Fauna of Zion National Park: Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians
There are 288 species of birds that visit Zion National Park. Some are rare and endangered such as the Peregrine falcon, California condor and bald eagle. Projects are underway to help preserve these wonderful and unique birds. In Zion the park takes care to maintain nesting sites and reduce as much change for them as possible. Some of the more common birds include the Red-tailed Hawk, which is the most common of the Hawks in the park and in the Rocky Mountain area. The American Kestrel , a small falcon, is also common. A few other interesting birds in the park include the Western Kingbird, Hairy Woodpecker, and the Great Horned Owl.California condor - the Thunderbird
The rare California condor is among the birds found in Zion. Watch for them on the easy one mile-Canyon Overlook Trail on the east side of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel and on Angels Landing. For those that visit the Kolob Terrace area, they have also been spotted at Lava Point. This magnificent bird was known to the ancient ones as the "Thunderbird”, the largest of all land birds, sporting a wing span up to 9 1/2 feet. In 1980 there were only 27 left in the world. A few years later those that lived were bred and released and are alive and living in Zion National Park as well as the other National Parks and National Monuments in the Southwest desert. Many Native American tribes saw the great Thunderbird as part of their religious beliefs. They believed that the Thunderbird consumes the souls of the deceased and then the mighty bird takes them to the Great Spirit's realm. The Thunderbird is also believed to eat the prayers of evil humans, also taking them to the Great Spirit, then the Great Spirit purifies and cleanses the devotees.
Zion's Reptiles - Thirty-two species of reptiles live in Zion, with only the Great Basin rattlesnake being dangerous. When a rattlesnake feels in danger it vibrates its tail causing the horny segments to rub up against each other. The Western rattler is rarely ever seen in the main section of the park, but they are common on some of the Kolob Canyons trails like Taylor Creek. This aggressive rattler is active both day and night. It gives a warning by rattling its tail, while holding its ground. If you confront one, remain still and let it retreat, then back away slowly. Reptiles are ectotherms; animals who's body temperature changes with the environmental temperature and therefore rest in the shade during hot days to keep from their body temperature regulated. It is of interest how different reptiles are present at certain elevations on the same trail. Lizards are the most observed animal in the park. The male Eastern fence lizard is identified by the blue blotches on its belly and is common in Zion. Other common reptiles are the western whiptail lizard and the plateau lizard, these reptiles are identified by their long tails.
Canyon Tree Frog - A common amphibian found in Zion is the Canyon Tree Frog, a small dusky colored frog which has a beautiful, bird-like call that is heard in early spring. The Canyon Tree Frog is often heard along the Riverside Walk, Emerald Pools and at the end of the Hidden Canyon Trail. The frog is active at night but during the day it can be found 'stuck' to rock near pools of water. That toe belongs to the research team collecting data in Zion. Bo and I had the opportunity to go with them through Spry Canyon. Allystair D. Jones was one of the students that was doing the research led by Curt Walker, a biology Professor at Dixie State College in St. George.
Other Amphibians - Another common amphibian is the greenish gray, nocturnal, Great Basin Spadefoot Toad. The tiny Red Spotted Toad is identified by reddish bumps on its skin. Nocturnal amphibians include the Northern leopard frog which is identified by its back and forth movement, exhibited when startled.
Important Notice - I've
been studying the canyon tree frogs in Zion for 3 summers now, and have just
heard that the horrible chytrid fungus may be present in some frogs from Pine
Creek. I'd like to offer some simple tips that can help prevent the spread of
this disease, which will likely kill a large percentage of frogs that get
infected. The main way to stop the spread is very simple: let your gear dry completely
between canyons whenever possible. The most likely way to spread the disease is
to get some of the fungus on your equipment (you won't see it) and then do
another canyon in a different drainage before everything is completely dry. If
your gear dries, the fungus dies. There is lots of info online about this fungus and how to prevent it from
spreading and how it's decimating worldwide amphibian populations, but if our
canyoneering community can just keep this one simple idea in mind, we might slow
it down or even stop its spread locally.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park