13 Grand Canyon Wildlife Captivating Species (+ Tips)

If you’ve ever wondered what animals live in the Grand Canyon, then you’ve come to the right place!

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is world renowned for its stunning views, deep chasms, the mighty Colorado River, and for its desert geography. The different ecosystems that are in and around the Grand Canyon are varied; from alpine forests to low desert vegetation, this huge expanse of national park land pretty much has it all.

Along with the different vegetation and climates come hundreds of animals, reptiles, insects, birds, and much more!

You’ll be lucky to see some of the more elusive creatures in the park (such as a mountain lion) and some animal residents that are much more common (like deer).

In this article I listed all the animals in the Grand Canyon that you may or may not encounter. Some are dangerous, some are cute, all of them are fascinating and important for the local ecosystem.

Read on to discover all the incredible animal life that can be found in Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon wildlife

1. Mountain Lion

A mountain lion in Arizona

Also known as a cougar, the secretive mountain lion is rarely seen by visitors, but she is the top predator in these parts! Mountain lions tend to feed on anything they can catch, including deer, elk, bighorn sheep, turkey, other birds, and even bison calves if they can get one!

Males and females live solitary lives except for when they meet for mating, and when females raise their kittens into adults.

https://youtu.be/0tPfIk49Z7g

Mountain lions have an enormous home range; a male lion’s territory can be as big as 150 square miles, and they frequently cross in and out of the national park boundaries. There are at least a few dozen of these big cats that live in and around the park, and very few hikers or visitors have ever seen one in person.

Mountain lions are not a danger to people in Grand Canyon National Park, but always watch out for them crossing the road, especially on East Rim Drive.

2. Elk

A Rocky Mountain bull elk on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

One of the South Rim’s most famous residents is elk; the second-largest member of the deer family (behind the moose) stands about 4.5-5 feet tall at the shoulder, while male elk (called bulls) can weigh up to 700 lbs!

In the early fall months, you may hear a deep bellowing sound reverberating through the forests of the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon. This is the mating call of the bull elk during the mating season (or rut). Be warned- bulls can get very cranky and dangerous this time of year, as their hormones are raging and they are fighting with other bulls using their huge set of antlers to gather their own group of female elk, called cows.

Elk on the South Rim tend to be solitary outside of the mating season, hanging out by the road eating some sweet green grass or bedded down just off the road under the trees. I have even seen them on the railroad tracks and walking around near Bright Angel Lodge. The elk near Grand Canyon Village have lost their fear of humans, but that in no way means they are tame! Always keep your distance from any wildlife you may see in the park.

3. Birds

Condors in the Grand Canyon

There are so many birds that make the Grand Canyon their home, that there is no way to include all of them in their own section on this list! Up to 450 species of birds make their homes here, from the humongous California Condor to the tiniest hummingbird.

The California Condor is one of the rarest birds in the world and was brought back from near extinction in the 1990s. Today, a few breeding pairs make their home in the Grand Canyon, which is the perfect habitat for them as they prefer to roost on steep cliffsides and can hunt vast areas for their food. Their wingspan is an astonishing 9.5 feet from tip to tip!

A raven at the Grand Canyon
A Grand Canyon scrub jay

Other birds that make their homes in the Grand Canyon are Mexican spotted owls, canyon wrens, blue jays (my personal favorite!), ravens, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons (the fastest animal in the world, they can dive at speeds up to 200 miles per hour!). For avid birdwatchers, the Grand Canyon is a fantastic place to spot your favorites with wide-open views; just bring your binoculars!

4. Rattlesnakes

A black-tailed rattlesnake in Arizona

It wouldn’t be a national park in Arizona without these slithery creatures! There are 6 different species of rattlesnake in Grand Canyon National Park, and all should be viewed with respect from a distance.

Rattlesnakes have a handy warning system, their rattle on the end of their tail, which will alert you to their presence. Very rarely will a rattlesnake strike without warning, but it’s still always a good idea to stay on the trail and out of their habitat.

