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Animals and Wildlife in Colorado

wildlife in colorado
wildlife in colorado

Welcome to the world of the animals and wildlife in Colorado!

Step into the enchanting realm of Colorado, where nature’s masterpiece unfolds with majestic mountains, lush forests, winding canyons, and so much more! Nestled in the heart of the western United States, this animal and wildlife wonderland beckons with the promise of thrilling adventures.

Prepare to be captivated by the myriad of fascinating creatures that inhabit this scenic haven. Colorado is a wild card, teeming with diversity and charm, and it’s an adventure you won’t want to miss. Get ready to be wowed as you embark on an exploration of the untamed beauty that defines this captivating corner of the country.

Click below to jump to any section on wildlife in Colorado:

Key Points

WildlifeScientific NameSizeHabitatRangeDietConservation Status
Bighorn SheepOvis canadensis canadensisMales: 180-310 lbs (82-140 kg)Females: 130-200 lbs (59-91 kg)Rocky Mountains, North AmericaVaries by locationHerbivorous – graze on grasses, shrubs, and vegetationVaries by population
Colorado BisonBison bisonMales: 1,800-2,000 lbs (820-910 kg)Females: 900-1,100 lbs (410-500 kg)Various habitats in ColoradoNear Threatened (IUCN Red List)Herbivorous – graze on grasses and vegetationNear Threatened
ElkCervus canadensisMales: 600-1000 lbs (272-454 kg)Females: 400-600 lbs (181-272 kg)Various habitats across North AmericaLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)Herbivorous – graze on grasses, shrubs, and vegetationLeast Concern
Mountain LionPuma concolorLength: 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 meters)Height: 2-2.5 feet (60-76 cm)Diverse habitats ranging from mountains to desertsLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)Carnivorous – prey on deer, ungulates, small mammals, and birdsLeast Concern
Black BearUrsus americanusLength: 4-7 feet (1.2-2.1 meters)Height: 2.5-3 feet (76-91 cm)Diverse habitats including forests, swamps, and mountainsLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)Omnivorous – eat plants, berries, nuts, insects, and small mammalsLeast Concern
Hawks, Falcons, EaglesVarious species in Accipitridae familyVarious species in Falconidae familyVarious species in Accipitridae familyVaries depending on the speciesDiverse habitats including forests, grasslands, and mountainsVaries by speciesCarnivorous – prey on small mammals, birds, and insectsVaries by species
Wild HorsesEquus ferusHeight: VariesTypically ranges from 13 to 16 hands (52 to 64 inches or 132 to 163 cm) at the shoulderVaries depending on the region and environmental conditionsVaries by regionHerbivorous – graze on grasses and vegetationVaries by population
Prairie DogsCynomys spp.Length: 12-16 inches (30-41 cm)Grasslands and prairies in North AmericaVaries depending on the regionHerbivorous – graze on grasses and forbsVaries by species
North American BeaverCastor canadensisLength: 29-35 inches (74-90 cm)Found in freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, and streamsNative to North America, from Canada to northern MexicoHerbivorous – feed on bark, twigs, leaves, and aquatic plantsLeast Concern
RattlesnakeVarious species in Crotalus and Sistrurus generaLength: VariesTypically ranges from 1.5 to 5.5 feet (45 to 168 cm)Various habitats ranging from deserts to forestsVaries by regionCarnivorous – prey on rodents, lizards, and small birdsVaries by species

About Colorado

Colorado river
Ruby Canyon Colorado river. …trialsanderrors, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado proudly stands as a state renowned for hosting one of the healthiest populations, a fact hardly surprising given its breathtaking mountainous terrain, outdoor activities, and a vibrant health-oriented culture accessible to all. The abundant natural beauty that envelops you contributes to the allure, making Colorado an enthralling destination where you can revel in the invigorating landscapes teeming with wildlife.

If you’re eager to further immerse yourself in the captivating wildlife of Colorado, join us on a journey as we delve into the lives of these enchanting creatures. And, of course, share with us your favorite among them—the one you’d most love to encounter in this remarkable natural haven!

