Yellowstone Wildlife

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Yellowstone National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife.  This wide variety helps to sustain the delicate ecosystem that is Yellowstone.  The wildlife of the park includes grizzly bear, black bears, wolves, coyotes, bison, bighorned sheep, moose, elk, deer, and birds.

There are about 300 grizzlies that live in and around Yellowstone.  What many people do not know about grizzly bears is that they do not really hibernate; they go into a semi-dormant state, often wandering outside in periods of milder weather.  Male grizzlies can weigh between 500 and 1000 pounds, while females can weigh between 330 to 700 pounds.  In the spring a grizzly bear’s favorite meal is a baby elk calf.  In the summer their diet consists of the seeds of whitebark pines, moths, marmots, squirrels, and carrion left by other animals.  Grizzlies typically have brown fur with whitish tips.  They have a pronounced muscular hump on their shoulders that distinguishes them from black bears.  This muscular hump gives strength to their front limbs for digging and running; they can attain speeds of 35 mph.  Grizzlies are likely to be found near Mount Washburn in Hayden Valley, near the Fishing Bridge, and outside of the East Gate.

Black bears are not always black; they can be cinnamon, blond, or brown.  Their rumps are higher than their shoulders and they lack the muscular hump that grizzlies have.  Black bears, like grizzlies, are omnivores.  There is an estimated 500 to 600 black bears inhabiting Yellowstone Park.  They can be found most anywhere in Yellowstone, mostly between Tower and Mammoth Hot Springs, and in the Lamar Valley along the Madison and Firehole Rivers.

Please remember to use caution when encountering bears.  Please visit this link to the National Park Service website to read about bear safety:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/playourvisit/bearenc.htm

In March 1995, grey wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park after they had been trapped and killed off about 70 years ago.  Grey wolves range in color from coal black to snowy white.  They look very similar to German Shepherds with longer legs, narrower chests, and bigger feet.  Grey wolves pursue a variety of prey: moose, deer, sheep, and more often elk.  They can be seen in the Lamar Valley between Mammoth and Cooke City.  The best viewing time is early morning when it’s still dark.

The Coyotes in Yellowstone are among the largest in the United States, the average adult weighing between 30 and 40 pounds.  They can be grey or tan with a reddish tint.  Coyotes can be seen alone or in packs, however, they are capable of killing large prey when working together.  They can be seen in open spaces in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys.

Bison are the largest mammals that inhabit Yellowstone, they can be 6 feet tall at the shoulders; the bulls weighing up to 1800 pounds and the cows up to 1000 pounds.  The Yellowstone Park bison are the only population of wild bison, in the lower 48 states, that have persisted since prehistoric times.  Bison are nomadic grazers, roaming grassy plateaus in the summer and spending the winter near warm thermal pools or in the northern part of the park.  Specifically, they can be found in the Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone, Madison, Gibbon, and Firehole Rivers.  Lone bulls can often be seen around the Lake Hotel and the Fishing Bridge.

Bighorn sheep are light brown to greyish or dark chocolate brown, with a white rump and lining of the back legs.  The males or rams have large curved horns; they can be seen battling for control of the harem.  The males get a running start and crash head first into each other, resulting in a sound similar to a rifle shot.  The females or ewes have short, slightly curved horns.  Bighorn sheep graze on grasses and browse shrubby plants.  They have adapted to climbing steep terrain, seeking cover from their predators.  They can be found in the Gallatin, Washburn, and Absaroka Ranges.

Moose are the largest members of the deer family; the cows weigh up to 800 pounds and the bulls up to 1300 pounds.  They are dark in color ranging from brown to black.  The bulls produce large palmate antlers which are shed annually.  Both the bulls and cows have a growth of skin and hair that hangs down from the throat, called a dewlap.  Moose are solitary animals, most likely to be seen in streams, marshes, and willow thickets along the road between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Elk are the most abundant large animal in Yellowstone and have had a presence in the area for over 1,000 years.  They are reddish brown with heavy, dark colored manes, and a yellowish rump patch.  Elk are the second largest member of the deer family; the cows weighing 500 to 525 pounds and the bulls 600 to 800 pounds.  Mature bulls have antlers that may have 6 to 8 points weighing more than 30 pounds.  More than 30,000 elk summer in Yellowstone.  Elk are very social creatures and can be seen in herds year-round.  Elk are most commonly seen in Gardiner just outside the North Gate, at Canyon Village, near Old Faithful, and in the meadows from Mammoth to Norris.

Mule deer can be seen just about anywhere, especially in areas with sage brush.  Commonly known as “muleys,” they were named by Lewis and Clark for their large mule-like ears.  Mature bucks typically have double fork antlers that are high and wide, while the young bucks have single, spike-like antlers or small single-forked antlers.

Peregrine Falcons reside in Yellowstone from April through October and are believed to winter in Mexico.  They nest on high cliffs that overlook rivers or valleys.  Peregrine Falcons prey on songbirds and waterfowl and have been clocked at speeds exceeding 200 mph swooping after prey.  They can be recognized by their blue-grey bodies, black helmet, brown bill, white breast, and black under wings.

Bald Eagles reside in the park throughout the year.  They nest in large trees near water, in the summer they can often be seen around Yellowstone Lake.  Bald Eagles can be recognized by their dark bodies, white head feathers, and large wing spans, some up to 7 feet.  In the late fall and early spring, Bald Eagles scavenge carcasses of elk and bison that have died.

Please remember that any wildlife is supposed to be just that, wild.  Enjoy these animals at a safe distance, so that they may remain part of Yellowstone’s natural beauty.  If animals have repeated contact with humans they may become a danger, not only to humans but to themselves.  Help keep Yellowstone wild.

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