Rocky Mountain Animals

Rocky Mountain animals come in many different shapes and sizes and include some of the most iconic creatures in North America. In fact, you could argue that no other region in the United States offers a more fascinating range of animal species. Gray wolves, grizzly bears, and elk are examples of the many interesting mammals that roam the Rocky Mountain highlands, and birding enthusiasts certainly won’t want for diversity when training their binoculars on the regional skies, trees, and mountain ledges. Bald eagles, white-tailed ptarmigans, and American dippers are just some of the avian species that call the Rockies home. 

Rocky Mountain Lions

Rocky Mountain Lions
Rocky Mountain Lions

You won’t find any African lions with huge manes roaming the Rocky Mountain countryside. Instead, the region is home to smaller mountain lions, which are still fairly large. Also known as cougars, panthers, pumas, and a variety of other names, the mountain lion is the second largest cat species in the Western Hemisphere - after the jaguar of South America. The males can be up to eight feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds, while the females can reach up to seven feet in length and weigh around 130 pounds. Mule deer is the preferred prey of Rocky Mountain lions, and they are also known to feed on rodents, birds, and much larger elk. In relation to habitat, Rocky Mountain lions are generally fond of forest meadows and rocky canyons and cliffs.

Rocky Mountain Elk

Rocky Mountain Elk
Rocky Mountain Elk

Elk are among the most commonly sighted Rocky Mountain animals. This might have something to do with their size. The world’s largest deer species, the male bulls can weigh up to around 700 pounds, while the females, or cows, have an average weight that is closer to 500 pounds. In mountainous regions such as the Rockies, elk tend to prefer higher elevations in the summer and lower elevations in the winter. Highly adaptable creatures, they can also move into semi-desert areas, such as the Great Basin area that unfolds just west of the Rockies. Yellowstone National Park has the highest concentration of mammals in the lower United States and is a good place to start if you wish to see elk. Other parks that are found in the Rocky Mountain region, such as Colorado’s Estes Park and Montana’s Grand Teton National Park, are also great places to see elk and other Rocky Mountain wildlife in general.

Rocky Mountain Goats

Rocky Mountain Goats
Rocky Mountain Goats

North America is the only region in the world that is home to mountain goats. Sure-footed climbers, these interesting animals can navigate rugged highland terrain with ease and precision, often escaping to rocky cliffs where predators simply can’t go. Thick, wool coats protect mountain goats from the elements. In fact, during the winter season, they can withstand temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and winds of up to 100 miles per hour. You can find mountain goats at elevations of more than 13,000 feet, and generally speaking, they are an alpine and subalpine species. Among the best places to see mountain goats in the Rockies is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. During the summer season in particular, the goats in this park are known to frequent the salt licks in the Horseshoe Park sub area.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Related to mountain goats, bighorn sheep are also very agile and capable of handling steep, uneven terrain with relative ease. This partly explains why they are at home in the Rockies. As the name implies, bighorn sheep are also known for their large, curving horns. The males, or rams, have the largest horns and are larger in size overall–some weighing more than 500 pounds and having horns that weigh around 30 pounds. The horns of female bighorn sheep are smaller than the male horns and not as curved. If you have ever seen male bighorn sheep ramming heads, then you know the kind of power that they can get behind their horns. The activity of ramming heads is done to establish dominance, and head ramming contests can last up to 20 hours.

Other Rocky Mountain Wildlife

Several Rocky Mountain animals are apex predators. In addition to mountain lions, examples of such predators that aren’t preyed upon (other an by humans) include black and grizzly bears. Black bears are in far greater supply than grizzlies in the Rockies, and throughout the United States in general. In fact, about the only places that you can expect to see grizzly bears in the U.S. are northern Rocky Mountain parks such as Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. March through November is the time to see grizzly bears in places such as Yellowstone, and as you might imagine, keeping a safe distance is recommended. This safety tip applies to black bears as well, not to mention a variety of other Rocky Mountain animals.

Of all the Rocky Mountain animals, few get as much attention as wolves. The Rocky Mountain wolf species is more specifically the gray wolf. Once found in good supply throughout most of North America and Eurasia, the gray wolf’s former range has been largely reduced over time, which is due in grand part to deliberate persecution. In the United States, for example, gray wolves were almost completely extirpated by the turn of the last century. In relation to the Rocky Mountain region, the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are still home to relatively stable gray wolf populations. Part of the reason for this was the 1994 introduction of wolves from British Columbia and Alberta into Yellowstone National Park.

The Rocky Mountain region features diverse habitats, which in turn lends to the diversity of Rocky Mountain wildlife. In relation to the birds that call the Rockies home, there are literally hundreds of different species. In addition to the magnificent raptors, gray jays, mountain bluebirds, and lark buntings are just a few more avian species that are found throughout the region, and in Rocky Mountain states such as Colorado and New Mexico, hummingbirds are certainly in good supply during the warmer season. Rocky Mountain bird books are readily available for those who want some help identifying the region’s many different bird species. It is also possible to arrange bird watching tours in the Rockies if you want help making sense of the numerous resident species. Various amphibian, reptile, and insect species are also found throughout the Rockies for those who are interested, and angling enthusiasts in particular are likely to take an interest in the Rocky Mountain fish. Trout are in especially good supply and help to make the Rockies a fly-fishing paradise.

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