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep in autumn
Big horn sheep can live up to 15 years in the wild. Image via Jakub Fryš, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameOvis canadensis canadensis
SizeMales (Rams): 180 to 310 pounds (82 to 140 kg)
Females (Ewes): 130 to 200 pounds (59 to 91 kg)
HornsMale Horns: Up to 30 pounds (13.6 kg)
Male Horns Length: Up to 30 inches (76 cm)
HabitatRocky Mountains, North America
Social StructureSocial animals living in herds
DietHerbivorous – primarily graze on grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation
Conservation StatusVaries by location, some populations may be endangered or threatened

Colorado proudly claims the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep as its official state animal. These elusive creatures prefer the lofty peaks of the Rocky Mountains as their chosen abode. To catch a glimpse of Colorado’s state mammal in its natural habitat, head to Colorado Springs for an opportunity to witness these majestic Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in all their untamed glory.

Where to see them in Colorado: These are some of the best local spots

  1. Garden of the Gods Park.
  2. Glen Eyrie Castle.
  3. Pikes Peak.
  4. Arkansas River.

Bighorn sheep were among the most admired animals of the Apsaalooka (Crow) people, and what is today called the Bighorn Mountain Range was central to the Apsaalooka tribal lands.

Colorado Bison

European bison.
Bisons can run faster than horses. Image via Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameBison bison
SizeMales (Bulls): 1,800 to 2,000 pounds (820 to 910 kg)
Females (Cows): 900 to 1,100 pounds (410 to 500 kg)
HornsBoth males and females have horns
Horns can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) in length for males
HabitatVarious habitats in Colorado
Social StructureLive in herds with complex social structures
DietHerbivorous – graze on grasses and other vegetation
Conservation StatusNear Threatened (IUCN Red List)

The American Bison, formidable creatures that can stand up to 6.5 feet tall and weigh a staggering 2,200 pounds, are known for their impressive size and strength. These large mammals travel in herds and boast an average lifespan of 20 years.

Remarkably, when the need arises, a bison can sprint at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Once, the plains of North America were home to a staggering 60 million bison. However, due to extensive overhunting, the bison population faced near-extinction.

In a heartening turn of events, a bison herd in northern Colorado is experiencing unexpected growth. This herd, located in a natural area north of Fort Collins, originated three years ago with ten genetically pure descendants of bison from Yellowstone National Park.

Where to see Bison in Colorado

  1. Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
  2. Buffalo Outlook
  3. Genesee Park


Elk in forest
Elk deer in Jasper National Park near Maligne Canyon. Image via Membeth, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameCervus canadensis
SizeMales (Bulls): 600 to 1000 pounds (272 to 454 kg)
Females (Cows): 400 to 600 pounds (181 to 272 kg)
AntlersOnly males (bulls) have antlers
Antlers can reach up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length and have multiple points
HabitatVarious habitats across North America, including forests, grasslands, and mountains
Social StructureLive in herds with separate groups of males and females during most of the year
DietHerbivorous – graze on grasses, shrubs, and other vegetation
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)

Arguably the most renowned wildlife in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Elk, a member of the deer family, flourishes in the state’s lush forests. According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the early 1900s witnessed a perilous decline in elk numbers, with only 40,000 remaining in North America. Extensive hunting nearly eradicated elk from Colorado, but thanks to dedicated relocation efforts, the state now boasts a thriving elk population exceeding 280,000.

For those eager to observe these majestic creatures, Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal destination. During their fall rutting (mating) season, elk can be spotted bugling and sparring in the Moraine and Horseshoe sections near Estes Park.

The region in and around the park, near Walden, holds the prestigious title of the official moose capital of Colorado. Over 600 moose inhabit this area year-round, alongside elk, mule deer, beaver, fox, eagles, and black bears, creating a rich and diverse wildlife habitat.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lion on grass in texas park. Image via Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Lmbuga), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Seldom heard of or encountered, the elusive mountain lion of Colorado is a wildlife species that often goes unnoticed by most visitors. Recognized by various names such as cougar, puma, or panther, the mountain lion stands as one of the largest cats in North America.

Sporting a camouflage-like coloring, these majestic creatures seamlessly blend into their surroundings. Despite their stealthy and swift movements, they are surprisingly large, with males reaching up to eight feet in length and averaging around 150 pounds in weight.

Colorado provides a habitat for mountain lions throughout its landscape, particularly in the foothills, while sightings in the eastern plains are exceptionally rare. These creatures thrive in areas rich in pinyon pine, juniper, ponderosa pines, and low-lying oak brush.

