Urban Wildlife of El Paso

tens of mourning doves perched on electrical wires and street light
The kingdom of life knows no boundaries. In the twin desert cities metropolises of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, many animals thrive. If you pause for just a moment, the animal kingdom might open up to you. Below is a description of wild animals that can be commonly seen at Chamizal National Memorial, in El Paso, and across the river in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
grackle perched on a slender branch

Great-tailed Grackle
Quiscalus mexicanus

Resembling the common raven but smaller and with a rather longer tail, the great-tailed grackle originated in Central America. For the past several decades, it has been expanding its range northward into Mexico and now lives throughout a large portion of the western U.S. The great-tailed grackle has adapted to our wide-scale irrigation systems and landscaped yards. They thrive in the urban environment and live in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez year-round. Considered a noisy bird, the great-tailed grackle makes a variety of sounds.

close-up of robin on the ground

American Robin
Turdus migratorius

Although some robins remain in the same habitat year-round, the robins you see in El Paso migrate. Our robins winter in southern Mexico, travel northward in the spring, spend summer in the United States and Canada, and finally, fly back to Mexico in the fall. In El Paso, the first robin arrives in February. The robin can be distinguished by its red underbelly. I eats mainly worms and fruit. Robins make a "cheery carol," and are often the first bird chirping at dawn.

close-up of mourning dove on the ground

Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura

One of the most common birds of North American cities, the mourning dove is even more abundant in open areas. Light grey and brown in color, this dove is commonly hunted for food and sport. Even so, there is still a large population of the bird due to the fact that pairs produce many offspring. The mourning dove lives in El Paso year-round. It is the closest relative of the passenger pigeon, which was hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. The mourning dove makes a soft coo-oo sound followed by two or three louder coos.

close-up front view of white-winged dove

NPS Photo / Cookie Ballou

White-winged Dove
Zenaida asiatica

Unlike the mourning dove, the white-winged dove migrates, spending winters in Central America and southern Mexico. Mainly found in the wild, the white-winged dove can also be seen in El Paso. It is a chunky, brownish-grey bird that has a distinct white patch on its wings and a blue eye ring. The bird eats seeds, grains, and fruit, and makes a hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo (who-cooks-for-you) sound.

two squirrels at the opening of a burrow

Spotted Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus spilosoma

Compared to other squirrels, the spotted ground squirrel might look colorless and small, but this species of squirrel has adapted almost perfectly to the desert environment of West Texas and Chihuahua (the Mexican state): its light color acts as camouflage. The spotted ground squirrel eats seeds from common desert shurbs and grasses, and it also eats fruits and flowers produced by cacti. Like grizzly and black bears of the norther Rocky Mountains, the spotted ground squirrel hibernates during the coldest part of winter.

side view of coyote

Canis latrans

Along with the mountain lion, the coyote can be found in practically every part of North America. A member of the canine family, the coyote is smaller than the wolf but larger than the fox. Coyotes can grow up to 25 pounds, and they have thick, bushy tails and pointed ears. Coyotes mainly feed on rabbits and rodents, but they will eat just about anything. A fast runner, the coyote has been clocked at over 40 miles per hour.

close-up of side view of cottontail

Desert Cottontail
Sylvia Audubon

If you see a rabbit speeding through a park or school campus, it's probably a desert cottontail. Named for its puffy white tail, the desert cottontail is most active at night. However, it can also be seen in the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is not quite as fierce. The cottontail is copra, which means that it eats its own feces to get extra nutrients. The rabbit eats mainly grasses and is, itself, eaten by rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, and birds of prey. Sometimes the desert cottontail can save itself by running in a zigzag pattern, which confuses its predator. Although it does have many predators, the population remains stable because females of the species produce several young each year.

striped snake winding across pebbled ground

Crotalus sp.

The Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox) is the most common rattlesnake in West Texas, but the black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) can also be seen in the Chihuahuan Desert. Rattlesnakes are grayish brown in color and can be distinguished from other snakes by a rattle at the end of their body. Rattlesnakes hibernate in winter but come out if there is a long, warm spell. They are most active in the morning and evening the rest of the year. Their diet consists mainly of rodents and rabbits. Rattlesnakes are preyed on by coyotes and birds of prey. If you see a rattlesnake, leave it alone and give it plenty of room. If bit by a rattlesnake, seek medical attention immediately.

Download the Urban Wildlife of El Paso brochure.

Last updated: January 11, 2017

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