About the Site
Yellowstone National Park (14)  


Park History

Upper Geyser Basin

Old Faithful

Old Faithful Inn

Mammoth Hot Springs

West Thumb

Other Hydrothermals

Grand Canyon

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone & Other Lakes


Madison River




Hayden Valley





For most people it is the hydrothermal features which come to mind when Yellowstone is mentioned, but no less impressive is the wide variety of species of wildlife which can be found in the park, in particular the large and very impressive mammals which can be seen there. Yellowstone is a very important haven for wildlife. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, 19 million acres strong, is one of the last major relatively intact, temperate zone ecosystems on the continent and in the world. Because of the size of the park and the protection afforded to the ecosystem, animals have a chance to act in a natural way in Yellowstone, an opportunity not afforded in many other places anymore.

The variety of large mammals, like moose, elk and grizzly bear, of which 200-250 can be found in the park and up to 350 in the greater Yellowstone area, is also impressive. Some 500-650 black bears also inhabit the park, although since park officials ended the practice of allowing bears to feed in food dumps (the last open garbage dump was closed in the fall of 1970), began to use bear-proof garbage cans, and warned visitors against feeding bears, they are not often seen any longer. Yellowstone has the largest concentration of large and small mammals in the lower 48 states. Now included among them is the gray wolf which was reintroduced into the park in 1994.

Moose The largest animal in the park, except the buffalo, is the moose, which can be found in various places in the park. Found in several national parks, an encounter with a moose is always memorable. These very large mammals, the largest members of the deer family, may weight from 900 to 1400 pounds and stand as much as 6 to 7 1/2 feet at the shoulders. Large moose may be 9 feet long. The animal's distinctive "dewlap"--skin which hangs down from the throat--can be seen in this picture.

The most distinctive feature of the bull moose is its antlers, which bulls display during the summer and winter seasons. The moose's characteristic palmate antlers--which are shaped like the palm and fingers of a hand--may spread 4 to 5 feet. Initially covered with velvet, the bulls rub off this covering in late summer. The antlers themselves are shed following the breeding season. These impressive features serve as an aid for the bull moose to assert dominance.

The animals feed on shrubs, gooseberry, buffaloberry, aspen, willows, aquatic vegetation, and water lilies, and frequent marshes and the shores of waterways where this type of food can be found. The animals winter at 9000 feet where its long legs serve it well in the deep Yellowstone snow. Approximately 500 to 800 of these large mammals may be found in the park, 200 of them inhabiting the northern range and 600 elsewhere. The animals, which live a solitary life, may often be observed at Phantom Lake, as is probably shown below. The animals were not originally native to the park, as it is estimated they arrived in the Yellowstone area in the 1870's.

Elk Another of the large mammals found in the park is the elk. The most numerous of the large, "big game" animals in the park, There may be up to 38,000 of these animals in Yellowstone. The animals are also known as wapiti, meaning "white rump", a term derived from the Shawnee Indians. The variety which inhabits the park are of the Rocky Mountain elk subspecies, which is also in the same species of the European red deer.

The elk is a very large animal. The males, or bulls, range in weight from 500 to 1100 pounds, stand some 5 feet at the shoulder, and stretch 9 feet in length. Females range from 400 to 600 pounds.

The wapiti is a member of the deer family, which also includes moose and mule deer. Elk spread across the interior of the park during the summer season. Their most impressive feature are their antlers, which may reach several feet in height and which are grown in April of each year. The elk with antlers of 6 or 7 points is a dominant male.

Although by the late 1800's Yellowstone was one of the wapiti's last strongholds, overpopulation of elk has been a problem at times. In one period (1961) animals were shot to prevent overcrowding. A number of elk herd live in the Greater Yellowstone area, and most of them seek food at lower elevations during the harsh winter season.

Elk may often be seen in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, particularly on the parade ground in front of the hotel. These elk are seen in this area during an early season snow.

Another picture of an elk in a field near a river is shown below.

