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Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada

By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: March 9, 2017
Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada region in California is teeming with wildlife. Sierra Nevada National Park covers over 86,208 ha, and it is one of the biggest United States national parks. With 14 peaks towering over 3,000 m (9,850 ft) - the highest is Mount Whitney at 4,421 m (14,505 ft) - the region has a temperature range as diverse as its flora and fauna.

The ecology of the Sierra Nevada comprises 26 different conifer species and around 3,000 vascular plants. Approximately 400 of these plants are endemic to the area, and half are rare species. Many wildlife species are found in the rich abundance of the Sierra Nevada: close to 570 vertebrates inhabit this region, including 290 avian species, 135 mammals, and 60 types of fish, 46 reptile species and 37 amphibian species. Out of the native animals of the Sierra Nevada, around 80 birds, 40 mammals, 10 reptiles, 30 fish and 20 amphibians are considered special animals on the state list.

Do you want to learn more about the native animals of the Sierra Nevada? In this AnimalWised article we'll go over some of the most interesting species of California wildlife.

You may also be interested in: Native Animals of Idaho

Rare species in a biodiverse region

Many rare Californian species are endemic to the Sierra Nevada, and they are mostly threatened due to loss of habitat.

The Sierra Nevada is an incredibly rich region in which you can find dozens of invertebrates, including rare insects, millipedes glowing in the dark, stunning moths, butterflies, beetles, close to 120 different butterflies and a wealth of snails.

There are also many mammals that reside in the Sierra Nevada region including the wild boar, the wild cat, and the Spanish ibex, together with birds such as the rare golden eagle and the griffon vulture, as well as smaller birds such as hawks and kestrels. From ladder snakes to ocellated lizards and natterjack toad species, there is also a rich diversity of reptilian and amphibian wildlife.

The Sierra Nevada, then, is blessed with huge biodiversity, housing more than 400 of the wildlife species - two thirds of the birds and mammals and half the reptiles and amphibians of California.

Native animals of the Sierra Nevada

Native animals of the Sierra Nevada bioregion include the lodgepole chipmunk, the California mountain king snake, the black bear, the mountain beaver, the mule deer, the Pacific fisher and the mountain lion.

The California golden trout, which is the state fish of California, lives in southern Sierra Nevada. Other notable native species of the region include the northern goshawk, the mountain chickadee, and the California spotted owl along with the bald eagle, the national animal of the United States. The state animal of California is the California grizzly bear; however, it is an extinct subspecies.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - Native animals of the Sierra Nevada

The American Black Bear

The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is an herbivorous animal that survives mostly on acorns, blackberries and other fruit types. Around 95% of the American black bears in the Sierra Nevada region are a shade of brown, with only the remaining percent being truly black. The Sierra Nevada black bear has a strong sense of smell and quick movement.

American black bears are native to North America and range from the Pacific to the Atlantic regions, especially across Northern Canada. In the Sierra Nevada, the American black bear population is growing. The American black bear is found in the lower woodlands and chaparral habitats of the Sierra Nevada, between 500 to 3,000 ft high, but loss of habitat in lower elevations has forced them up higher into the lower montane forest, up to even 7,000 ft high.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The American Black Bear

The Long-Eared Chipmunk

If the eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is known for its short snout, pudgy body, rounded head and small size evolved for quick movement, the long-eared chipmunk (Neotamias quadrimaculatus) native to the Sierra Nevada is lean, foxy and slender.

The long-eared chipmunk can be found in central and northern Sierra Nevada and also in the western parts of the state of Nevada.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The Long-Eared Chipmunk

The Douglas Squirrel

The Douglas squirrel or chickaree (Tamiasciurus douglasii) is a creature similar to the red squirrel. Its coat color changes throughout the year from dull brown in winter to brighter brown and orange in the summer.

Douglas squirrels are found mainly in coniferous forests at altitudes from 5,000 to 11,000 ft high. They are native animals of the Sierra Nevada, but they can also be found as far north as British Columbia, western Washington, and Oregon.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The Douglas Squirrel

The California Mule Deer

Though white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are also found in the Sierra Nevada, the main deer species of this Californian region is the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus).

Mule deer have a narrow, black-tipped white tail; white-tailed deer, on the other hand, are recognizable because their tail is wider and fringed in black. Unlike white-tailed deer, mule deer are more relegated to the western regions of North America.

The California mule deer, a subspecies, can be recognized because its antlers grow upwards and not forwards. This type of mule deer inhabits the lower altitudes of the Sierra Nevada, preferring hills, grassland shrubs and coniferous forests, especially with oak.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The California Mule Deer

The Mountain Lion

The cougar, puma or mountain lion (Puma concolor) is a big cat native to the Sierra Nevada. Their population has grown; while in the 1970s there were about 2,000 mountain lions in the state of California, nowadays their numbers are estimated at between 4,000 and 6,000.

Young mountain lions bear show black spots on their sandy coats, which disappear within fifteen months. Mountain lions can reach 90 cm (35 in) tall at the shoulders and 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long; the further north you go, the larger they become. Mountain lions have a huge range, spreading vertically all across America.

Mountain lions have been known to breed with other big cat species, giving birth to cat hybrids such as the pumapard.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The Mountain Lion

The California Ground Squirrel

The California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) is a member of the squirrel family or Sciuridae, which includes other native animals of the Sierra Nevada such as the long-eared chipmunk and the chickaree. A notable difference between these Californian squirrels is that while ground squirrels have cheek pouches to carry tidbits, chickarees do not.

The Sierra Nevada once had a burgeoning population of California ground squirrels, even in the central parts of the valley, but these rodents were terminated in massive numbers because they damaged agricultural crops. In the highest altitudes of the Sierra Nevada you can also find golden-mantled ground squirrels and Belding's ground squirrels.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The California Ground Squirrel

The Western Gray Squirrel

The western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus griseus) is yet another squirrel species native to the Sierra Nevada. While western gray squirrels were very common decades ago, an epidemic in the 1930s almost wiped them out. Nowadays they are not threatened, but they can only be found in particular areas, including the lower woodlands, chaparrals and montane forests of the Sierra Nevada.

Western gray squirrels are larger than their eastern counterparts; they are fast-moving, arboreal and retiring, and they produce a single litter of three to five individuals every year.

Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada - The Western Gray Squirrel

These are only some of the native animals of the Sierra Nevada - if we forgot your favorite, please tell us in the comments section. Other notable animals from this region include the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the California condor and the willow flycatcher.

Don't miss our other articles on American wildlife:

If you want to read similar articles to Native Animals of the Sierra Nevada, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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3 comments
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Lewis
This article is incorrect. There is no “Sierra Nevada National Park” in the US. That park is in Spain. You mean the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.
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nick
Great!
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Julia
Your photo of the ground squirrel is of a golden mantled ground squirrel. Your photo of a Western Gray Squirrel is of a California Ground Squirrel. Just an FYI!
Janhvi Johorey
Hi Thanks for alerting us. We have made the changes. Hope you enjoyed the article.
Julia
Thanks for responding! When you click on the photo it shows a different image but the images displayed on the page are still inaccurate. And, to be nit-picky the pop-up image that you get when you click in the section of California ground squirrel is a ground squirrel but it is not a California ground squirrel. The photo that you currently have on your page labeled as a Western grey squirrel at the bottom is an accurate photo of the California ground squirrel. I can email you good photos of all the squirrel species if you are interested.
Janhvi Johorey
We would be delighted to have accurate pictures and would like to invite you to please contact us on animalwised@gmail.com. Thank you for taking the time to respond to us.


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