Watch out for small animals like jackrabbits and marmots while visiting Bryce Canyon Country.
Wildlife watchers always hope to catch a glimpse of brag-worthy animals: bears, Rocky Mountain elk, Peregrine falcon. Sure it happens, most people are more likely to cross paths with the many smaller animals that call Bryce Canyon Country home such as cottontail and jackrabbits, porcupines, ringtail cats, raccoons, marmots, weasels, badgers, skunks, Golden mantled ground squirrels, Uinta chipmunks, and the endangered Utah Prairie Dog.
Elevation, climate, and availability of food and water usually determine which animals you’ll see where. In Bryce Canyon National Park alone there are 59 identified species of mammals dwelling in three very different climatic zones. Most of the lower elevation wildlife, such as kangaroo rats, chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels, along with reptiles like lizards and snakes, have adapted to the desert climate. Utah Prairie Dog, jackrabbits and cottontails can be found in middle elevations, while larger, hardier mammals inhabit the higher elevations.
The Utah Prairie Dog
The Utah Prairie Dog is one of three endangered animals that dwells in the Bryce Canyon area. Reddish-brown in color and about 12 inches long, this small animal is a member of the squirrel family. The Utah Prairie Dog burrows around small meadows and is active during the day.
Golden mantel and red squirrels are the most commonly sighted squirrels in and around Bryce Canyon. Golden mantel squirrels are very active around Bryce Canyon’s campgrounds. They have grayish brown bodies with black and white stripes, and usually reddish-brown heads.
Chipmunks are similar in color and appearance to squirrels, except they have strips on the side of their faces. The Uinta chipmunk hangs out in Bryce Canyon’s pine and fir forests, especially around campgrounds. Other chipmunk species dwell around the Under the Rim Trail and other desert low elevations.
Cottontail and jackrabbits are commonly seen hopping around Bryce Canyon Country’s cliffs and grasslands. Jackrabbits have tall ears and black tails, while desert cottontails have grayish-brown fur, black-tipped ears, and their namesake fluffy white cottontails.
Also named for their tails, ringtail cats have long, bushy black and whitetails. Ringtails are actually related to the raccoon, with very sharp claws and fox-like faces. They grow to about 30 inches long. These nocturnal creatures hideout in Bryce Canyon Country’s caves, only emerging after dark to hunt and raid campgrounds.
During the daytime, many small animals can be seen scampering along the Bryce Canyon amphitheater rim. At night, small rodents such as mice and gophers take their place. Small rodents are preyed on by other nocturnal small animals such as ringtail cats, badgers, and skunks, and mid-size animals like foxes and coyote. Cottontail and jackrabbits are also at risk to mid-size predators. Porcupines, with their deadly quills, are less attractive to predators.
Wildlife watchers are most likely to see animals early in the day and then again at dusk. Some animals have become used to having people around, so you’re likely to see squirrels, chipmunks and similar small mammals scurrying around. Other small animals, such as rabbits, Utah Prairie Dogs, and porcupines are less often seen, so find a quiet spot, get your camera ready, and watch for wildlife. Wildlife watchers are encouraged to view all animals at a safe distance and reminded to never feed wild animals.