Colorado may be most known for having some of the most towering peaks in the Rocky Mountains, but the Denver Museum of Natural History has identified eight distinct ecosystems within the state that vary from grasslands and forest to wetlands and semi-desert shrub-lands that evoke the deserts of neighboring New Mexico.
The native wildlife here is as diverse as the ecosystems. There are roughly 750 invertebrate species who call Colorado home — and that includes large grazers like the bison and bighorn sheep as well as vicious predators like mountain lions and bears. From the Rocky Mountains all the way down to the grasslands, these wild frontiers allow for very diverse ecosystems to flourish.
The Official Animal of Colorado
Colorado’s official animal is understandably an animal that’s emblematic of the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was declared the national animal in 1961. These sociable creatures only exist in the Rockies, but they’ve unfortunately been reduced to endangered status thanks to their appeal to big game hunters.
Colorado’s state bird was actually declared 30 years before the state animal. The lark bunting is migratory and can be widely seen throughout the state from April until September. They call both the plains of Colorado and elevations of up to 8,000 feet their home.
Where To Find The Top Wild Animals in Colorado
Fitting its diverse variety of ecosystems, Colorado houses 42 state parks and four national parks — and while each of them is beautiful in its own right, there are a few that are worthy of particular spotlight.
- The Horseshoe and Morain sections of Rocky Mountain National Park are the best places for seeing elk, but these majestic animals are common all throughout the park.
- Bison were once among the rarest and most endangered animals in Colorado, but you can now find them just outside of Denver at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also home to coyotes, mule deer, and even bald eagles during the winter season.
- South Platte River Trail in the winter is going to offer the best opportunity to see bald eagles, but it’s a respectable place for bird watching all year long. Notable species include kestrels and red-tailed hawks.
- State Forest State Park is recognized as the “Moose Capital” of Colorado, but these large herbivores aren’t the only wildlife here. Beavers, foxes, and black bears can also be found.
- Great bighorn sheep are becoming one of the rarest species in Colorado, but they’re most common at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Coyotes and bobcats are some of the most common predators, but small rodents like ground squirrels are also easy to spot.
Wild Animals in Colorado
The wildlife of Colorado is similar to the wildlife found in many other Mountain States like Montana and Wyoming. The most notable large herbivores are the bighorn sheep, elk, bison, and moose. Major predators in these ecosystems include mountain lions, black bears, and foxes.
Small creatures constitute some of the most critical wildlife in many Colorado ecosystems. Prairie dogs are considered a keystone species because the tunnels they dig are used by roughly 150 different animals. The beaver plays a similarly critical role in Colorado’s wetlands ecosystems — and they’re becoming an increasingly common sight in urban areas as well.
The Most Dangerous Animals In Colorado Today
- Mountain goats are relatively common sights in the mountains — and while they’re not predators, they’ve been known to gore hikers with their horns when they feel threatened.
- Black bears also don’t actively pursue humans, but they’re known for being aggressive if they feel like their cubs are being threatened.
- Mountain lions are one of the rarer predators, but they’ve been spotted all over the state. Encountering them out on a hiking trail isn’t uncommon, but there were only 25 Colorado mountain lion attacks documented between 2000 and 2021.
Endangered Animals In Colorado
- Black-footed ferret: The only federally endangered mammal in Colorado, they rely on prairie dogs for both housing and food.
- Humpback chub: Native to the Colorado River, they’ve adapted to survive incredibly turbulent currents.
- Wolverine: It’s strange to see a wolverine in Colorado, and they were once believed to be extinct in the state. One of the rarest native species, it’s believed that as many as 100 might be surviving in the state unnoticed.
- Kit fox: A strange native species of fox most notable for its small frame and strange, deep set eyes.
Zoos in Colorado
Notable Colorado zoos include:
Coloradan Animals List
Animals in Colorado FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What kind of animals are in Colorado?
Eagles, bighorn sheep, and pika call the mountains home — while big game like elk and bison roam the valleys and forests at the foot of the Rockies. Beavers call the wetlands home along with a variety of birds and amphibians.
What is the most rare animal in Colorado?
The black-footed ferret is the most endangered mammal in Colorado because of a combination of disease and a drop in the population of prairie dogs. That’s because the ferrets rely on these rodents for both shelter and as a source of food.
What mammals are found in Colorado?
All kinds of mammals call Colorado home. The sub-desert region includes rodents like prairie dogs and predators like coyotes, while you’ll find mammals like elk and bison throughout the plains and forests. Bighorn sheep, black bears, and cougars all become more common as you rise in elevation through the Rocky Mountains.
What wildlife lives in Colorado mountains?
Bighorn sheep are the most iconic — and surprisingly among the most dangerous — animals in the Rocky Mountains, but they’re joined by dangerous predators like the black bear and mountain lion as well as the strange creature known as the pika.