Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA

Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA

The Sierra Nevada mountains- California’s snowy backbone, sweep south along the eastern flank of California, with a spur, the Carson Range, edging into Nevada. Bighorn Sheep, American black bear, Turkey vulture are some of the famous animals of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At around 4 million years old, the Sierra Nevada is a relatively young range of mountains, forming a dramatic crest 400 miles (650 km) long by 60 miles (100 km) wide along California’s eastern edge. At the southern end lies Mount Whitney, the highest US peak outside Alaska at 14,505 ft (4,421 m). The region also boasts the largest alpine lake in North America—the famously clear Lake Tahoe—and three national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon.

Forest and climate zones

The Sierra Nevada’s western foothills are cloaked in savanna and deciduous oak woodland, but the rest of the range rising toward the east is dominated by coniferous forest, starting with juniper and Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines at lower altitudes. Giant sequoias start to appear at about 3,280 ft (1,000 m), and higher still, the forests are dominated by lodgepole pines, red and white fir, and eventually, whitebark pine. Finally, the trees give way to hardy alpine plants at about 10,500 ft (3,200 m). The forests are interspersed with rivers and lakes, wet and dry meadows, and extensive areas of brushland.

Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA-

The wide range of altitudes and climates in the Sierra Nevada is reflected in the diverse wildlife. Animals living at higher altitudes, such as alpine chipmunks and Bighorn Sheep, must be able to tolerate low temperatures and snow for much of the year. The mountains are also home to both black and brown bears, bald eagles, and increasing numbers of American beavers.

1. Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA
Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis)

This North American wild sheep is named for the adult male’s immense curling horns, which grow to more than 3 ft (1 m) in length. The rams establish a hierarchy based on horn size, with older sheep taking the lead. When it is too close to call, the rivalry is resolved with a head-butting battle. Females grow smaller horns that sweep back from the head. They are mainly defensive, used to deter predators such as eagles and pumas.

High living

In summer, bighorn sheep graze in high mountain meadows. They leap from ledge to ledge, never slipping on the steep, rough ground—their forked hooves split apart as they press down on the ground and grip the rock that fills the gap between them. As winter approaches, the chief ram leads his band of about 10 sheep to lower ground, where they join together to form herds of as many as 100 individuals. The hard outer rim of the bighorn sheep’s hooves cut into snow and ice to provide a better grip. Breeding takes place in the valleys, and lambs are born in spring, a few weeks before the bands trek back up to the peaks.


The ram’s horns keep growing, and can get so large that the tips impede its field of view. Older rams rub down the tips on a rock to keep them short.

2. American black bear (Ursus americanus)

American black bear, Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA
American black bear (Ursus americanus)

Smaller than grizzlies, black bears also have a straighter profile and are much better climbers. They prefer temperate forests, but can cope with humid Florida swamps as well as subarctic weather in Canada. True omnivores, they mainly feed on wild fruits, nuts, and vegetation, supplemented with insects, grubs, fish, and carrion—occasionally they hunt mammals too. Inquisitive and opportunistic, black bears also exploit garbage dumps and food left at campsites.

A black bear’s sense of smell is seven times more acute than a bloodhound’s

They are solitary except during the mating season, which takes place from mid-May to July. The cubs are born in a den from January to March, while their mothers are hibernating. Litters are usually made up of twins or triplets, but can contain as many as four or five cubs. Cubs remain with their mothers until they are around two years old.

Healthy numbers

American black bear numbers are about twice those of all the world’s other bear species combined—despite the fact that it is native to just three countries: Canada, the US, and Mexico. Of 16 recognized subspecies, only the smallest, the Louisiana black bear (U.a. luteolus), is considered threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, due mainly to habitat loss and overhunting. The population of black bears seems stable in areas that are as diverse as their coat colors, which range from cinnamon, light gold, gray-blue, dark brown, and black to British Columbia’s white-Kermode or “spirit bear” subspecies (U.a. kermodei).


