Unique Wildlife of the Eastern Sierra

“People come here to see the wildlife and I can certainly appreciate that,” Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles said in an interview with Visit Mammoth. “But please don’t feed them and enjoy the experience.”

One of the best parts about visiting Mammoth Lakes is wildlife viewing. Though the bears are one of the biggest attractions around here, Searles likes to remind us that feeding wildlife is not only dangerous to the animal but can also be detrimental to their survival. But we have more than just bears around here. There are birds of prey, alpine rodents and even endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn. Here are some of the unique animals of the Eastern Sierra.

Bears – Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding wilderness areas are a bear habitat. However grizzly bears used to live in the area, today the only population of bears are the California black bear, which can actually be black, brown, blonde, or cinnamon in color. Like all wildlife, bears are best viewed from a distance.

Hawks, and Eagles – When you are out hiking around on the trails keep your head up and eyes peeled for large birds of prey. Bald eagles and golden eagles can be seen in the Mammoth Lakes Basin and surrounding area. Soaring high above the tree line, their large wingspan is remarkable. You’ll also see red-tailed hawks frequently as well as Cooper’s hawks in the area.

Coyotes – Even though they are a member of the dog family, coyotes are wild animals and should be treated that way. Their fluffy coat is grey and brown in color. There is a healthy population of coyotes that can be seen around town and out on the trails. However, these animals are typically not aggressive, they can pose a risk to small domesticated animals and children.

Mountain Lions – While mountain lions do live in the area, they are very stealth and are rarely seen in the wild. More often, you will find large prints in areas of deer migration than actually sighting the animal. Mountain lions are solitary animals that prey on large animals like deer and big horn sheep. They rarely pose a threat to humans, however, it is best to use extreme caution in an encounter.

Marmot – This large alpine squirrel lives in mountainous areas and in very high elevations. You are likely to see marmots in rocky talus slopes above tree line. They can grow as large as 12 inches tall and are round and fluffy. However cute, they are wild and should not be touched or fed.

Mule Dear – If you visit Mammoth often, you’ve most likely seen a mule deer. They are often a greyish brown with a white patch on the rump and a black tip on their tail. The mule deer migrate to higher elevations in the summer and can be seen grazing in meadows or fields of sagebrush. However they are beautiful, the mule deer are easily spooked and should be viewed quietly from afar.

Big Horn Sheep – The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is a distinct subspecies and is on the state and federal endangered species list. The animals stand about three feet tall and range from 140 to 220 pounds. Their fur varies from light white to dark brown and they have light patch on their rump. The most distinguishing feature is their horns. Females have small narrow horns less than 12 inches while the males have a set. The animals live in steep rocky terrain above 10,000 feet. The areas that they live will often be closed to wilderness travel to protect the species during migration.

Birds – The Eastern Sierra is home to more than 300 species of birds, which makes for a great destination for birding. The call of the Chickadees, or “cheeseburger birds” can be heard around town. Stellar jays and Clark’s nutcrackers are abundant as well as a number of different types of sparrows. If you are interested in birding, it’s best to stop by the Mammoth Welcome Center and pick up a birding guide to the area.

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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