on other animals such as smaller birds (falcons), reptiles and small mammals (hawks and Golden eagle) which they can spot from far away thanks to their sharp vision. Bald eagles and ospreys, on the other hand, offer a unique and extremely rare show when they dive and pull fish from the Colorado River.
Finally keep an eye out for the California condor or the turkey vulture who don't often hunt and prefer feeding off carrion. These raptors are often less sought after because of their reputation as scavengers. However, by eating dead animals, condors help clean up the fields and thanks to their strong immune system, they can also help stop the spread of diseases from sick animals.