Scientific NamePuma concolor
SizeLength: 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 meters) from nose to tail
Height: Around 2 to 2.5 feet (60 to 76 cm) at the shoulder
WeightMales: 130 to 220 pounds (59 to 100 kg)
Females: 65 to 140 pounds (29 to 64 kg)
ColorTawny or grayish-brown with a white underbelly
HabitatDiverse habitats ranging from mountains, forests, and grasslands to deserts and swamps
RangeFound throughout the Americas from Canada to South America
DietCarnivorous – primarily preys on deer and other ungulates, but can also eat smaller mammals and occasionally birds
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)

The mountain lion’s habitat extends from the desert, chaparral, and badland breaks to subalpine mountains and tropical rainforests. In Colorado, lions are found in regions abundant with pinyon pine, juniper, mountain mahogany, ponderosa pine, and oak brush. Their presence is often associated with areas teeming with plentiful deer.

While many Colorado locals are accustomed to encountering mountain lions, we strongly advise tourists to exercise caution, particularly in areas with recent sightings of these magnificent creatures.

Lion Alert: A lion has been spotted in the area or neighborhood when this sign is posted. The lion may or may not have had contact with humans or pets. Citizens are urged to remain vigilant of the presence of mountain lions and adhere to the following precautions:

  • Supervise children and pets when they are outside.
  • Refrain from playing, running, or walking outside between dusk and dawn.
  • Turn on outside lights when leaving home or returning in the evening and early morning hours.

Black Bear

black bear, Animals of Colorado
Black bears are masters of adaptation. Image by Bruce warrington via Unsplash
Scientific NameUrsus americanus
SizeLength: 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) from nose to tail
Height: Approximately 2.5 to 3 feet (76 to 91 cm) at the shoulder
WeightMales: 130 to 600 pounds (59 to 272 kg)
Females: 90 to 300 pounds (41 to 136 kg)
ColorVaries, but often black or dark brown; some individuals may have a lighter-colored “cinnamon” phase
HabitatDiverse habitats including forests, swamps, mountains, and open fields
RangeFound in North America, including the United States and Canada
DietOmnivorous – diet consists of plants, berries, nuts, insects, small mammals, and occasionally carrion
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)

The state of Colorado is home to approximately 10,000-12,000 black bears, a species that, despite its name, comes in a range of colors such as blonde, cinnamon, or brown. Colorado, once inhabited by grizzlies, now officially hosts only one bear species: the American Black Bear.

These bears can be found dispersed across Colorado, particularly in regions abundant with Gambel’s oak and aspen. They predominantly reside in oak brush areas and occasionally venture into aspen forests. The highest concentration of black bears spans from Walsenburg to Trinidad, to the west of the San Luis Valley. Black bears enter hibernation around early November and emerge in May. On average, two cubs are born during their hibernation period.

You can read more with our dedicated article on the largest North American Black Bear.

Birds of Prey: Hawks, falcons, and eagles

American eagle
Close up shot of United States iconic bird facing camera with wings spread in flight. Image by OpenRangeStock via Depositphotos
Scientific NameVarious species in Accipitridae familyVarious species in Falconidae familyVarious species in Accipitridae family
SizeVaries depending on the speciesVaries depending on the speciesVaries depending on the species
Wingspan2 to 4.5 feet (60 to 137 cm)2 to 4 feet (60 to 120 cm)5 to 8 feet (150 to 240 cm)
HabitatDiverse habitats including forests, grasslands, mountains, and open areasFound worldwide, often in open areas and cliffsDiverse habitats including forests, mountains, and near large bodies of water
DietCarnivorous – prey on small mammals, birds, and insectsCarnivorous – mainly hunt birds, using high-speed dives to catch preyCarnivorous – primarily feed on fish and small mammals, but may also eat birds and carrion
Unique FeaturesSharp beaks and strong talons for huntingExcellent vision and agile flightPowerful beaks and talons for hunting and large, strong wings
Conservation StatusVaries by species, some may be threatened or endangeredVaries by species, some may be threatened or endangeredVaries by species, some may be threatened or endangered

Birds were commonly seen in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas. The following species are indigenous and can be witnessed in all their glory.

Hawks, eagles, and kites

  • White-tailed kite, Elanus leucurus.
  • Swallow-tailed kite, Elanoides forficatus.
  • Golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos.
  • Northern harrier, Circus hudsonius.
  • Sharp-shinned hawk, Accipiter striatus.
  • Cooper’s hawk, Accipiter cooperii.
  • Northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis.
  • Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

Exploring the avian wonders of Colorado reveals a staggering diversity of over 400 species, leaving the anticipation of which wings will grace the skies. Among the cherished birds to spot are those that call the mountains home. While the entire state offers numerous birding opportunities, embarking on the Colorado birding trails provides an excellent starting point.