Cubs are taught by their mothers to climb trees to escape danger—including attacks by adult male black bears.

3. Striped skunk (Mephites mephites)

Striped skunk, Bighorn Sheep and Other Animals in Sierra Nevada Mountains,USA
Striped skunk (Mephites mephites)

About the size of a domestic cat, the striped skunk is related to badgers, otters, and weasels. Skunks share features such as a stocky, low-slung body with them, but have the ability to spray a noxious chemical at potential predators. This fluid is produced by the anal scent glands under the tail. The skunk first lifts its tail in the air like a flag and stamps the ground as a warning. Should the aggressor stand its ground, the skunk does a handstand, twists its body, and squirts the liquid over its head at the attacker’s face.

Opportunistic feeder

The striped skunk lives in a wide variety of habitats, often near water. It will eat virtually anything, including household garbage. Mostly solitary and nocturnal, it can sometimes be spotted in the half-light of dawn and dusk. Striped skunks breed from February to March; females give birth in a burrow or a den underneath a building or fallen tree. The young become independent at about seven or eight weeks


The skunk’s striking black-and-white coloration with a bold white “V” running down its back and tail, and its raised tail, serve as a warning to potential predators.

4. Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)
Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

The turkey vulture is one of seven New World vultures, all of which scavenge dead animals and ride up-currents of warm air over vast areas. They soar on wings raised in a “V” shape for extra stability, their body weight slung low. Their slotted wingtips reduce turbulence—a feature copied by early aircraft designers.

Turkey vultures can smell newly dead animals

Mutual dependence

While all vultures have excellent sight, few have a keen sense of smell. In forests, other vultures follow turkey vultures to locate carcasses hidden under trees because they can locate food by smell. When large carcasses are found, turkey vultures stand aside as bigger species with stronger beaks open up tough hides. All vultures prefer newly dead animals and avoid putrefying meat.

Turkey vultures that breed in the north migrate to the tropics in winter, but many stay in the southern US all year round. They breed in early spring in the south and in July or August farther north, laying their eggs on a cliff ledge, or sometimes in a hollow tree or dense thicket. Two eggs are incubated for up to 40 days, and the chicks are fed in the nest for about 10 weeks.


Turkey vultures spread their wings when perched to allow the sun’s heat to warm their body in the morning and to dry wet feathers. This keeps their plumage in good condition.

5. Alpine chipmunk (Tamias alpinus)

Alpine chipmunk  (Tamias  alpinus)
Alpine chipmunk (Tamias alpinus)

Chipmunks are small, squirrel-like creatures of open spaces. Alpine chipmunks are found only in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, surviving above 8,000 ft (2,500 m) on broken cliffs and scree with abundant cavities and plentiful seeds of grasses, sedges, and stunted pines. They hibernate from mid-October to June to escape the worst of winter. They store little fat, but cache surplus food in summer and wake often to feed during winter, in between several days of torpor. Alpine chipmunks have no need to find and drink water as they get sufficient moisture from their food.


Deep, narrow crevices retain heat in high, exposed places, helping this small mammal to survive.

6. Mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli)

Mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
Mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli)

Tits, or titmice, are common worldwide. Several North American species are known as chickadees due to their “chick-a-dee” call. Active, acrobatic, social feeders, mountain chickadees join mixed flocks roaming high coniferous woods in search of food in fall and winter. A dispersed flock is more likely to find good feeding places than a lone bird, and many pairs of eyes are better at spotting danger.


Should a predator such as a hawk appear, a lone chickadee would be its only target. It is much safer to be one of many in a flock.

7. Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa)

Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa)
Great gray owl (Strix nebulosa)

This owl’s thick insulation makes it look large, but its body is actually much smaller and lighter than the eagle owl or great horned owl. A less fearsome predator, the great gray owl focuses on small prey, often in difficult conditions. The disklike face, more than 20 in (50 cm) wide, suggests astonishingly acute hearing, although the owl’s small eyes seem more suited to daylight than nighttime activity.