I’ve heard many stories of campers in the Grand Canyon waking up in the morning to a rattlesnake cuddled up next to their sleeping bag for warmth, but this could just be an urban myth! They are more likely to be hiding under bushes or rocks, sunning on large rocks, or hurriedly crossing the trails.

You can recognize these venomous reptiles by their tail rattle, and by their diamond-shaped head, and they usually have distinct markings and thick bodies as well.

No matter what kind of snake you see in the Grand Canyon, it’s always best to assume it is dangerous and to give the snake its space.

5. Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep in Arizona

These sure-footed members of the sheep family have made the Grand Canyon their home for thousands of years; the population in the park is one of the few populations of bighorn sheep in the country that haven’t had to be reintroduced to their original habitat.

These big, gray sheep are nimble and agile, able to ascend and descend even the steepest of terrains thanks to their rubber-like hooves.

Bighorn sheep tend to live in groups of females (ewes), young (kids), and males (rams). The rams get into spats with each other during the mating season, when they use their solid horns and skulls to “ram” into each other, causing a sound like a gunshot to echo through the canyon.

Look up at the cliffs while you’re hiking, and you just might see some bighorn sheep navigating their way through the canyon on impossible slopes and cliffsides. You might also see them just below you at some of the popular viewpoints along the rim, so don’t forget to look down as well!

6. Mule Deer

Mule deers in Arizona

Cousins to elk, moose, and white-tail deer, mule deer are a little larger than white-tail but smaller than elk. Males can get up to about 200 lbs, while females tend to be a bit smaller. Mule deer have smooth grey bodies and forked antlers, and their namesake ears are large and soft, like a mule’s.

When alert or alarmed, the mule deer will stomp, snort, and display their huge ears. They don’t tend to raise their tails as white-tail deer do, and their tails are smaller with a black tip. Mule deer bucks can grow to incredible size, and the bigger the antlers, the older and more dominant the buck.

Male mule deer with fight each other for dominance and mating rights every winter, and then will shed their antlers shortly afterward before regrowing them throughout the summer. In the summer, just like elk and other deer, the mule deer antlers are covered by a soft tissue called velvet that allows blood flow to reach the bony structures as they grow.

You can find mule deer on both rims of the Grand Canyon, as well as down at the very bottom of the canyon. They are hardy creatures and can thrive in a variety of habitats.

7. Bison

An American bison

Much rarer in Grand Canyon National Park is the American Bison, which has been reintroduced to the North Rim and currently lives in numbers of up to 220 or so animals. These bison have been closely monitored by national park officials, and any extra animals that the territory cannot sustain are captured and sent to other herds around the country to improve the genetic pool.

Bison are notoriously unpredictable and cranky, especially during the rut, so always keep a distance of at least 100 feet. Males are almost astronomically huge, standing over 6 feet tall and weighing up to 2,000 pounds! Their iconic shoulder hump, shaggy heads, and curved horns are a relic of the American Southwest.

You’ll only see bison within the park on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and they tend to gather in open meadows to graze. Baby bison are a dusty red color when they are born, while females are a light brown and males tend to be darker overall, with shaggier manes.

8. Bark Scorpion

Ugh. My least favorite creature in all of Arizona, although they are fascinating! Bark scorpions are the most venomous scorpion in all of North America, and are most commonly found near riparian (water) habitats since that’s where their prey is. They prefer to feed on other small insects, and they use their front pincers to grab their prey before stinging them to immobilize them.

Bark scorpions are the most populous of scorpions in the Grand Canyon, and you’ll be more likely to see them at night crossing the trails. Under a black light, these little arachnids glow a bright neon white! When camping overnight, it’s best practice to check your shoes, backpacks, and clothing for bark scorpions- they sure do love to hide in the most inconvenient places!

9. Tarantula

A tarantula in the Grand Canyon

Another arachnid, this one much more friendly, is the tarantula. These huge spiders (above 4 inches long) are slower moving than most other spiders and have eight hairy legs and a round hairy body. They are generally calm and rarely will bite humans unless you directly try to harm them. Anytime I see a tarantula I get excited, and have even held a few wild ones over the years.

