Viewing Guide to Wildlife in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Park is home to more wildlife than almost anywhere else in the U.S. With good optics, visitors are likely to see a number of wild animals in Yellowstone, from grizzlies and black bears to gray wolves, buffalo, elk, wild horses, pronghorn antelope and many more. Below is a guide to the wildlife in Yellowstone National Park and the entire region. Here is a sampling of the most sought-after animals and where best to see them in Yellowstone Park.
Seeing a bear is often at the top of the wish list for Yellowstone Park’s visitors and for good reason. These are intriguing, big animals that are rarely seen. When you do spot one, it’s exciting and it will be a memory of a lifetime. Currently, the Yellowstone region is home to 210-610 grizzly bears, and many more black bears.
Black and grizzly bears distinguished by size, shoulder hump and rump/shoulder placement. Both types of bears are unpredictable and can be dangerous.
Bears inhabit meadows as well as forested regions of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for bears when you travel to Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, Northern Range, Hayden Valley
Thirty-one gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in the winters of 1995 and 1996. Today, the wolf population in the greater Yellowstone region numbers about 300. The wolf is a wild dog. They are typically gray, black or white in color. Adult wolves weigh 80-100 pounds.
Wolves often hunt and kill animals that are bigger than they are. Their primary prey in the Yellowstone region is elk. Some wolves take down bison and moose.
The best place to go to try and see a wolf on your Yellowstone vacation is the Lamar Valley. More than 100,000 wolf sightings have been reported inside Yellowstone Park since their reintroduction began.
Approximately 15,000-25,000 elk inhabit Yellowstone National Park during summer. Adult bull elk typically weigh 500-700 pounds, while adult females weight 400-500 pounds. There’s nothing like seeing the elk in action during its rut, which runs during the month of September.
The elk’s head is dark brown and males’ coats are lighten than those of females. Their rear-ends are white and often give them away to passersby looking for them in dry, brush-covered areas. An elk track looks like two half moons.
Although visitors will often see elk during their Yellowstone vacation, September is the best time to watch them. Visitors that travel to Yellowstone during the fall will get a glimpse of the elk in its rut, a time when they’re bugling, and keeping track of their female elk, trying to mate as many of them as possible before the snow flies. You will see elk with big racks guarding harems of 30-40 cows and hear their bugles with Yellowstone Park’s grandeur as a backdrop. Look for elk throughout Yellowstone, but especially in the Lamar Valley, Gibbon River, Elk Park, along the Madison River and in the Mammoth Hot Springs areas.
The moose is the largest member of the deer family. Moose are vegetarians with a unique appearance. They are dark brown in color and gigantic. A moose can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds and stand seven feet tall.
Male moose have large antler racks. About 600-800 moose inhabit Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Moose are typically near streams, ponds and marshes. The best places to view moose in Willow are Yellowstone Park, between Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs, or in the Yellowstone Lake, Fishing Bridge and Hayden Valley regions. In Grand Teton National Park, look for moose near Willow Flats, Christian Pond or Oxbox Bend.
The pronghorn, often called “antelope”, is the fastest land animal in North America. It can run at speeds of 60 miles per hour! The main color of adults is brown or tan, with a white rump and belly and two white stripes on the throat.
The pronghorn has a very large heart and lungs, and their hair is hollow. Although built for speed, the ungulate is a very poor jumper. As a result, their wide-spanning ranges are often affected by ranchers’ fences.
Look for pronghorn in sagebrush-covered areas and grassy areas near Yellowstone’s North Entrance.
Mule deer also inhabit Yellowstone and the states surrounding the park. There are approximately 2,500 mule deer in Yellowstone Park.
The mule deer, which gets its name from its mule-like ears, are smaller than elk and moose and are vegetarians. An adult buck can weigh 150-300 pounds, and stands about 40 to 42 inches tall at the shoulders.
Look for mule deer in forests, grasslands and shrublands.
The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is one of three species of mountain sheep in North America and Siberia. It is a hardy animal. About 250 bighorn sheep call Yellowstone home.
Two hundred years ago, bighorn sheep were widespread throughout the western United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico. Some estimates placed their population at higher than 2 million. However, by around 1900, hunting, competition from domesticated sheep, and diseases had decreased the population to only several thousand.
Look for bighorn sheep along the cliffs between Gardiner, Mont., and Mammoth Hot Springs, and on Mt. Washburn, between the Canyon and Tower regions.
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America. Males typically measure from 57-64 inches and weigh 26 lbs); females typically range from 55-60 inches and weigh 22 lbs.
Trumpeter swans have white plumage with a long neck, a black bill subtly marked with salmon-pink along the mouth line, and short black legs. The cygnets (juveniles) are grey in appearance, becoming white after the first year.
Look for trumpeter swans along the Madison and Firehole rivers, and along the Yellowstone River, south of Canyon.
The coyote has tan or gray fur and is the wolf’s smaller cousin, weighing 25-35 pounds.
Hearing a coyote is much more common than seeing one. The calls a coyote makes are high-pitched and variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks.
Look for coyotes in meadows, forests and grasslands.
The Bald Eagle is a bird of prey found in North America that is most recognizable as the national bird and symbol of the United States.
The plumage of an adult Bald Eagle is evenly brown with a white head and tail. The tail is moderately long and slightly wedge-shaped. Males and females are identical in plumage coloration, however females display reverse sexual dimorphism and are 25 percent larger than males. The beak, feet, and irises are bright yellow. Body length ranges from 28-38 in. Adult females have a wingspan of up to 88 in., while adult males’ wingspan may be as small as 66 in. Adult females weigh approximately 12.8 lbs and males weigh 9 lbs.
The species was on the brink of extirpation in the continental United States (while flourishing in much of Alaska and Canada) late in the 20th century, but now has a stable population and has been officially removed from the U.S. federal government’s list of endangered species. The Bald Eagle was officially reclassified from “Endangered” to “Threatened” on July 12, 1995 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On July 6, 1999, a proposal was initiated “To Remove the Bald Eagle in the Lower 48 States From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.” It was delisted on June 28, 2007.
Look for bald eagles near water, along rivers and near lakes.