As a general rule of thumb, the number of species increases from the poles of the earth towards the equator. Whilst this may be true, species diversity on the continent of North America remains high. Due to the large geographical area, and the connectivity with the more diverse Southern continent below, the United States of America is in fact considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
A range of ecosystems can be found on the landmass, from the great plains to coniferous forests, each attracting an array of unique wildlife, many of which can be found nowhere else on earth. This article focuses on the wildlife in the Western region of the continent, Colorado. Whilst other states in the country boast an increased species richness, the unique state of Colorado introduces visitors to some of the most iconic of North American residents.
One of the larger states in the U.S, Colorado encompasses much of the Southern Rocky Mountains, as well as the Colorado Plateau and the Great Plains. In fact, there are 8 recognized ecosystems in the state, bringing in wealth and variety of life. There are several native wildlife species that call the state’s natural beauty home, as well as some truly fascinating animals that you may have never even heard of.
At just over 2 meters tall and weighing just under a ton, the American Bison is a sight to behold. Roughly 150 years ago, it is thought that nearly 30 million American Bison roamed the Great Plains of North America. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the 1800s, a mass slaughter of these herbivorous giants occurred, decimating the population.
Colorado remains a stronghold for these majestic beasts, and the state is home to many reserves that actively encourage conservation and preservation. One of the best places to witness Bison in great numbers is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
Following in the fate of the bison, black-footed ferrets suffered heavily in the wake of man. A prairie-going mammal, this species requires an enormous amount of space to hunt their favorite prey, the prairie dog. Unfortunately, habitat loss and infectious disease have hindered their survival rates.
Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America. Instantly recognizable by their black paws, these slender mammals are expert and stealthy hunters. Thanks to dedicated conservation work by an array of organizations, numbers have slowly started to recover. Currently, the population stands at a frighteningly low 370 individuals left in the wild.
Sheep… a cute staple of farmyard animals, right? Wrong! Bighorn sheep are nothing but frightening. Whilst people have come to fear bears or mountain lions, many seem to be unaware of the fierce reputation of these wild sheep. Reaching weights of over 130kg, bighorn sheep are the largest species of sheep on the continent. Their menacing behavior is best observed in the peak of breeding, or rutting, season, which occurs July through December. Competing males will charge at each other at speeds of up to 40mph, trying to assert dominance over any rivals. In the mountainous habitats where they thrive, the resulting noise of such battles is so loud, it can be heard over a mile away as it reverberates across the rocks. Thankfully for the animal, their skulls are specially adapted for such behavior and consequently suffer no real injuries during mating battles.
Since 1782, the bald eagle has been the National Emblem of the United States. Though misleading the name be, the bald eagle isn’t actually in fact bald. The name originates from old English, meaning “white-headed”. Brilliant white plumage adorns the neck region and brown/black plumage covers the rest of the body.
The species underwent near extinction, due to the use of the chemical DDT, but has now made a tremendous recovery thanks to intense conservation work. Now, you can find the bird through much of the US, including Colorado. Look up in the trees for large, stick nests and you may find a bald eagle acting as sentinel.
Sticking with the trend of birds, the white-tailed ptarmigan certainly isn’t the everyday bird. When one thinks of a bird, I’m sure a small and colorful flying individual comes to mind. The ptarmigan breaks boundaries. Come the winter months, this unusually plump avian develops a plumage of pure white, that helps them camouflage into their habitat.
Unlike many species of birds, the white-tailed ptarmigan can only truly thrive in cold habitats, often exceeding the timberline. In fact, this is the only bird species on the entire continent that spends an entire life cycle at such elevations. Interestingly, if their habitat gets too warm, you may catch a glimpse of the bird having a birdbath, in the snow! However, you must be incredibly lucky or have an impeccable vision as they are almost indistinguishable against their snowy backdrop.
For the last of the bird entries for the list of top wildlife sightings in Colorado, meet the burrowing owls. Also, like the white-tailed ptarmigan, these too break typical birding traditions. Rather than nesting in trees, burrowing owls, and as the name suggests, nest in burrows on the ground. A rather unusual adaptation for a flying bird.
To find such species, the vast expanses of land that make up the great plains is your best bet for catching a glimpse of these small raptors. Unlike other species mentioned on this list, burrowing owls are rather adaptable and can actually thrive around human presence. Rather than nesting in burrows, some individuals have been known to nest in discarded human materials, such as PVC tubing and buckets.
Of course, this isn’t an extensive list of all the wildlife found in Colorado, however, it is a list of some of my favorites. Colorado is home to countless species of fascinating and unique animals, from fearless hunters to minute insects. All wildlife in the state works harmoniously with each other and is a joy to watch in their natural habitat. Although there have been many conservation projects initiated to stop the plight of many of the species mentioned above, more work and education are needed to secure a future for the species of Colorado.
Travel Concierge Club
Beaches, City Breaks, Family, Spa & Wellness, Weddings and Honeymoon, Romantic, Luxury, All Inclusive, CruiseView Profile
Rock on in Cancun & New York!
Please welcome to the stage New York City’s newest and brightest star, Hard Rock Hotel New York! Located between the Theatre District and Radio City Music Hall! After exploring the Big Apple, he ...
7th Oct 2024 - 21st Oct 2024