Nestled in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a natural paradise. Here you can find brilliantly-colored sandstone cliffs, steep canyons, rocky peaks and vast blue skies. More than 4 million visitors make the trek to Zion each year. These visitors experience stunning landscapes, varied vegetation and diverse animals and wildlife within the 229 square-mile sanctuary.
The Animals of Zion
Because of its wide range of elevations, microclimates and habitats, Zion National Park is home to an astounding number of wild creatures. There are more than 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles and amphibians and eight species of fish.
Read on to learn about eight of the most fascinating animals of Zion.
Mexican Spotted Owl
Classified as threatened by the federal government, the Mexican spotted owl thrives in Zion. This is thanks to consistent availability of food sources, nesting locations and other elements of its preferred habitat.
The steep walls of the park’s canyons provide a cool refuge from the desert sun. Abundant fir and maple forests provide excellent sites for building their nests. These nocturnal animals feed primarily on desert wood rats and darkling beetles. Monogamous pairs typically produce offspring in late summer.
Check out our page on Birdwatching in Zion for more.
While the ringtail cat is one of the most common animals in Zion, most visitors are unlikely to spot one in the wild. These shy critters rarely emerge during daylight hours. Ringtails spend most of their time in trees. These large-eyed relatives of the raccoon spend nights hunting for insects, mice and small rabbits as well as foraging for plants.
Look closely in the high tree-tops and rocky cliffs and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one.
The only venomous snake in Zion, western rattlesnakes thrive in the park’s desert conditions. This is mainly thanks to their remarkable ability to survive for months without water. These reptiles can be identified by their triangular heads, light brown bodies with darker brown spots down their spines. Of course, also look for the rattle at the end of their tails.
However, keep in mind that the rattles can break off or may not have developed yet on a younger snake. So, if you see a snake of any kind, give it plenty of space. With a diet comprised primarily of small rodents, western rattlesnakes help manage the ecosystem’s rodent population. They may also consume small reptiles, amphibians and birds.
These iconic sheep are closely associated with Utah’s desert climate and a favorite of visitors to the park. Zion’s sheep tend to be slightly smaller than their Rocky Mountain counterparts. However, sightseers should still be cautious around males, who may be particularly aggressive during the mating season in late summer and early fall.
Bighorn sheep are frequently found on the steep cliffs on Zion’s east side. Here, these agile climbers go to avoid their most common predator: the mountain lion.
Currently one of the world’s most endangered species, only about 400 California condors remain in the wild. Zion National Park is home to several dozen. However, these numbers represent a hopeful comeback from the species’ low point of just 22 birds in 1982.
The birds mate for life and produce just a single egg every other year. This makes population growth a painstakingly slow process. Condors are naturally curious birds who take great interest in human activity. For this reason, you may see one perched near Angels Landing or piercing the skies over Lava Point.
Each California condor in Zion is tagged and carefully tracked by park staff. Visitors are advised not to approach them or offer them food.
A rare but fascinating inhabitant of Zion National Park, the desert tortoise may be observed plodding slowly across the park’s low desert regions. Identifiable by their high-domed shells, wide rear legs and clawed front limbs, the turtles spend as much as 95 percent of their lives in burrows dug several feet below the rocky terrain. There, they remain protected from both the scorching desert sun and predators like foxes, coyotes and large birds.
The animals can go long periods of time without drinking, getting some hydration from their plant-based diet. However, your best chance of spotting one may be after a rainfall. Here, they may emerge from underground to restock their internal water supply.
Though these highly endangered creatures can live as long as 100 years, the mortality rate for young desert tortoises is a staggering 99 percent. This is due to their soft shells and slow growth, which leave them vulnerable to predators such as ravens and Gila monsters.
Though rarely seen by visitors to the park, mountain lions—also called cougars—are Zion’s most powerful predators. At six to nine feet long and 80 to 180 pounds, the male animals may prowl a dedicated range of up to 300 miles that they share only with one or two female cats.
Their keen night vision allows them to hunt for food after dark, typically scoring a kill of a bighorn sheep or mule deer every four to eight days. These solitary creatures avoid the constant human activity of the main canyon but may occasionally be visible in the Kolob Canyons.
Great Basin Spadefoot
This small, round toad is identifiable by green-gray skin and large, amber-colored eyes with vertical pupils. The eyes are located on the sides of its head, with a distinctive bump between them that gives the head its shape.
Its bumpy skin and coloration make it resemble a small rock on the canyon floor, allowing the toad to effectively camouflage itself against predators. The spadefoot’s name comes from its spade-shaped first toe on its hind feet, which it uses to dig up loose soil to find shelter.
. . . And Many More
In addition to these eight species, visitors to Zion are likely to encounter a wide variety of other wildlife, including rock squirrels, mule deer, kangaroo rats, peregrine falcons, bats, canyon tree frogs, brown trout, channel catfish and hundreds of other mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles.
Keep in mind that you are a visitor to these creatures’ home, so do not approach or disturb any animals you encounter while exploring the park. If you’re close enough to touch an animal or your presence causes it to change its behavior, you’re too close.