Wildlife

Discover Yellowstone Wildlife Navigation

 
The yellow circular image with a bison silhouette is superimposed over an image of a family of red foxes.

Widlife is all around us and sometimes in unexpected places! Remember, all animals in Yellowstone are wild and can be dangerous to you.

 

Habitat

 
Four images of wildlife: pika eating leaves, bighorn sheep on rocks, fox crossing snowy field, and beaver sitting in water.
Habitat is a place that provides food (A), shelter (B), space (C), and water (D).

A - NPS/Janine Waller, B - NPS/Jim Peaco, C & D - NPS

 

Every animal has a habitat—a place that provides the food, shelter, space, and water it needs to stay alive. Learning about animals and how they live is important to understanding their role in Yellowstone's environment.

  • Food (A) is essential. An animal must look for food or eat most of the time it's awake.
  • Shelter (B) protects an animal from predators and allows it to rest.
  • Space (C) is the room an animal needs to find food, water, and attract a mate.
  • Water (D) is needed for drinking, finding food, or just for fun.
 

Yellowstone's "Top" Animals

When people think of Yellowstone animals, these are the main animals they think of.

 
A grizzly bear standing on some downed trees.
Grizzly bears are very opportunistic eaters.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Bears

Yellowstone National Park is home to two types of bears: grizzly bears and black bears.

Grizzly bears

  • They can run up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph).
  • They eat nuts, berries, plant roots, and other animals—making these top predators omnivores.
  • They scratch their backs on "rub trees," leaving behind hair that scientists use to learn about bears.
 
A black bear looks out from a tree.
Black bears are good at climbing trees.

NPS/Eric Johnston

Black bears

  • They are more common than grizzly bears, and are found across North America.
  • While they are called black bears, their fur can be brown, blond, or cinnamon in color.
  • They have shorter, more curved claws that allow them to climb trees. However, this makes them less capable diggers compared to grizzly bears.
 
Bison grazing through an open woodland.
Bison grazing through an open forest.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Bison

Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the United States of America where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Yellowstone is also home to the nation's largest bison population on public land.

  • Males can weigh 2,000 pounds (907 kg).
  • They roam great distances as they continuously eat.
  • Their thick winter coats are so well insulated snow can stay on their backs without melting.
 
Elk resting on the ground
Three male elk resting near Mammoth Hot Springs.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Elk

An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 elk live in Yellowstone during the summer season. During the winter, most leave the park.

  • They are the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone.
  • Male antlers can weight about 30 pounds (14 kg) per pair and are shed every year.
  • Calves are born with white spots to help them hide from predators.
 
Female alpha wolf walking across snow
An alpha female wolf walking across a snowy landscape.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves

Wolves are highly social animals and live in packs. Although wolf packs once roamed from the Arctic tundra to Mexico, loss of habitat and extermination programs led to their demise throughout most of the United States of America by early in the 1900s. Today, nearly 100 wolves call Yellowstone home.

  • They live and travel in packs of ten animals (on average).
  • They communicate through barks, whines, growls, and howls.
  • The pack cares for new pups until they can hunt on their own, at about ten months.
 
Yellowstone cutthroat trout swimming in a shallow stream.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout in at a spawning site.

NPS/Neal Herbert

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most wide-spread native trout in the park, and are an important food for at least 16 species of birds and mammals. However, their population has declined substantially since the mid-1980s due to the invasion of lake trout into Yellowstone Lake.

  • They have a red-orange mark under their jaw.
  • They require cool, clean water in streams or lakes.
  • They spawn, or lay eggs, in spring and early summer.
 
A herd of bison grazing through a snowy hillside.

Get Wild: Yellowstone Survivor

Check out some of the amazing skills or adaptations animals have for surviving in Yellowstone National Park.

 

Creature Feature

Beyond the "top" animals of Yellowstone, there are many more animals for you to discover.

 
Bald eagle soaring across a blue sky
A bald eagle soaring.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Bald Eagles

The bald eagle was named the national symbol of the United States of America by Congress in 1782.

  • They rarely flap their wings; they soar instead.
  • Immature bald eagles do not get their white heads and tails until they are four or five years old.
  • They are not picky eaters. They will eat fish, small birds, rodents, and even dead animals.
 
A beaver standing on an icy shore near water.
Beavers use wood to build dens and dams.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Beavers

Beavers are a keystone species, which means they play a pivot role in creating and maintaining a habitat. In this case, beavers dam and divert streams to create ponds and other flooded environments that willow and aspen trees prefer. This creates pond and wetland habitat that other species can use.

  • They are crepuscular, meaning they are active in the morning and evening hours.
  • They prefer to eat willow, aspen, and cottonwood. In areas lacking those species, they will feed on underwater plants like pond lilies.
  • They live in family groups known as colonies. Fewer than 5% of mammals live in this type of group.
 
Close-up of a bighorn sheep ram with curled horns
Bighorn sheep love rocky landscapes.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Bighorn Sheep

Although widely distributed across the Rocky Mountains, bighorn sheep are found mainly in small, fragmented populations.

  • They are named for the large, curved horns on the males. These horns can weigh 30 pounds (14 kg).
  • In the fall, males compete for females by having head-butting contests.
  • A lamb (baby bighorn sheep) can walk and climb within a day of being born.
 
Boreal chorus frog extending its head out of the water and expanding its throat pouch.
Boreal chorus frog expanding its throat pouch to make its distinctive sound.

NPS/Neal Herbert

Boreal Chorus Frogs

These frogs are common, but they are hard to spot due to their small size and secretive habits. However, their calls are very conspicuous.

  • Adult frogs are 1 to 1.5 inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm) in length.
  • Running your fingernail over the small end of a comb can mimic the call of a boreal chorus frog.
  • Adults eat insects; tadpoles eat aquatic plants.
 