Tarantulas feed on smaller insects, lizards, and even small birds. They build a small burrow underground that is reinforced by silk and will usually only leave at night to hunt. Males tend to wander farther from their burrows, looking for a mate in the autumn months. If you see one in the wild, give the tarantula some space and appreciate its beauty from afar.

10. Kaibab Squirrel

A Kaibab squirrel in the Grand Canyon

This is a spry little rodent that is only found in one place on earth- the Kaibab Plateau, which makes up the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and parts of the landscape north of the canyon. These cute little guys are most known for their tufted white ears and fluffy white tails, with a grey or almost black body.

Kaibab squirrels are only found in the ponderosa forests of the North Rim, and in the ponderosa forests near Jacob Lake, which is about 60 miles north of the canyon. They primarily feed on the seeds from ponderosa pine cones, as well as fungi, acorns, and wild fruit.

They are quick and nimble rodents, and you might just hear them chattering at you as you pass by underneath their home trees.

11. Bats

I happen to love bats of all kinds, especially the ugly little ones with pinched faces and noses! Their huge ears help them to sense their prey in the dark using echolocation, using high-pitched squeaks that bounce off of moths, flies, and other insects and reverberate back to the bats. They are agile and can turn so quickly that you almost lose sight of them as they flit and flutter above you in the fading sunset light.

The Grand Canyon happens to have one of the most biodiverse populations of bats in the entire country, with 22 separate species of bats making their homes here. The canyon’s expanse of cliffs, caves and abandoned mines creates the perfect habitat for thousands of bats to roost during the day. All bats in the Grand Canyon are nocturnal, meaning they only hunt and fly at night.

Bats are the only flying mammal in the world, but don’t have feathers like birds do. They are voracious feeders, and even the smallest bat in the canyon (not much bigger than a golf ball) can eat up to 5,000 insects in one night! Listen carefully at night in the canyon, and you may just hear bats squeaking above your head as they hunt through the darkness.

12. Bobcat

A bobcat in the Grand Canyon

Smaller than their mountain lion cousins, bobcats are named due to their short bobbed tails that are usually black-tipped and striped. Bobcats are agile hunters and utilize stealth and pouncing to catch most of their prey. They tend to feed on rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals.

Bobcats are solitary, like most big cats, and spend most of their time hunting and roaming their territories. The biggest bobcats only weigh about 30 lbs and are also the only big cat in Arizona with short tails, making them easy to differentiate from mountain lions.

Also like cougars, bobcats are few in and around the Grand Canyon and are rarely seen by visitors. If you do happen to be lucky enough to see one, enjoy it while you can, as these cats are cunning and elusive, blending into their surroundings easily.

13. Ringtail Cat

A ringtail cat

Ringtail cats are actually not cats at all- these small, long-tailed creatures are more closely related to raccoons. In fact, many people that see ringtail cats believe them to be raccoons since they look so similar. However, ringtails have thinner bodies and longer tails, marked with alternating black and white rings. They also have faces that are similar to house cats, with large eyes and pointed ears.

While quite cute, these little animals are elusive and secretive, only coming out at night and keeping in the most rugged and rough terrain. They are at home among boulders, rock fields, and steep hillsides where predators find it harder to catch them.

Ringtail cats are also the Official Arizona State Mammal, making them an extra special site for visitors to the Grand Canyon. You will most likely see them near water sources at dusk, and watch out for your backpacks with food in them- they are little tricksters who can open a zipper and steal your snacks!

Conclusion

The Grand Canyon is one of the more diverse national parks in all of the United States and boasts an impressive amount of animal and insect species throughout the park. Most visitors are lucky to see some kind of animal during their foray into Grand Canyon National Park, such as deer or elk. Others may be even lucky to see a mountain lion or a bighorn sheep.

Whenever you do see wildlife in Grand Canyon National Park, always remember to be respectful, keep your distance, and enjoy them in their natural habitat.

Not every creature in the Grand Canyon is dangerous to humans, but it does help to have a loose familiarity with the wildlife that can be found here to keep you safe during your visit.

For more wildlife in the area check out my guide on the big cats of Arizona, where to see California Condors in the region, and the best zoos in Arizona.