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Colorado Wildlife

Updated on June 26, 2014

Wildlife That You'll See in Colorado

We all take vacations for different reasons and want to see and do a variety things on our trip. Some of us take a vacation to see the wildlife in the area. Our country offers great diversity in wildlife, depending on where you go. Here are some animals you will get the chance to see if you visit Colorado. What is most amazing about the chance to see these animals is that you may not realize that you are seeing so many animals that at one time we were close to possibly never being able to see again.

Colorado Wildlife History

In Colorado’s early history, when the great migration to the west began and the gold rush took place in the U.S., the land was suddenly overtaken by numerous amounts of people. Until that point, the land of Colorado was occupied by local animals and Native Americans. These new visitors, however, were in search of wealth, new resources, and land they could build on. The sudden influx of people and the building taking place on the land began to rapidly invade upon territory that previously was home to the animals and therefore drove them off many parts of the land. Many of these animals also became a great resource for firs and food. Many species of animals begin to decline, many to the point of becoming endangered.

Fortunately, there were groups who eventually began to work to conserve these animals and those animals are now thriving today and can be seen in plenty. The dedication of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 was part of this process to protect and preserve these animals. The bill to establish this national park was passed by Congress and was signed by President Wilson on January 26, 1915. A dedication ceremony was held on September 4, 1915 in Horseshoe Park. Here are a list of those animals that you can now see in Colorado, both those that were once endangered and those that have always been a part of the Colorado landscape. These are the animals you won’t want to miss seeing when taking a trip to Colorado.

American Elk

Rocky Mountain Elk

The Native Americans named them wapiti, which means "light colored deer." With antlers towering 4 feet above their head, they can grow to over 9 feet tall, antlers included. These creatures were once found all over North America, but now live mainly in the west, in the mountainous areas. They typically migrate to the high parts of the mountains in early summer to give birth. In late summer, the males will fight for the right to be in charge. By fall, they descend back down to lower ground. Being one of the animals that was almost once extinct (in the 1890's), they were transplanted from Yellowstone to Colorado in 1914. During the fall, you have a good chance of viewing some in the following places: the Kawuneeche Valley, Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park, and Upper Beaver Meadows. They can be seen along the edges of clearings early in the morning or in the evening. Bugling, the males call, is often heard at these times of day as well.

Bison

Many can be seen at a place called “Buffalo Herd Overlook” around Genesee Park, just west of the metro area of Denver. These bison weigh close to 2000 pounds. Bison are like an American icon. They roamed the west in millions until being hunted and they almost died out in the late 1800’s. There were a mere 7 remaining in Yellowstone National Park in 1914 and the the herds you can now see in Colorado that were moved there may very well be the descendants of those remaining 7 at the time. Blue Mountain Bison Ranch is another great place to see these creatures. This ranch is located in the foothills of the state. It consists of 5,000 acres. With its wide open fields to roam, plants in abundance available for food, and the fact of being located near the Little Thompson River, it’s an ideal place for these bison. Today, there are over 250,000 bison alive all the way from Mexico to Canada. As long as their land and life are protected, they will do alright, as they have no natural predators to worry about.

Black Bear

Like other bears, these bears will naturally avoid humans. On their own, about 90% of their diets are made up of plants. If you are looking to view these creatures, you will want to watch them from afar. They can be active anytime, but mostly in the morning and early evening. Since they do naturally avoid humans, you want to keep food away from them. When they see and learn that humans have food easily available, they will lose their fear of humans and they can become dangerous. As we all know, they hibernate in the cold months, so this will occur from November to March. So, naturally, the best times to see them will be in times of non-hibernation. While the Black Bear can be seen throughout Colorado, there are no known Grizzlies in the area anymore.

Big Horn sheep

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, these animals were also affected by the settlers in the Estes Valley. Besides the issues of hunting and land loss that threatened them, there was another problem for them. Domestic sheep that were brought in carried scabies and pneumonia that affected them as well. The Big Horn Sheep are well adapted to the terrain and harsh climate of the Rockies thanks to their thick hair, strong senses, and hooves for climbing. They are able to eat their food quickly in the lower land and ascend back up to higher locations away from predators because of the way they digest food in their 4 stomachs. During late spring and summer, these sheep come down from the high mountainous areas of Mummy Range into the meadows of Horseshoe Park, around Sheep Lakes. Here is where they graze and eat soil with the minerals they can’t normally get in their high mountain homes. This is when they are most easily seen.

Moose

In the late 70’s, two groups of moose from the Uintah Mountains and Grand Teton were moved to an area near Rand, Colorado. Before this time, the moose were probably just occasional visitors to the area, without an official breeding population in Colorado. The Colorado herd expanded from the original 24 to now being in the thousands. One point of information to remember if encountering a moose up close is that if their head is either held high or low they may be assuming a threatened position. The females are very protective of their young and males have been known to charge cars, horses, and trains. A great place to see moose is in the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park. Moose can be seen almost any time of day. They may stay in a given location for days and weeks, as long as there is plenty of food and they are being left alone. You can keep a lookout for them wherever you can find aquatic vegetation and willows.

Mountain Goat

This is yet another animal that was imported into Colorado from Montana. 14 goats were imported and then released. In 1993, the Mountain Goat were proclaimed to be a native species. Most believe, though, that the animals never occurred in Colorado naturally. The mountain goats you will see in the area mostly stay in their high mountain range year around, only descending in severe winter conditions. Because they are hard to reach, mountain lions are one of their few predators.

Mountain Lion

Puma, Cougar, or Panther

The mule deer is their favorite food. The mountain lions are generally found in rocky canyons and cliffs and forest meadows. Sightings of them are rare.

Mule Deer

These deer are named for their big ears, like those of a mule. Mule Deer are smaller than elk. The winter weather drives them to lower elevation during that time of year. Even though excellent hearing and eyesight make them aware of human presence, they are generally not easily frightened by humans.

Pronghorn

These are the smallest of the hooved animals in Colorado. They are quite fast and can run up to 60 miles per hour. Keep an eye out for them in the eastern plains, in the larger mountain parks and valleys, and on shrublands.

Where To Find Them

Location is Key

Don’t forget, location is the key to seeing these great animals. While there are hundreds of places within Colorado to go and see each of these animals. There are definitely a few places where you are more likely to see some of the above wildlife. Take for example: Estes Park. Estes Park is an amazing place to go see a ton of elk. Or there are places up in the Rocky mountains like the Breckenridge area where it's not uncommon to see both elk and moose wandering around through the woods. And if you do decide to stay in Breckenridge there are tons of Breckenridge vacation homes that are located right out in the midst of nature, where you can enjoy the scenery and the natural wildlife.

Wildlife Viewing Tools

From binoculars to informational books here are a couple things that you'll want to make sure that you have to get the most out of your wildlife viewing experience.

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