In Western Colorado, seven trails unfold, allowing bird enthusiasts to witness a variety of species spanning the four corners. The Rocky Mountains, a haven for birdwatchers, boast 27 trails stretching from the northern to the southern reaches of Colorado. Completing the trio, the Eastern Plains present 20 trails, with the majority situated in the northeastern part of the state.

For an enhanced birding experience, the Colorado Birding Trail offers an app to track birds during hikes. Discover more about these trails and the fascinating birdlife they harbor at the following link below…

Bird trail app

Wild Horses

wild horses
Scientific NameEquus ferus
SizeHeight: Varies depending on the breed and region
Typically ranges from 13 to 16 hands (52 to 64 inches or 132 to 163 cm) at the shoulder for most wild horses in North America
WeightVaries depending on the breed and region
Typically ranges from 500 to 1,000 pounds (227 to 454 kg) for most wild horses
ColorVarious colors and coat patterns, including brown, black, white, gray, and roan
HabitatVaries depending on the region and environmental conditions
RangeWild horses are found in several regions worldwide, including North America, Europe, and Australia
DietHerbivorous – primarily graze on grasses and other vegetation
Unique FeaturesAgile and strong runners, able to cover long distances
Conservation StatusVaries by region and population, some may be considered threatened or endangered

Encompassing over 36,000 acres of stunning canyons and plateaus, the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area invites visitors to explore and witness the horses freely roaming. This range stands as one of three in the U.S. expressly designated for the protection of wild horses. Situated just northeast of Palisade, it offers a unique opportunity for individuals to hike and connect with the natural beauty of the landscape while observing these magnificent creatures in their untamed habitat.

There is also Sand Wash Basin in northwest Colorado, near Craig, that is home to more than 75.

Here are a few places where you might find this majestic creature around the state:

  • The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area. …
  • The Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area. …
  • The Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area. …
  • Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area.

Prairie Dogs

cynomy ludovicianus sitting up straight
Black-tailed prairie (Cynomys ludovicianus), Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada. Image via Cephas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameCynomys spp.
SizeLength: 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 cm)
WeightVaries depending on the species
Typically ranges from 1.5 to 3 pounds (0.68 to 1.36 kg) for most prairie dog species
ColorTypically light brown with lighter underparts
HabitatGrasslands and prairies in North America
RangeFound in North America, primarily in the central and western regions
DietHerbivorous – primarily graze on grasses and forbs
Social StructureLive in large underground colonies called “towns”
Unique FeaturesExcellent burrowers and communicators through “barks”
Conservation StatusVaries by species and location, some may be considered threatened or endangered

Prairie dogs, herbivorous burrowing rodents indigenous to the grasslands of North America, play a crucial role as “keystone” species. Their colonies form islands of habitat that benefit approximately 150 other species. These social animals live in groups known as coteries, with males moving between groups while females remain together for the entirety of their lives.

To encounter these fascinating creatures, head to the eastern third of Colorado, where the black-tailed prairie dog thrives. Once covering an estimated seven million acres in Colorado, these animals primarily inhabit grassland areas below 6,000 feet, east of the state’s foothills. Witnessing the intricate dynamics of prairie dog colonies in their natural habitat provides a unique glimpse into the interconnected ecosystems they sustain.

North American Beaver

North America beaver eating grass
North american beaver at castor canadensis algonquin. Image via Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameCastor canadensis
SizeLength: 29 to 35 inches (74 to 90 cm)
WeightTypically ranges from 35 to 70 pounds (16 to 32 kg)
ColorDark brown fur with a lighter underbelly
HabitatFound in freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers, and streams
RangeNative to North America, from Canada to the United States and northern Mexico
DietHerbivorous – primarily feed on bark, twigs, leaves, and aquatic plants
Unique FeaturesExcellent swimmers with webbed hind feet and a broad, flat tail for steering in the water
BehaviorHighly skilled at building dams and lodges with sticks and mud to create underwater homes
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (IUCN Red List)

The North American Beaver is a native species to Colorado and plays an important role in the environment and the state’s ecology.

They are pretty common in Colorado, including in urban areas. In Castle Rock, beavers are active along East Plum Creek and Sellars Gulch. However, you might not catch a glimpse of these animals as you walk along the creeks during the day since beavers are primarily active at night.


Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Image via Peter Paplanus, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientific NameVarious species in the genera Crotalus and Sistrurus
SizeLength: Varies depending on the species
Typically ranges from 1.5 to 5.5 feet (45 to 168 cm)
WeightVaries depending on the species
Typically ranges from 1 to 4 pounds (0.5 to 1.8 kg)
ColorVaries, but typically have a pattern of dark and light bands with a rattle at the end of the tail
HabitatVarious habitats ranging from deserts to forests
RangeFound in North and South America
DietCarnivorous – primarily feed on rodents, lizards, and small birds
VenomRattlesnakes are venomous snakes, and their venom is used to immobilize and digest their prey
Unique FeaturesCharacteristic rattle at the end of the tail, which is used as a warning signal to potential threats
Conservation StatusVaries by species and location, some may be considered threatened or endangered

Of the 25 species of snakes in Colorado, the western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and the massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) are the only venomous species. The western rattlesnake appears in most habitats throughout the state. The massasauga, however, is limited to the southeastern grasslands.

In Colorado, two distinct species of rattlesnakes coexist: the western/prairie rattlesnake and the massasauga. The massasauga is exclusive to the southeastern plains, thriving in dry grasslands and sandhills below 5,500 feet. Typically measuring around 20 inches in length, it boasts multiple shades of brown with a loosely checkered pattern. It’s crucial to exercise caution when encountering a snake or venturing into snake territory, as these snakes are venomous.

To make the most of your hiking experience while minimizing risks, consider using a trail finder. This tool aids in planning trips based on the wildlife you hope to encounter, ensuring a safer and more enjoyable exploration of Colorado’s diverse landscapes.

Trail finder

You don’t even need to leave your car to see the wildlife in Colorado. We have found some areas where you can witness wildlife from a safe distance.

  • Rocky Mountain National Park. …
  • Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. …
  • State Forest State Park. …
  • South Platte River Trail. …
  • Mount Evans Scenic Byway. …
  • Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. …
  • San Juan Skyway. …
  • Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

Explore Colorado’s magnificent landscapes through its four National Parks—Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison—each offering a showcase of wondrous and diverse scenery.

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park: Covering 415 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park protects breathtaking mountain environments. Traverse Trail Ridge Road, reaching over 12,000 feet, providing numerous overlooks to immerse yourself in the subalpine and alpine worlds. The park boasts over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers, wildlife, starry nights, and unforgettable experiences.
  2. Mesa Verde National Park: Established in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park preserves and interprets the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Inhabited for over 700 years (600 to 1300 CE), the park safeguards nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, making them among the most notable and well-preserved in the United States.
  3. Great Sand Dunes National Park: Open year-round, the tallest dunes in North America take center stage in this park, surrounded by a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra.
  4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: A marvel of nature, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is grand enough to overwhelm yet intimate enough to connect with the pulse of time. Displaying some of North America’s steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires, the canyon unveils a vertical wilderness shaped by the Gunnison River and the forces of weathering over 2 million years.
YouTube video
“Discovering colorado’s rocky animal empire [4K] ” Sourced: YouTube, Uploaded: Real wild

Which wildlife in Colorado do you wish to see? Colorado has a diverse landscape of arid desert, river canyons, and snow-covered Rocky Mountains and won’t disappoint nature lovers seeking wildlife experiences. We recommend visiting the wildlife in Colorado!

If you enjoyed this blog about the animals and wildlife in Colorado, you might be interested in blogs about the US in general, Wildlife in Iowa, or Wildlife in Florida.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What part of Colorado has the most wildlife?

Colorado is known for its diverse wildlife, and various regions of the state support abundant wildlife populations. Generally, areas with more extensive wilderness, forests, and mountainous terrain, such as the western and central parts of the state, tend to have higher concentrations of wildlife. National parks and protected areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, San Juan National Forest, and the Colorado Plateau are popular destinations to observe diverse wildlife.

What wildlife should I be aware of in Colorado?

While exploring Colorado’s outdoors, it’s essential to be aware of potentially encountering various wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, and a variety of bird species. Rattlesnakes are also found in the region, especially in lower elevations and drier areas.

Is there mountain lions in Colorado?

Yes, mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are found in Colorado. They inhabit various habitats, including forests, canyons, and rocky terrain, and are known to roam across the state.

Does Colorado have a lot of bears?

Yes, Colorado is home to a significant population of black bears. They can be found throughout much of the state, especially in forested areas. Black bears are adaptable and often encounter human-populated areas as well.

Do bears and lions live in the same area?

Yes, bears and lions can share overlapping habitats in Colorado. Both species have wide ranges and can be found in similar environments, such as forests and mountainous terrain. However, they tend to avoid direct confrontations, and their activity patterns and hunting habits differ.

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