Unusually for an owl, it hunts by day and at night. The facial feathers let sound through easily but protect what is hidden behind: an arc of stiff feathers that directs sound right into the assymetrically positioned ears.This helps the owl to locate the source of a sound with pinpoint accuracy. Great gray owls watch and listen for voles from a perch, often a broken tree stump, and glide down silently to catch them, taking them by surprise.

They can hear tunneling rodents under layers of snow, and penetrate 16–20 in (40–50 cm), plunging headfirst, with a final thrust of their deadly feet. Found mainly in the north, a small population of great gray owls remains in the Sierra Nevada of California.


A light body and broad wings allow slow, silent flight, and help the owl to maneuver with precision between trees. Special fringes on the wing feathers almost eliminate wing noise

8. Mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata)

Mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata)
Mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata)/California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The California Mountain kingsnake has an extensive distribution from Baja California, Mexico, north into Washington state. As its name suggests, the Sierra Mountain subspecies (L.z. multicincta) is restricted to that area. Living in uplands and mountains up to altitudes of 10,000 ft (3,000 m), this habitat generalist basks by day in remote gullies or on old logs; rests at night among boulders or tree roots; and shelters in burrows through winter.

The kingsnake eats other snakes—even venomous young rattlesnakes

False colors

Like most other kingsnakes, this nonvenomous constrictor has red or orange, black, and white or cream rings that mimic the coloration of the venomous coral snake to deter predators. A stealthy sight-and-smell predator, it hunts mainly lizards and small snakes. Other prey include birds, especially nestlings of towhees and thrushes, eggs, and less often, small rodents, frogs and other amphibians. It may squeeze a victim in its coils to subdue it before swallowing it whole.


Ready to strike if need be, the Sierra Mountain kingsnake displays its bright warning colors. Not all of the subspecies are alike; some have thinner or even no rings.

9. Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)

Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)
Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)/Greg Schechter

A native of western US mountain forests, the ensatina salamander does not breathe air. This nocturnal amphibian has no lungs—all the oxygen it needs is absorbed directly through its moist skin. The nostrils on the snout are used purely for smelling. Ensatinas have poison glands in their tail, but predators such as raccoons have learned to eat the head, then body, and discard the tail.

Mating occurs during the cooler seasons, and in summer, pregnant females retreat into a damp nook to lay a dozen eggs. The young hatch out after about four months and have the same body form as an adult, rather than going through a larval tadpole stage. They leave the nest after the first autumn rains.


Unusually for an amphibian, the ensatina salamander’s entire life cycle is based on land.

10. Yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae)

Yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae),
Yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae)/California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Found in and around mountain pools and streams, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog lives at altitudes of up to 11,800 ft (3,600 m). It spends winters hibernating at the bottom of frozen lakes. In summer, it hunts by day, rarely straying more than a metre or two from water.Three species of yellow-legged frogs have now been identified, all with a pale yellow underside.

The main difference between the three lies in their distinct mating calls. The breeding season begins after the spring thaw, and after mating, the females lay their eggs on aquatic vegetation. The tadpoles take three or four years to reach maturity.


Yellow-legged frogs exude a pungent garlic like odor from their skin if they are picked up.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

Where do the Sierra Nevada mountains start and end?

The Sierra Nevada mountains sweep south along the eastern flank of California, with a spur, the Carson Range, edging into Nevada.

What do Bighorn Sheep eat?

The diet of Bighorn sheep is different based upon the season. In summer, they eat grasses or sedges. In winter, they eat plants that are more woody, like sage, willow, and rabbit brush.

What does a bighorn sheep look like?

Bighorn Sheep are large mammals which are relative of goats. Females grow smaller horns that sweep back from the head. The adult male’s immense curling horns, which grow to more than 3 ft (1 m) in length.

What are Climatic Conditions of Sierra Nevada mountains?

A temperate Mediterranean climate is heavily influenced by altitude, with warm summers and cool winters. Most precipitation falls in the west.