Wildlife Spotting in Yellowstone National Park

Renee and I drove into Yellowstone National Park, the three and a half thousand square mile park which is situated mainly in the state of Wyoming but with land extending into Montana (where we entered) and also Idaho. Our expectations were high due to Yellowstone being one of the most famous national parks in North America with an excellent reputation for wildlife. However despite having high expectations I was still blown away by the amount of wildlife we instantly started spotting. We’d barely got through the main gate and we’d already seen elk and huge bison grazing beside the road. This post is purely about the wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park, the park is unique geologically and has amazing scenery but that will all come in another post.

If you want to see bears in the wild I can say with confidence that there is no better place in North America to bears than Yellowstone National Park. Want to know how and why, check out my Yellowstone National Park Wildlife Spotting Tips.

In no particular order here are the animals we spotted on our trip to Yellowstone National Park in early June of 2011.

Elk

Elk are the most abundant large animal in Yellowstone. We saw plenty around the northern half of the park grazing by sides of roads and so forth. Remember to watch your speed while driving around the park, animals are everywhere and you don’t want to accidentally run one over. While driving to hopefully spot a bear (Cinnamon Black Bear below) we came across a traffic jam caused by a truck which had accidentally run over a baby Elk. There were lots of people, lots of angry stares and a devastated mother Elk just a few feet away on the road verge. The baby had for whatever reason run out in front of the truck and was now lifeless between the trucks front & rear wheels. In Yellowstone running over a baby animal looks just as bad as running over a local kid in your neighbourhood - you don’t want to be that person!
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Elk" size="large"]

Pronghorn Antelope

Either called pronghorn or antelope these creatures look very similar to deer however their not a member of the deer family because they don’t shed antlers, funnily their not strictly an antelope either. Sadly these oddly horned creatures are the last of the Antilocapridae family.

[pe2-gallery class="alignright" ] Pronghorn Antelope KISSING.jpgPronghorn Antelope.jpg[/pe2-gallery]

Bluebirds

Brilliantly coloured little beauty which Renee spotted near the Fountain Paint Pots.
Blue Bird

Big Birds (my own name)

We went on the Beaver Ponds Walk, a walk we’d been recommended by  a ranger which departs from Mammoth Hot Springs. To our frustration we’d spotted nothing except a few muddy ponds until finally I spotted this little big bird. Renee was no doubt jealous that I’d spotted the little dude first so feigned little interest and looked elsewhere. It was while looking elsewhere that she spotted a mule deer below us (next animal down). It’s amazing what you can find if you look closely. I claim responsibility for the mule deer sighting as well since she’d never have spotted it if I hadn’t forced us to stop our walk while I chased the little big bird around trying to capture a decent photograph.
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Big Bird" size="large"]

Mule Deer

Big eared deer which live throughout the park. Mule Deer

Crows

Big evil black bird. Spotted on the edge of a frozen lake on the east side of Yellowstone while we were watching the juvenile grizzly mentioned below.
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Crow" size="large"]

Stalks

A long thin timid bird, to just get these poor photographs I had to chase the bird down the river in the van numerous times until it stopped at which point I would jump out and creep up on it before jumping out in my best bear costume screaming wildly and waving my hands while simultaneously taking photographs as it took flight.
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Stalk in Flight"]

Black Bears

Smaller and more vegetarian than the grizzly bear, the black bear is the most populous of the two bear species in the park. Oddly we spotted more Grizzlies. These photos are of a ‘cinnamon’ coloured black bear, not a grizzly bear as we first though. We spotted crowds of people while on a walk, assumed it must be caused by a bear sighting so rushed over and sure enough it was.
[slickr-flickr tag="Cinnamon Coloured Black Bear" size="large"]

Grizzly Bears

Aggressive Mother Grizzly

The dominant predator of the park. You can spot the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear by looking for:

  • Grizzly bears have a pronounced hump on their shoulders and their rump is lower than their shoulder hump
  • Black bears have no shoulder hump and their rump is higher than their shoulder
  • Colour is not a reliable differentiator

We had two significant grizzly bear sightings, the first was of this mum and two cubs as they journeyed close to the road.

[slickr-flickr tag="Grizzly Cub Running" type="slideshow" transition="0.2" delay="0.9" sort="date" direction="ascending" pause="on"]
[slickr-flickr tag="Grizzly Mum and Cubs" size="large"]

The second was of this juvenile grizzly as he dug for grubs in the side of the hill.

[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Juvenile Grizzly" size="large"]
[slickr-flickr tag="Juvenile Grizzly Crossing Road" type="galleria"]

 

Photographers

Animal sightings in Yellowstone can create something of a traffic jam, the biggest are normally from bears – a bear jam. Yellowstone is like Mecca for wildlife photographers, quality digital SLR cameras are everywhere and 300mm $1700 lenses are common. Hell $10,000 to $30,000 super-telephoto lenses as these photographers have are even common in Yellowstone National Park!
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Photographers and Nature Watchers" size="large"]

Bison

Bison in Snow Storm

The largest and most dangerous animal in Yellowstone is the bison. They may look like ‘cool’ cows but they have a fierce temper and should not be messed with. I’ve already done a post on bison, check out National Bison Range in Montana for more information plus photos and a video on these powerful creatures which have had an important part in the history of North America
[slickr-flickr tag="Bison Crossing River" type="slideshow" transition="0.2" delay="0.8" sort="date" direction="ascending" pause="on"]

Yellow Bellied Marmots

Sunning himself on a rock. We spotted this little guy
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Marmot" size="large"]

Chipmunks

Cheeky little bugger was trying to share my sandwich, I was having none of it. Feeding animals in Yellowstone is not allowed and if you see others doing it you should discourage it. Yellowstone is one of few places left in North America where you have a realistic chance of seeing wild animals. Help keep the animals wild by not letting them get use to humans - scare them witless when they are least expecting it (This is my own advice and is in no way endorsed by Yellowstone National Park)
[slickr-flickr tag="Photographing Yellowstone Chipmunks" size="large"]

Coyote

Found him trotting happily along the side of the road. Coyotes & wolf packs roam throughout the park, coyotes tend to be sighted more frequently.
[slickr-flickr tag="Yellowstone Coyote" size="large"]

Want to see more of our Great North American Road Trip?
The Plan
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Comments

  1. Awesome blog, seems like you have done a lot of interesting things over the last couple of years. Looking forward to reading more keep up the good work.

  2. I absolutely agree that Yellowstone is the best place in North America to spot wildlife. It happens unintentionally. Just be careful and keep in mind the 2 people killed in the past few months by the Grizzly Bears in Yellowstone. We only went on one walk through the park because of the snow and I was also terrified we would come across an angry Grizzly/Bison. The walk we went on had Bison blocking the path at one point and they are HUGE! Very intimidating.
    Luckily you can still be amazed by Yellowstone when you don’t go too far off the main roads.

  3. We didn’t manage to spot any wolves :(

  4. My best advice for photographing wildlife in Yellowstone is to never put your camera away! They jump out when you least expect it.

  5. Surprisingly the deer were actually hard to find! So many Elk and Bison around.

  6. It’s a shame that my videos of the bears were so shaky that they weren’t included for this post – I was too excited!

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