Coyote Another of the animals which can be seen in Yellowstone is the coyote, known as the "song dog" to the Indians. As seen below the animal has a grey-brown coat. This animals represents the smallest species of wild dog and are the most numerous canid in the park. The weigh approximately 30-75 pounds, stand 2 feet at the shoulder, and are 3 1/2 to 4 feet long. The coyote's face is narrower than the wolf, with legs that are not as lanky. These animals can reach a top speed of 35 to 40 miles per hour.

The coyote is one of the most important native predators in the ecosystem, eating deer, elk, rabbits, rodents, snakes, birds, and insects. Coyotes, who are intelligent and social animals, live in dens which might be located in burroughs and caves. They're constantly on the move. The animals survived an extermination campaign from about 1910 to 1930--the army began poisoning coyotes in 1895--but are now protected. Their populations increased as well without the competition provided by native wolves which no longer existed in park areas. Coyotes may be seen most commonly in the Lamar Valley and other northern valleys.

Small Animals In addition to the magnificent large animals, there are many smaller animals in the park which garner attention.

Among these animals is the chipmunk. This animal may be distinguished by the similar golden mantle ground squirrel by the presence of stripes on the cheeks.

Another shot of a chipmunk hunting for food is seen here.

One of the numerous small animals found in Yellowstone is the yellow-bellied marmot, seen below. These animals may be seen sunning themselves on rocks in the park or waddling along the ground. Built with a low slung body, they are approximately 28 inches long and weigh about 12 pounds. The yellow bellied marmot is the only kind of marmot found in the park.

The marmot lives in burrows and spends much time underground. The picture below shows one of these creatures next to the boardwalk which fronts Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. Although these animals used to live under the boards, this is not possible anymore.

The marmot below is seen on a rock with the Upper Geyser Basin in the background. Yellow-bellied marmots love to sun themselves and may often be observed in the park doing so. These animals are also known as "whistle pigs" or "rockchucks." They generally inhabit higher elevations and live in small colonies.

The yellow-bellied marmot is a relative of the woodchuck. The animals acquire a thick layer of fat which may be metabolized during their 8 month hibernation during the long high altitude winter in the park. They are active mainly in the summer.

Birds Many birds frequent the high altitudes of the park as well. In fact, the Yellowstone area is home to 225 species of birds.

One common bird in the park is the raven, distinctive for its black color and wedge-shaped tail. A relative of the crow, ravens are quite common in the Greater Yellowstone area.

These birds perch and wait for food to appear, which is most often small mammals and carrion. The raven can be fairly large--over 2 feet long--and is a very vocal bird. Ravens can actually mimic human speech and learn complex behaviors.

The distinctive Canada Goose may be found in the park along with many other places in North America. These birds are in fact the most numerous waterfowl in Yellowstone. A fairly large bird, the adults may reach about 3 feet in height and weight some 8-12 pounds. They mainly feed on grass.

The Canada goose nests most often on the ground but occasionally in trees. The Canada goose mates for life. These birds passing overhead in their V-shaped flight pattern are a common sight.

Common gulls may also be seen in bodies of water within the park.

The most notable of the birds found in the park is probably the trumpeter swan, seen below. Native only to North America, the bird is named for its buglelike call. Once found across Norht America, this species once approached extinction, protection within the park boundaries is in no small part responsible for the survival of this species. By 1932, 32 pairs of swans in the park were in fact the last of the species in the lower 48 states. However, only a few hundred of these birds remain, in Yellowstone National Park and a few other places. There may be some 25-49 adult birds living in the park year round. Fortunately, the birds are able to endure the bitterly cold temperatures of the Yellowstone winter. They may be seen on the Madison River (below), the Yellowstone River, or on Swan Lake.

Graceful in flight, these are the largest waterfowl in the world with wingspans up to 7 feet. The cobs (males) are 5 feet long and weigh from 25 to 30 pounds, while the pens (females) range from 23 to 27 pounds. A trumpeter swan is bigger and heavier than an eagle. As can be seen below, the birds are all white, except for their black bills and their webbed feet. The bird first nets at age of 4 or 5 years, and it mates for life.

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  • All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2013

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