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Wild animals are the true residents of the Rio Grande National Forest. They thrive in its diverse terrain and vegetation. It is estimated that there are 280 different species of wildlife on the Forest. There are about 18,000 head of elk and 10,000 head of deer on the Rio Grande National Forest. The Forest contains 260,000 acres of big game (deer and elk) winter range. There are 150 streams and 80 lakes containing game fish on the Forest.

You never know when you might encounter a particular species; a lot of it depends on where you visit. In the campgrounds, you're likely to encounter such species as: squirrels, chipmunks, ravens, gray jays, and hummingbirds.

Taking short walks in the woods can mean seeing deer and elk feeding in a meadow, beavers working in a stream, or woodpeckers pecking on trees in search of insects. Driving along the roads, a person might see a furry marmot scurrying across the road, bighorn sheep lounging around rocky hillsides, or golden eagles soaring on the thermal currents. For those folks who venture deeper into the woods, they might be lucky enough to see the usually shy animals like the black bear or mountain lion.

As commercial and residential development increases, wildlife habitat in the Forest becomes more valuable.

Mammals

Wildlife Watching

If you mention special birding places in North America to birders throughout the Country, you are very likely to hear Colorado as one of the favorites. Birders from all over the country travel to Colorado annually because of the unique birding opportunities presented as the eastern plains give rise to the Rocky Mountains. More than 293 species have been recorded in this area. One can be seeing birds typical of the eastern part of the country and at the next moment, be seeing species typical of the mountains. For example, on a springtime day, one could be seeing the rare Bendire's thrasher near Del Norte and then be seeing the highly sought-after boreal owl at night in the mountains.

No less than 11 of the 14 species of owls in Colorado have been observed in the Valley and adjacent mountains. Since there are only 19 species of owls in North America, Colorado has more than its share of opportunities to see these unique birds. Owls of the Valley include the boreal owl, saw-whet owl, spotted owl, flammulated owl, long-eared owl, short-eared owl, great horned owl, barn owl, northern pygmy-owl, western screech-owl, and burrowing owl. Some of the rarest owls include the boreal, spotted, northern pygmy owl and the flammulated owls, and these are highly sought-after by birders across the Country.

Another unique factor is the Rio Grande River which acts as a migration corridor for species migrating from Central and South America and Mexico. The possibility for rare and unusual species is always present. Some examples of these types of birds include: rufous hummingbird, barn swallow, mountain bluebird, and American goldfinch.

For observing gulls, herons, ducks and shorebirds, the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is an excellent place to begin your day. The rare whooping crane can be seen during spring and fall migration. The San Luis Lake State Recreation Area east of Mosca is also an excellent place for migrant water birds.

For upland birds, the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and the Rio Grande National Forest provide a number of birding opportunities that could produce some rare finds such as northern pygmy-owl, pinyon jay,

Townsend's solitaire, canyon wren, and white-tailed ptarmigan. The Forest has developed a bird list and it is available upon request from the Monte Vista office.

Birding In The San Luis Valley