Animals in California

The state of California has a lot of what ecologists say are “endemic species,” They are saying that these animals are only to be found in California – nowhere else. California is nicknamed the Golden State and is a very important place as far as its biological diversity is concerned. It’s got the third-largest landmass in the entire country. And because the north to south is so huge, you can imagine it encompasses a huge diversity of different ecosystems and climates, as well as animals. Right in the center of the state is the California Central Valley, surrounded on all sides by magnificent mountain ranges. In all these diverse extreme places of California, you will find a bevy of exciting animals.

We are going to look at some of the amazing animals of California…

California red-legged frog 

frog animals in california

The California red-legged frog is the official state amphibian. It is the largest native frog in the western United States and is found exclusively in the state of California. Remember the story of Mark Twain, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County? This is that frog! It is named for its reddish coloring on the underside of its legs and stomach. The back and head can be red, brown, or grey. Its back and the top of its legs have small black spots and large dark blotches. The face looks like it has a dark mask on. It can be between two to five inches long. They like to be in slow-moving standing deep ponds, streams, and pools. They enjoy vegetation like cattails, grasses, and shrubs which will protect them from predators and the sun. They can’t take excessive heat. They are mainly solitary during the year and active at night. They have to look out for birds or raccoons and snakes, and even the American bullfrog. It will eat whatever it can catch. Most of the time it will eat invertebrates and sometimes smaller mammals and amphibians. They can live for about 10 years.

Desert tortoise 

desert tortoise animals in california

The desert tortoise is the official state reptile. It lives to be 50 years and might even make the over 80 mark. It weighs about 15 pounds and is about 15 inches long.  Sometimes you might hear people calling it by its other names such as Mojave Desert tortoise, Agassiz desert tortoise, or simply the desert tortoise. They spend a lot of their time hiding in the shade of rocks and shrubs from the hot desert sun. They will hibernate in burrows which they dig using their round legs. They are known as a keystone species because they have such an influence on the ecosystem. A lot of other species use their burrows and simply benefit from having the desert tortoise around. The tortoises will eat shrubs, grass, wildflowers, cacti, and they get their water from the succulents. They rely on areas that have high plant species diversity for food and for protection. They are built to thrive in desert environments and can fully retract their legs and head into their shell when they are disturbed. Once they reach adulthood they are not attacked by too many predators. But ravens love to eat the tortoise babies, perching on power lines where they get the best view. During hibernation the tortoises will stay in their burrow but come out if the weather appeals to them. They are solitary creatures but sometimes will share burrows. Due to habitat destruction, these wonderful creatures are now struggling for survival.

California quail 

quail animals in california

This is the official state bird, the California quail. It has a blue-grey plumage, always on the lookout for berries and seeds to eat. Isn’t the male magnificent with his floppy black feathers on top of his head that quiver as he walks? They chirp all the time as they search for food, foraging throughout the day. The bird is about 10 inches long. They like to frequent woodland areas, parks, and to be near streams. They have a cluster of feathers that overlap on top of the heads that curl into a U-shape. Their necks are short and they have wide wings with a long square tail. They have a rounded stomach which is covered with white, grey, and rusty feathers. Besides seed, flowers and berries, the quail will also eat small insects and snails, caterpillars, and beetles, etc. These little birds have to be on the lookout for bobcats, squirrels, coyotes, owls, skunks, and snakes because they spend a lot of time on the ground. They quickly take off again if predators are around. Sometimes they are in small groups. They live to be about 5 years old.  They can go without water for a certain amount of time but when the heat is really high, they need quick and easy access to water.

Grizzly Bear 


The Grizzly bear is the official state animal in California. But even though it does hold that status, you won’t find grizzly bears in any of the wild places of California. The only place you will find them these days is at the San Francisco Zoo. Some conservation groups are trying to bring them back to the Sierra Nevada mountain range which would be wonderful. It’s hard to believe that there were once over 10,000 grizzlies in California. People just eradicated them out of fear for them. The Center for Biological Diversity would like to see the grizzly come back to California. They are massive creatures with humped shoulders, an elevated forehead with brownish to buff fur. Large adult grizzly bears can be about 8 feet long and weigh 900 to 1000 pounds! Because of their bulk as well as the fact that they have long, straight claws, they don’t climb a lot. They can run at about 30 mph. Their eyesight isn’t the best though. Stay away from a grizzly female bear who has her cubs with her; she will be at her most aggressive as she defends and protects them. The bears are omnivores and feed on plant roots, berries, shoots, fish, small mammals, and carrion. Each spring, the grizzly bears will mark boundaries by rubbing trees and scratching bark. When its summer and autumn they will accumulate a lot of fat on their body and then retire to dens for the winter.  Sometimes the American black bear is mistaken for the grizzly because it is sometimes brown in other areas. 


rattlesnake animals in california

There are five rattlesnake species in Californian, the western diamondback, the southern Pacific rattlesnake, the red diamond rattlesnake, the great basin rattlesnake, and the Mojave rattlesnake. A rattlesnake usually gives a warning with its rattle before it strikes. If you do happen to get bitten by one, you need to seek medical attention straight away. Adults can reach 6 feet in length. They are a very important part of the ecosystem because they feed on rodents, birds, and other small animals. Their head is triangular in shape; a key characteristic in their identification. Then, of course, their other identifying feature is the rattle. This is at the end of the tail. The biggest and most common rattlesnake in California is the western diamondback as well as being the most dangerous rattlesnake. It is also the most aggressive. Most rattlesnakes fed on prey in tall grassy areas, rocky outcrops, or burrows, sometimes even in the open. They feed on primarily rodents. They will wait until their prey is close and then strike with its two large fangs that inject venom straight into the prey. It immediately subdues the prey, which is then swallowed whole. When they are not active, the rattlesnake will seek cover in rock crevices, in dense vegetation and in rodent burrows. In some places, the rattlesnake will hibernate for a few months in the rock crevices. Did you know the rattlesnake venom is produced in glands behind the eyes? It then flows through ducts to the fangs. Many animals are scared of snakes as well. The snake’s predators are owls, eagles and hawks which swoop down and pick it up and carry it off. Other snakes, such as the King Snake and Black Snake will prey on the rattlesnake.