Long-tailed weasel looking out from some grassy vegetation.
A long-tailed weasel looking around.

NPS/Jane Olson

Long-tailed Weasels

One of two weasel species found in the park, they can been found in forests, open grassy meadows and marshes, and near water. However, they are hard to spot as they are solitary creatures, except during breeding and when raising their young.

  • They are built to hunt, with long, sleek bodies and small heads.
  • They weigh 3 to 12 ounces (.1 to .3 kg).
  • Their fur turns white during the winter season.
 
A mother moose rests as her young child walks around her.
A young moose looks to its mother.

NPS

Moose

Moose in Yellowstone are one of four subspecies of moose in North America, and are found in forested areas and willow flats. They are better adapted to survival in deep snow than other regional ungulates.

  • They are the largest member of the deer family.
  • Both male and female moose have a flap of skin that hangs from their throats called a bell.
  • Their nostrils close when they dip their heads underwater.
 
Mountain chickadee, a small black and white bird, sits on a tree branch.
Mountain chickadee in the winter.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Mountain Chickadees

Mountain chickadees are common songbirds in the mountains of western North America. They can be found from southern Arizona and New Mexico all the way up to the Yukon of Canada.

  • They communicate with many different calls; the most famous is chick-a-dee, dee, dee.
  • They are tough birds and spend their entire winter in Yellowstone.
  • They cache or hide food to eat in the winter.
 
An osprey perched on a branch.
Osprey are expect fish hunters.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Osprey

Osprey migrate to Yellowstone in the spring and leave as fall returns. As they hunt fish, they are usually found near lakes, river valleys, and river canyons.

  • They build large nests out of sticks in trees or on pinnacles close to water.
  • They lay two to three eggs in May to June.
  • Fledglings (young birds) have light edges on each dark feather on their backs and upper wings, which gives them a speckled appearance.
 
A pika scrambles across rocks with green leaves in its mouth.
Pika need to collect and store food to survive the winter.

NPS/Janine Waller

Pikas

Pikas are considered an indicator species for detecting ecological effects of climate change. They inhabit rocky alpine and sub-alpine areas and feed on the vegetation that fringes their preferred talus (rock) slopes.

  • They live in colonies and are active in the daytime.
  • They have a high-pitched chirp or call to warn their group of danger.
  • They do not hibernate in winter.
 
A pine marten rests up in a tree branch.
A pine marten surveys the forest from a tree branch.

NPS

Pine Martens

Pine martens are members of the weasel family, and hunt primarily small mammals. They are solitary creatures, except in the breeding season. Anywhere from one to five young can be born in mid-March to late April.

  • They live in forests and are active at dusk and dawn.
  • They hunt mostly on the ground.
  • They rest or den in hollow trees or stumps, in ground burrows or rock piles, and in excavations under tree roots.
 
A group of pronghorn traveling across a snowy field.
Pronghorn evolved to outrun their predators.

NPS/Jim Peaco

Pronghorn

The North American pronghorn is the lone surviving member of a group of animals that evolved in North America during the past 20 million years. Pronghorns can run for sustained sprints of 45 to 50 miles per hour (72 to 80 kph).

  • They have true horns like bison and bighorn sheep.
  • They have very large eyes and can see all around them.
  • Young pronghorn weigh six to eight pounds (2.7 to 3.6 kg) at birth.
 
A red fox walking through the snow.
Red foxes can detect the sounds of small mammals even under snow.

NPS/Bob Fuhrmann

Red Foxes

Red foxes are the smallest canine species in the park. They can have different fur coloration, though they tend to have reddish-yellow coats that are darker on the back and black "socks" on their lower legs.

  • They are nocturnal and hunt at night; they sleep during the day.
  • They use their tails for balance, warmth, and communication.
  • Their hearing is excellent and they can hear rodents digging underground.
 
Two river otters peer out from their rocky perch.
River otters taking a break on some rocks near Steamboat Point.

NPS/Diane Renkin

River Otters

River otters are the most aquatic member of the weasel family. They are active year-round and are mainly crepuscular (active in the morning and evening hours).

  • They can stay underwater for eight minutes.
  • Their fur is waterproof and helps them manage their body temperature.
  • They like to play by sliding on their bellies and keeping their paws at their sides.
 
Sandhill crane and baby searching for food in a marsh.
Two sandhill cranes look for food along a riverbank.

NPS/Jane Olson

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes nest in Yellowstone each summer. Their gutteral calls announce their presence long before most people see them.

  • They are the tallest birds in the park; standing about 4 feet (1.2 m) high.
  • They can often be seen foraging in open grassland areas.
  • They mainly have gray and rusty brown feathers, though they also have a distinctive red patch on their foreheads.
 
Two trumpeter swans glide across some still water.
A pair of trumpeter swans swimming.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Trumpeter Swans

The trumpeter swan, named for its call, is North America's largest wild waterfowl, with a wingspan up to eight feet.

  • They need 300 feet (91 m) of open water to take flight.
  • They can sleep on land or in the water.
  • Cygnets (baby swans) will stay with their mother for six months.
 
A marmot rests on a lichen-covered rock.
Marmot resting on a rock.

NPS/Diane Renkin

Yellow-bellied Marmots

Marmots are one of the largest rodents found in the park. They live in open grassy habitats with rocks nearby, and can be found from the lowest valleys all the way up to alpine tundra.

  • They hibernate for up to eight months.
  • They make a loud whistle used for fear or excitement; early settlers called them "whistle pigs."
  • They are herbivores, which means they eat grasses, flowers, and seeds.
 
Child wearing a winter hat and coat looking out across a deep, aqua-green hot spring.

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Last updated: August 16, 2018

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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