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Mesa Verde National Park's Wildlife

Did You Know?

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, yet it receives fewer than 15% of the park's visitors?





Photo: Mesa Verde National Park is home to abundant mule deer, especially in Morefield campground.

Wildlife - Kick My Tent

Mesa Verde is chock full of wildlife. The mesas are covered in pinyon-juniper forests. These trees offer tremendous resources, not the least of which are pinyon nuts and juniper berries – yummy food for animals. Humans, too, are fond of the pinyon nuts. You be the judge of juniper berries.

Mormon tea, serviceberry, yucca, and prickly pear cactus are also common on the tablelands. Open areas are populated with sagebrush, grasses and wildflowers like the pretty, hardy mariposa lily, paintbrush, penstemon, lupine, and larkspur. Douglas fir trees and Gambel’s oak can be found in the canyons. Creek bottoms have plants typical of desert riparian zones, including cottonwoods and singleleaf ash trees.


Photo: Yucca in Mesa Verde National Park


Be watchful of rattlesnakes in rocky areas and on less busy hiking trails. Other snakes found in the park include bullsnakes, six-lined racerunners and yellow-bellied racers. Look for collared lizards doing push ups on rock outcroppings.

The changing elevation of Mesa Verde creates habitat for a variety of birds. As air currents rise along the front prow of the mesa, vultures, hawks, and eagles are commonly seen riding the thermals. Peregrine falcons and golden eagles nest near the Knife Edge Trail.

Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks hunt smaller birds in the broken woodlands of the mesa tops. Steller’s jays, scrub jays, and magpies are common, and nuthatches are sometimes seen in their upside-down hunt for bugs along tree trunks. Violet-green swallows soar and dip in the canyons, and lucky visitors may hear the clear, dribbling music of a canyon wren’s call.

Visitors to the campground almost can’t help but see mule deer. One quiet afternoon, when I had retreated to my tent to make notes, I felt something kick the nylon wall of my shelter. I poked my head out to come face to face with a mule deer standing a few yards off. It didn’t bolt at the sight of me, but just stood there and stared. (See photo, above.) I couldn’t believe a deer would kick my tent, but then there were no other animals or people around.

(
So now you know - if you kick my tent, I'll publish your picture on the internet, too.)

Rodents of all description are common in the park. Look for chipmunks, and prairie dogs. Although black bears have rarely been seen, rangers will tell you to pack up your food when you are not actively cooking or eating. Chow left out overnight is more likely to be pilfered by deer mice. Their cousins living in the park include woodrats, voles, pocket mice, and antelope squirrels. Abert’s squirrels, with their tufted ears, and noisy chickarees are often seen in the Spruce Tree House area. Beaver have even been sighted in the wetter river bottoms, although these areas are off limits to visitors.

Bobcats, coyotes and gray foxes hunt jackrabbits and cottontails. Elusive mountain lions haunt quieter, less populated parts of Mesa Verde.

A special treat is to watch the evening sky, just after sunset. You may see several varieties of bats doing their best to rid the air of insects.


Next Page >>> Quick History Guide for Mesa Verde National Park 



Mesa Verde National Park Travel Guide For Families:

BEST FAMILY ATTRACTIONS IN MESA VERDE

RANGER PROGRAMS FOR KIDS IN MESA VERDE

PICNIC AREAS AND RESTAURANTS IN MESA VERDE

CAMPGROUNDS AND LODGING IN MESA VERDE

TOWNS NEAR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

MESA VERDE QUICK GEOLOGY GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK WILDLIFE GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK HISTORY GUIDE

TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FAMILIES IN MESA VERDE