Great White Sharks 

Great White Shark Cage Diving
The great white shark is one of the ocean’s most deadly predators. They are found mostly in cool waters and close to the coast. They are super swimmers, these, feeding on other fish and animals. They grow to be about 4.6 m long and some have even reached 6 m. Their coloring is grey and white under the belly which is where they get their name from. Their body is very streamlined and they have a powerful tail that can propel them through the water at 60 mph! Inside its mouth, it has 300 of the sharpest triangular-shaped teeth in seven rows. When they are young they will feed on small prey like other fish and rays. But the older they get they will feed on sea mammals like seals, other small whales, and sea lions. They have a strong sense of smell and can even detect a colony of seals two miles away from them. They usually position themselves under the water and then burst out of the water in a leap before falling back into the water with their prey in their mouth. They don’t seem to have any other predators that are after them, but unfortunately, their only threat is human activity. 


Southern Sea Otter  

otter animals in california

Up until the early 20th century, the sea otter was almost extinct through hunting. Fortunately, their numbers along the Californian coastline have risen, although it is still an endangered species. It’s about 4 feet long and weighs 65 pounds. For its meals, it enjoys sea urchins, clams, snails, mussels, abalone, crabs, fish, scallops, squid, and more.  It loves being near the rocks or the muddy sea bottom and enjoys the kelp forests as well. It is dark to a reddish- brown in color. Its body is long and stout with a short broad head. It has retractable claws and its front paws have rough pads on them to help it to grasp the rocks and its prey. Its back feet are webbed to help it to be an expert swimmer in the seas. Sea otters groom themselves a lot to keep their fur maintained. It needs to eat 20 to 25% of its body weight every day to maintain normal temperatures. So it spends much of the day foraging. They help to maintain the health of the kelp forests by preying on sea urchins. They live to be about 15 years old. It is believed that the sea otter wraps itself in kelp before it sleeps so it doesn’t drift away. It’s not a social animal and lives alone, but sometimes it’s in a group where there is a lot of food. It is capable of diving to around 300 feet to look for food. Their hearing, smell, and touching senses are very acute for hunting purposes and for detecting danger.

California Condor 

condor animals in california

It is one big bird, the California Condor; from one tip of its wing to the other, it measures 9 feet! Back in 1982, there were only 22 of these magnificent birds left in the world! How terrible is that. Just fortunately biologists stepped in and now their numbers have increased somewhat but still not sufficient. It is one of the longest living raptors in the world as well and it can live to be 50 years or older. These birds, when there were good numbers, used to soar over the North American coastlines, in the forest, grasslands, mountain canyons, and deserts. When they fly at the coast they will feed on whales, dead seals, and other marine life that has washed to shore. When they are inland they feast on the remains of large mammals. They are perfectly designed to soar high in the skies, only flapping their wings occasionally. They will sleep and roost in tall trees or cliff crevices, far out of reach of ground predators. They are social birds and will fly, perch and roost together and they also enjoy eating in large groups. They often enjoy sitting with their wings outspread so they can sun themselves.  Seeing one of these birds is an experience not to be missed, their powerful beaks, the red eyes, their sleek feathers, and their outstretched wings. It needs to be protected if we want to see this magnificent creature in the future.

The Tule elk 

Elk animals in california

The Tule elk are endemic to California; they are not found anywhere else in the world!  Back in old times, as many as 500,000 Tule Elk roamed California but the settlers almost brought them to the brink of extinction. Just fortunately, conservation efforts have brought it back from the brink of extinction. There are approximately only four remaining species of this elk left now of which the Tule Elk is the smallest. Grown males weigh about 500 pounds. They enjoy living in open, brushy habitats on sloping hills, where they get good opportunity to forage and also provide cover for their newborn calves. They are grazers and browsers and love eating woody shrubs, herbs, and trees. Sometimes an adult male can get through 15 pounds of food each day. Because of the habitat they choose, they don’t have all that many predators, although the grizzly bear used to prey on them as well as mountain lion and coyotes. Now their biggest threat is lack of habitat.

California clapper rail 

clapper rail animals in california

This endangered bird subspecies, the California clapper rail, is actually only found in the salt marshes between Morro Bay and San Francisco Bay.  He measures anything between 13-19 inches from bill to tail. It looks a bit like a hen except for its slightly downward-curving bill. He is olive-brown in color with a cinnamon-buff-colored breast, with dark flanks crossed by white bars. It doesn’t fly much. This bird is on the endangered list because its preferred habitat has disappeared years ago, and also, they were also hunted for eating. At least that practice has come to an end, but nowadays it is the toxic runoff from the city streets that threatens its very existence as well. When it needs cover, it will seek out wetlands that are dominated by pickleweed and cordgrass, or brackish emergent wetlands. It is not a migratory bird and likes to forage in relatively disturbed areas. These wonderful birds are almost as big as the basic chicken and they get their name from their calls, which sound a bit like clapping. He wonders in the mudflats eating insects, mollusks, insects, and crustaceans, as well as frogs and occasionally small mammals. Have you enjoyed learning about animals in California, take a look at our North American wildlife blogs.

Animal lovers will love: