The rugged landscape along with the perennial water sources in the 3 units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument provide habitat for the large collection of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.
As the seasons change, so do the opportunities to see big game such as deer, elk, and antelope. Rodents, such as gophers, Belding's ground squirrels, and yellow belly marmots can be seen, as well as the hawks, coyotes, and badgers that prey on them.
Many species of birds are permanent residents of the monument while others including sandhill cranes can be seen migrating through each spring and fall. Swallows are seen feeding along the rocky outcroppings during the day, and bats can often be seen leaving their roosts in the same areas at dusk.
Northern pike minnow and bridgelip sucker are common sites in the John Day River flowing through the Sheep Rock Unit and on occasion in the spring, visitors will see steelhead or chinook salmon swimming upstream to their spawning grounds.
The small seeps and springs scattered throughout the monument provide habitat for various toads and frogs while several varieties of lizards and snakes are seen on the rocky hillsides above. Millions of years of animal and floral fossils show the slow change of this region from ocean bottom, to coastal rain forest, to the present day, semi-arid climate.
The animals found here today have adapted to the 9-16 inch annual precipitation and temperature variations from 110+ degrees in the summer to below zero in the winter. Ground squirrels go into a turpor in winter, while many birds and bats migrate south. Coyotes and beaver will grow thick, winter coats.
As spring arrives, neotropical birds and swallows will begin their nest building and bug catching activities, while mule deer does and their fawns feed in the hayfields.
Summer inspires the croaking of the frogs as they search for a mate and sends many a lizard to warm itself on the volcanic rocks. The bugling of elk and the southward flights of geese and sandhill cranes announce the coming of fall. Year after year the cycle is repeated within the protected boundaries of the monument.