The Grand Canyon is best-known for its killer views and exposed ancient rock, but the national park is home to 355 different birds, 89 types of mammals and 56 reptile and amphibian species. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see some of this wildlife on your visit. Here’s the lowdown on a few animals to look out for.
Wildlife of the Grand Canyon
These rare birds (only a few hundred remain in the world) may be spotted flying around the canyon. My biggest wildlife thrill ever came in 2009 when I saw a condor sitting on a rock just 15 feet away from me at the North Rim. At the time, less than 200 condors existed in the wild, so it was thrilling to see one so close.
The ranger told gawkers that the bird actually shouldn’t let people get so close, and he was worried about it. The bird, number A7, as you can see from its marking, had flown away by the time I returned 20 minutes later.
I love me some bighorn sheep. I like that they’re only found in very specific high-altitude locations. While I spotted several bighorn sheep in the Badlands, I didn’t see any at the Grand Canyon, because they are typically found at the South Rim and I was on the opposite side. Sometimes, they even walk right out into roads and trails, leaving drivers and hikers with great footage of up-close wildlife encounters.
Both rims are home to various kinds of squirrels. The unique Kaibab squirrel, which has a black belly and white tail, lives in the North Rim and can be found only in Northern Arizona. I spotted a few squirrels hiding behind tree branches, but I don’t believe any were of the Kaibab variety.
Are there bears in the Grand Canyon? Yes, according to the National Park Service – some black bears can be found in the conifer forests around the North Rim. In my research I was only able to find a couple confirmed bear sightings ever within park boundaries, and those were actually in the western side of the park down on the river (For the curious, here’s a PDF link to one of them – check out pages 22-23 for photos.)
Geckos, the cutest lizard if you ask me, are found along the Colorado River. A threatened species, the desert gopher tortoise, is found in the scrub in the western side of the park. In terms of more visible creatures, the mountain short-horned lizard is abundant around the forests near the rim. You’ll probably spot a few if you do any hiking into the Grand Canyon, along with salamanders and toads.
The NPS page on the Grand Canyon warns that solo hikers may be at risk for attack by mountain lions, but there has never been a known attack at the canyon. Mountain lions (pumas/cougars/panthers) are commonly found on both sides of the park, but they keep their distance, so visitors don’t see these animals often.
Snakes and scorpions
Always watch where you’re walking. Snake bites are rare but can happen. Scorpions are seen often in the canyon and according to the NPS site, “stings occur with regularity.” They may hurt but rarely cause serious damage. These aren’t the scorpions that can kill you.
Other wildlife in the Grand Canyon
Among the mammals found in the national park are 51 different rodents and 20 types of bats. Mule deer, elk and coyote are present, but you’re more likely to see smaller animals like skunks, raccoons, porcupines and beavers. You may run across lots of different kinds of spiders at the higher elevations, including black widows and tarantulas. Scary!
And if you make it to the river, you may encounter all kinds of fish, crustaceans and amphibians. The wildlife at the canyon is much more diverse than I would have expected.
What animal would you like to see if you visited the Grand Canyon?